The Principles of Design
In applying the elements of design, certain principles must be used if the results are to be effective. The principles of design are harmony, variety, balance, proportion, emphasis, and rhythm.
Harmony creates the impression of unity. Typically directors and designers seek to harmonize the parts of each setting or costume and to relate the various settings and costumes in such a way that all are clearly parts of a whole. If monotony is to be avoided, however, variety is needed. Similarly, directors seek both harmony and variety through their choice of actors and through each actor’s use of movement and gesture.
Balance is the sense of stability that results from the distribution of the parts that make up the total picture. There are three types of balance. The most common is axial, achieved by the apparent equal distribution of weight on either side of a central axis. This type is especially pertinent to the proscenium stage, which may be thought of as a fulcrum (or seesaw) with the point of balance at the center. Axial balance is achieved if the elements placed on each side of the central line appear equal in weight. Apparent visual weight is not the same as actual weight, because a large light-colored object may appear to weigh no more than a small dark-colored object, and a small object near the outer edge may balance a large object near the center. A second type of balance, radial, is organization that radiates in every direction from a central point. It is especially important on arena and thrust stages because these stages are viewed from several ang4s. A third kind of balance is usually called occult. It is especially pertinent to flexible and variable staging, in which there may be no readily discernible axis or center. Occult balance results from the relationship of mass to space and among unlike objects.
Balance, especially axial, may also be thought of as symmetrical or asymmetrical.
Symmetrical balance means that if an object or space is divided down the middle, each side mirrors the other most costumes (especially before ornaments or accessories are added) are symmetrical. Complete symmetry in a stage setting creates a sense of formality and order; asymmetry, which depends on irregularity; may create a sense of in-formality or casualness. In performance, when the stage picture is constantly shifting because of the movement of the actors, directors must be especially aware of balance and how it is affected by what the actors do. During rehearsals, a director may adjust the position of actors in order to achieve balance.
Proportion involves the relationship between the parts of individual elements as well as the relationship among all the parts that make up the total picture: the scale of each part in relation to all the others; the relationship among shapes; and the division of the space (for example, the length of a dress bodice in relation to the skirt). Proportion can create the impression of stability or instability of grace or awkwardness. Furniture disproportionate to the size of a room may create either a cramped or meager feeling. Our perception of beauty or ugliness depends largely on the proportion of parts. In costume, the manipulation of proportion can do much to change an actor’s appearance and enhance or disguise attributes.
All designs need a focal point, or center of emphasis. Directors are constantly seeking to focus attention on what they consider most important and to subordinate the things of lesser importance. A well-composed scene or design directs attention to the most important point immediately and then to the subordinate parts. Emphasis may be achieved in several ways, among them line, mass, color, texture, ornamentation, contrast, and movement The setting may make one area of the stage more emphatic than others; a costume may use emphasis to draw attention to an actor’s good points and away from defects; movement within an otherwise still picture will always attract the eye.
Rhythm is the principle that leads the eye easily and smoothly from one part of a design to another. All of the elements of design may be used for rhythmic purposes. Lines and shapes may be repeated; the size of objects or the amount of movement may be changed gradually to give a sense of progression; gradations in hue, saturation, and value may lead the eye from one point to another; changes or repetitions in texture and ornament may give a sense of flow and change; and the movement of the actors may increase or decrease in tempo.
The scene designer is concerned with the organization and appearance of the performance space. The designer defines and characterizes the space, arranges it to facilitate the movement of the actors, and uses it to reinforce the production concept.