Looking Into The Abyss Essays On Scenography Definition

Theater is, first and foremost, a visual art; Looking Into the Abyss examines the ways in which the visual theater affects our understanding of the dramatic event. Arnold Aronson, an internationally prominent historian and theorist of theater set design, opens with an overview of scenographic concepts, including postmodern design and the use of new media in the theater, and continues with analyses of the work of specific designers (including Richard Foreman and David Rockwell) and scenographic responses to playwrights like Chekhov and Tony Kushner. These essays serve to open a dialogue that will bring the physical aspect of theater back into its proper place: an element as integral to the performance as the spoken word, and they will inspire theater-goers to become more aware of their role as seers of the theater.

Arnold Aronson is Professor of Theater, Columbia University. He is author of American Avant-Garde Theatre: A History; Architect of Dreams: The Theatrical Vision of Joseph Urban; American Set Design; and The History and Theory of Environmental Scenography.

Arnold Aronson




  • Exhibition on the Stage: Reflections on the 2007 Prague Quadrennial (Theater Institute Prague, 2008)
  • Looking into the Abyss: Essays on Scenography (U. of Michigan Press, 2005) Translated into Czech as Pohled Do Hloubky (2007)
  • American Avant-Garde Theatre: A History (Routledge Press, 2000).
  • Architect of Dreams: The Theatrical Vision of Joseph Urban (Columbia University, 2000) [Catalogue of exhibition]
  • American Set Design (Theatre Communications Group, 1985).
  • The History and Theory of Environmental Scenography (U.M.I. Research Press, 1981. Paper reprint,1988).

Books Chapters and Contributions:

  • “Desire and Décor,” in Space and Desire, ed. T. Brejzek et al. (Zurich University of the Arts, 2011)
  • “The American Context,” Introductory chapter in Late & Great American Designers 1960-2010, eds. Bobbi Owen and David Rodger (United States Institute for Theatre Technology, 2010).
  • “The Power of Space in a Virtual World,” in Performance Design, eds. D. Hannah and O. Harslof (Museum Tusculanum Press, 2008)
  • “Defining Space and Power,” in Space and Power, ed. T. Brejzek et al. (Zurich University of the Arts, 2008)
  • Interview in Absolute Wilson: The Biography (Prestel, 2006).
  • Consultant on Spectacle by David Rockwell and Bruce Mau (Phaidon, 2006).
  • “Avant-Garde Scenography and the Frames of the Theater” in Against Theater (Palgrave, 2006).
  • “New York and the Avant-Garde Today” and “Spatial Text/Spatial Texture” in Uptown Downtown: New York Theatre from Tradition to Avant-Garde (Mimesis Edizioni, 2005).
  • “The Symbolist Scenography of Arthur Miller” in Arthur Miller’s America: Theater & Culture in a Time of Change (University of Michigan Press, 2005)
  • “The Art of Transition: Rockwell Group and Theatre” in Pleasure: The Architecture and Design of Rockwell Group  (Universe Publishing 2002).
  • Introductory essay for The Cambridge History of American Theatre, Vol. 3 (2000).
  • “The Scenography of Chekhov’s Plays,” in Cambridge Companion to Chekhov (2000).
  • “Design for Angels in America” in Approaching the Millennium: Essays on Tony Kushner’s Angels in America (University of Michigan Press, 1997). [Reprinted in The Harcourt Brace (Wadsworth) Anthology of Drama, 3rd and 4th eds.]
  • "Design for Chekhov," in Chekhov on the British Stage, ed. Patrick Miles (Cambridge University Press, 1993).
  • Two essays in The Drama Review: Thirty Years of Commentary on the Avant-Garde, (UMI Research Press, 1986).
  • "Shakespeare in Virginia, 1751-1863," Shakespeare in the South (University of Mississippi Press, 1983).
  • "Il teatro americano del XX secolo" (Twentieth Century American Theatre), Teatro Contemporaneo, Vol. II (Lucarini Editore, 1982).
  • Teatro del Novecento (Feltrinelli Editore, 1981): two chapters on American Theatre.

Articles and Essays:

  • “The Prague Quadrennial 2011,” Czech Theatre 27 (Summer 2011).
  • “The Future of Scenography,” Theatre Design & Technology (Winter 2010).
  • “What Does Your Country Look Like?” The Scenographer (November 2007).
  • “The View from the General Commissioner,” Theatre Design & Technology (Fall 2007).
  • “The 2007 Prague Quadrennial,” The Scenographer (May 2007).
  • “German Theater and American Scenography,” Bühnentechnische Rundschau  Sonderheft 2007.
  • “Their Exits and Their Entrances: Getting a Handle on Doors,” New Theatre Quarterly 20:4 (November 2004).
  • “The Heart of PQ,” Theatre Design & Technology (Fall 2003)
  • “Who’s Who? Hard to Tell at the PQ,” American Theatre (September 2003) [reprinted in OISTAT Newsletter, Winter 2003].
  • “Introductory Essay” Heart of PQ Catalogue (June 2003)
  • “Türen und das Theater,” Bühnentechnische Rundschau Heft 6/99.
  • “The PQ Jury,” Theatre Design & Technology (Fall 1999).
  • “Technology and Dramaturgical Development: Five Observations,” Theatre Research International (Summer 1999).
  • “The Artist as Artisan,” New York City Opera Season Guide 1998-99.
  • “Like First-Class Advertising: An Interview with Richard Foreman,” The Brecht Yearbook 23 (1997).
  • “Theatre Technology and the Shifting Aesthetic,” New England Theatre Journal (Vol. 8, 1997).
  • “Richard Foreman as Scenographer,” Theatre Forum (Winter/Spring 1997).
  • “New Homes for New Theatres” in the catalogue of Phenomena: The International Festival of Performance, Puppet and Visual Theatre (Society for the Advancement of Interdisciplinary Theatre, Jerusalem, 1996).
  • Designed in the USA: Catalogue of the United States Exhibition at the 1995 Prague Quadrennial.
  • "100 Jahre Bühnenbeleuchtung: Warum wir nicht wie Appia beleuchten können,"("100 Years of Stage Lighting") Bühnentechnische Rundschau (October 1994).
  • "Out of Control," American Theatre (September 1994).
  • "Shrewd Shakespeare Takes the Measure of Sex and Society," The New York Times: Arts and Leisure, July 11, 1993.
  • "The 1991 Prague Quadrennial," The Drama Review (Spring 1993).
  • "A 90's Spin for Büchner's Woyzeck, The New York Times: Arts and Leisure, December 6, 1992.
  • "Prague Notebook," Soviet and East European Performance (Fall 1991).
  • "The Prague Quadrennial," American Theatre (November 1991).
  • "The International Jury Process," Theatre Design & Technology (Fall 1991).
  • "Contemporary American Designers: George Tsypin," Theatre Design & Technology (Summer 1991).
  • "Postmodern Design," Theatre Journal (March 1991).
  • "Comedy, Manners and Brickbats," The New York Times: Arts and Leisure, May 19, 1991.
  • "Shakespeare's Past Is Present," The New York Times: Arts and Leisure, February 24, 1991.
  • "The State of the Art," in Design Exposition '88 (U.S. Institute for Theatre Technology, 1988).
  • "Design in Milwaukee," Theatre Design & Technology (Spring, 1988).
  • "PQ87: Stimuli and Responses," Theatre Design & Technology (Winter 1988).
  • "No More Theatres!," Theatre Design & Technology (Fall 1987).
  • "The Svoboda Dimension," American Theatre (October, 1987).
  • "Design and the Next Wave," Theatre Design & Technology (Spring 1986).
  • "Contemporary American Designers: Carrie Robbins," Theatre Design & Technology (Winter 1986).
  • "The Facts of Light," American Theatre (January 1986).
  • "The Wooster Group's L.S.D.," The Drama Review (Summer 1985).  Reprinted in The Drama Review: Thirty Years of Commentary on the Avant Garde, (UMI Research Press, 1986).
  • "Vampire Lesbians of Sodom at the Limbo Lounge," The Drama Review (Spring 1985). Re-printed in The Drama Review: Thirty Years of Commentary on the Avant-Garde, (UMI Research Press, 1986).
  • "Recreating Seurat: Sunday in the Park with George," Theatre Design &Technology (Spring 1985). Reprinted in Profile (June 1985, New Zealand).
  • "The Adventures of Eugene Lee," American Theatre (December, 1984). (Reprinted in The Guthrie Theatre Program, June 1986).
  • "American Scenography," The Drama Review (Summer, 1984).
  • "Some Recent Soviet and East German Designs," Theatre Design & Technology (Spring 1983).
  • "Contemporary American Designers: John Lee Beatty," Theatre Design &Technology (Winter 1982).
  • "Contemporary American Designers: Eugene Lee," Theatre Design & Technology (Spring 1982).
  • "Theatres of the Future," Theatre Journal (December, 1981).
  • "Contemporary American Designers: Santo Loquasto," Theatre Design & Technology (Fall 1981).
  • "Contemporary American Designers: Douglas Schmidt," Theatre Design &Technology (Summer, 1981).
  • "An Environment for Oedipus," Theatre Design & Technology (Summer 1978).
  • "The Total Theatrical Environment," Theatre Crafts (September,1977).
  •  "Joan MacIntosh," The Drama Review (September, 1976).
  • "Wilson/Knowles' The Value of Man," The Drama Review (September,1975).

Encyclopedia Entries:

  • Oxford Encyclopedia of Theatre & Performance (Oxford UP 2003): “Environmental Theatre.”
  • International Encyclopedia of Dance (Oxford UP, 1997): "The History of Design for Dance."
  • World Encyclopedia of Contemporary Theatre (Routledge, 1996): “Design: United States.”
  • Encyclopedia of New York City (Yale UP, 1995): “Stage Design” [Revised 2006].
  • The Cambridge Guide to American Theatre: 100 entries on stage design and designers (Cambridge UP, 1992).
  • The Cambridge Guide to World Theatre (Cambridge UP, 1989): Consultant on theatre design; major word essay on design and architecture, and 85 short entries.
  • Funk and Wagnall's New Encyclopedia: "Drama and Dramatic Arts" and "Theatre Production" (1984).
  • Academic American Encyclopedia (Arete, 1980): 18 articles on theatre.


  • “Pictorial Illusionism: The Theatre of Steele MacKaye,” University of Toronto Quarterly 79: 1, (Winter 2010)
  • “Avant-Garde Performance: Live Events and Electronic Technologies” and “Theatre, Performance, and the Historical Avant-Garde,” The Drama Review 52:2 (2008).
  • “Architecture in Words,” Theatre Design & Technology (Summer 2007).
  • Designing Modern America: Broadway To Main Street,” Theater 37 (2007).
  • “George Tsypin Opera Factory,” Theatre Design & Technology (Summer 2006).
  • “American Theatre in the Culture of the Cold War: Producing and Contesting Containment, 1947-1962,” Journal of Cold War Studies 8.2 (2006).
  • “Playing Underground: A Critical History of the 1960s Off-Off- Broadway Movement,”Modern Drama 48.3 (2005).
  • “Peter Brook,” The New York Times Book Review (April 24, 2005).
  • “Vanishing Acts,” The New York Times Book Review (December 24, 2000).
  • “Stella Adler on Ibsen Strindberg and Chekhov,” The New York Times Book Review (April 25, 1999).
  • “The Revisionist Stage,” American Studies (Summer 1997).
  • “Light Fantastic,”  The New York Times Book Review (March 17, 1996).
  • “Julie Taymor: Playing with Fire,” The New York Times Book Review (March 3, 1996).
  • “Scenic Design on Broadway/Lighting Design on Broadway,” American Theatre (May 1992).
  • "Step Right Up," The New York Times Book Review (November 25, 1990).
  • "The American Circus," The New York Times Book Review (April, 1990).
  • "Vivian Leigh," The New York Times Book Review (July 9, 1989).
  • "Zero Mostel: A Biography," The New York Times Book Review (May 28, 1989).
  • "The Theatrical Writings of Fabrizio Carini Motta," Theatre Journal (March, 1989).
  • "Hullabaloo in Old Jeypore," The New York Times Book Review (February 26, 1989).
  • "Just in Time," The New York Times Book Review (November 27, 1988).
  • "The Theatre Art of Boris Aronson," American Theatre (April, 1988).
  • "Blooded Thought" and "Take Up the Bodies," Theatre Journal (December, 1984).
  • "Aline," Theatre Journal (May, 1980).
  • "French Theatrical Production in the 19th Century," Theatre Journal (October, 1977).

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