Selections from GRAND ILLUSION: THE ART OF THEATRICAL DESIGN

Douglas Schmidt (b. 1942). Stage design for Salome. Opened at the New York State Theatre, March 13, 1975. Gouache drawing. Alvin Ailey Collection, Music Division, Library of Congress (016.00.00)

Transporting an audience from their time and place to an entirely different world—tucked under and behind the proscenium arch—is the task of the theatrical designer. The designer must invoke the magnificent and the intimate with scenery, costumes, lighting, machinery, and effects—all calculated to astonish and engage the audience. Grand Illusion: The Art of Theatrical Design journeys from the Baroque courts of Europe to the Broadway stages of the United States. This exhibit offers a glimpse at the distinguished theatrical design collections amassed over decades at the Library of Congress, which document the world of the stage over centuries. These collections not only remind us of a rich cultural heritage but also open up new paths for scholars to examine the renowned and the forgotten worlds of stage design. No play or musical, no opera or ballet is fully realized without a visual design. Exploring those visual elements deepens our comprehension of that other world across the footlights and under the proscenium.

This exhibit draws from collections that document virtually all genres of theater: ballet, modern dance, opera, musical theater, comedy, dramatic theater, and the variety stage. In recent years, work in film design has been added to the strengths of the collections. Among the designs on exhibition are finished renderings, works in progress, technical drawings, as well as designers’ research materials supporting the development of the look, feel, and movement of a production. Other items on view are from correspondence and documents circulated among designers and their collaborators that demonstrate the centrality of the scenery, costumes, and lighting in the conception and success of a production.