Performing arts are widely seen all over the continents and can be classified into three main categories: Music, dancing, and drama performances. Dating back to the 5th century BC, the first acting scenes in the world were played in Athens when the drama was identified as comedy, tragedy, and satyr play. 

Built in Ancient Athens, the Dionysius Theatre was built to accommodate more than 17,000 seats and host several drama competitions (Guinness Records).

The evolution in the fields of arts and design greatly tackled theatres and performing arts, especially in the set designs and scenographies. Lately, the era of digitalisation boosted the set design to the next level by introducing Artificial Intelligence, Virtual Reality, and Augmented Reality.

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Dionysus Theatre_©Thomas Gravanis

Traditional Set Designs in Theatres

The basic set designs for theatres are mainly three. According to Ben Podbury, “Set designs are theatricalism style, expressionism style, and impressionism styles”.

First, the theatricalism style focuses on how the audience will understand the act. This style implies minimal scenery with smooth transitions making the audience in total focus on the performance itself.

A world seen from the character’s perspective is realised by the expressionism style in set design. Through exaggeration and mainly in big theatres, this style focuses on the illustration of divisions, choices, and divisions.

Moving to the third style, impressionism aims to emphasise the set importance by giving it a bold appearance while minimising its details.

Moreover, Podbury added in his article that, “alongside the three main styles, theatres through time feature the corporate set design, where actors can act and pass across audience seats. Nevertheless, the realism style mostly applied in small theatres, is a set design aiming to reflect a small scene as it is in reality. This style could cause cost issues when it comes to designing bigger stages”. 

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Seoul Donhwamun Traditional Theatre_©Yun Suh-young

The Evolution of Set Designs Over The Past Years

Tackling the evolution of the set designs in theatres is leading to identifying between the design itself, and the lighting used.

The design evolution moved from realistic in the 1900s to experimental design in the mid-20th century led by David Belasco (Boen, 2023). This evolution was smoothly occurring due to social, industrial, and political changes across the globe. Adding to this, the 1920s saw symbolism and expressionism leading to Freudian Themes and futuristic arts.
The evolution of lighting in set design went through several phases: sunlight, candles, oil lights, gas lights, and finally modern electric lights (Prague Youth Theatre Blog).
Beginning with the Romans and Greeks, sunlight was the only lighting source for outdoor theatres. Within the development of stages and the shift towards indoor, sunlight was no more efficient. In the 1500s, candles were introduced to theatres by the Italian architect Sebastiano Serlio. This introduction was made possible through the use of big chandeliers. The evolution continued through the use of oil lamps faced a higher maintenance cost than gas lamps causing many theatres to be burnt. The evolution stops in the contemporary period with the use of LED lights.

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Modern Theatre_©Lasha Chkhartishvili

The Era of  Holograms and AR in Theatre Set Design

As a definition, Augmented Reality also known as AR is an interactive experience that uses computer-generated perceptual images to enrich an actual or real environment. Talking about AR in theatres is related to Hologram Technologies that create a whole virtual environment on stage. Even though they are not similar, they do create similar effects of making the unreal an integrated part of a bigger real one.

On one hand, hologram technology is seen and experienced by the naked eye directly. Holograms are realised through the use of big stages or screens, where holographic images are mid-air floating allowing sights from different angles and perspectives (Hypervsn, 2023).  Rear screens used in numerous events and theatrical performances are very illustrative examples of these technologies.

On the other hand, the far throw AR is currently used in grand theatres using augmented reality tools for better and live interaction between audiences and both real and unreal actors on stage. Briar and Rose – an augmented reality theatrical play developed by Glitch Studios is for instance one of the leading examples in the field (Glitch Studios).

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Holographic Screen_©Pro Display

Discussion: Pros and Cons

While rating AR falls into its positivities and negativities, hologram technologies rating is facing the same polarities. “According to Vision 3D, hologram technologies face high production costs and energy consumption, with technical constraints and limited availability of the content”. On the counterpart, Vision 3D also mentions that these technologies provide an immersive user experience featuring unlimited applications, enhanced visualisation, and interactive communications.

The advantages and disadvantages of AR technologies are close to those of holograms. As mentioned by The Team of DigitalDfynd, “While boosting connectivity, integrity, and special user experience, AR technologies showed high costs, may lead to mental distraction, and high risks of safety and security”. 

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AR Theatre_©Glitch Studios

References:

Guinness Records. First Permanent Theatre. [Online]. Available at: https://www.guinnessworldrecords.com/world-records/first-permanent-theatre

Podbury, B. (June 20, 2013). Basic Styles of Set Design. Big Picture Creations. [Online]. Available at: https://bigpicturecreations.blogspot.com/2013/06/baisc-styles-of-stage-set-design.html 

Boen, M. (2023). Evolution of Stage Design in The Theatre. [YouTube Video]. Available at: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=N5aUkEABOZ8

Prague Youth Theatre Blog. A History of Lighting Design: From Sunlight to Stage Light. [Online]. Available at: https://pragueyouththeatre.wordpress.com/2019/09/17/a-history-of-lighting-design-from-sunlight-to-stage-light/

Hypervsn. (March 7, 2023). Holographic Theatres for Fascinating, realistic, and Immersive Experiences. [Online]. Available at: https://hypervsn.com/blog/holographic-theatres-for-fascinating-realistic-and-immersive-experiences.html#:~:text=They%20typically%20use%20large%20screens,movies%2C%20and%20virtual%20reality%20experiences

Glitch Studios. The Theatre Reimagined – Introducing AR to the Stage. [Online]. Available at: https://www.glitchstudios.co/projects-archive/the-theatre-reimagined-introducing-ar-to-the-stage/

Vision 3D. (April 15, 2024). What Are The Advantages and Disadvantages of Holograms? [Online]. Available at: https://www.vision3d.in/blog/advantages-and-disadvantages-of-hologram/ 

Team DigitalDefynd. 20 Pros and Cons of Augmented Reality [2024]. [Online]. Available at: https://digitaldefynd.com/IQ/augmented-reality-pros-cons/

List of Images

1_Thomas Gravanis. Dionysus Theatre. [Photograph]. Available at: https://www.thisisathens.org/antiquities/theatre-dionysus

2_Yun Suh-young. Seoul Donhwamun Traditional Theatre. [Photograph]. Available at: https://www.koreatimes.co.kr/www/art/2024/05/398_213043.html 

3_Lasha Chkhartishvili. Modern Theatre. [Photograph]. Available at:
https://lashachkhartishvili.blogspot.com/2020/04/modern-and-contemporary-theatre.html 

4_Pro Display. Holographic Screen. [Photograph]. Available at: https://prodisplay.com/projection-screens/rear-projection/clearview-holographic-display/ 

5_Glitch Studios. AR Theatre. [Photograph]. Available at:  https://www.glitchstudios.co/projects-archive/the-theatre-reimagined-introducing-ar-to-the-stage/ 

Author

Born and studied Architecture in Lebanon, Mahfoud is using Architecture and Design as a tool to solve social problems in the Lebanese rural areas. He was awarded by The United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) as Innovator of The Year 2023 for his socio-architectural and sustainable project called ARTICKLE.