Hamlet, An Enemy of the People, A Midsummer Night’s Dream, Hedda Gabler, Richard III, A Doll’s House... These are some of the classic texts known and loved by audiences and theatre directors alike. But staging these classics poses challenges, not just for directors, but also for stage designers. 

While everyone is familiar with the texts, there is more than one way of interpreting the stories. In Shakespeare’s day, stages were bare platforms with the audience standing close around; at the time of Ibsen, stages were designed to create a distance between the actors and the viewers. But the concept of distance is very different now from what it was 400 years ago. With the rapid development of technology and contemporary art, ways of looking and seeing have long changed from “seeing what is” to “seeing what is conveyed”. 

How does an architect construct a stage that conveys more than “what is”? In other words, rather than creating a stage that follows the directions laid out in the script, what can set designers do to create space for imagination and bring new perspectives and ideas to these canonical works? 

For this year’s What is Stage, we have invited Jan Pappelbaum, an important and influential stage designer and former student of architecture from Germany. As a stage designer, Pappelbaum’s most important contributions have been the works he has produced since joining the Schaubühne Theatre in Berlin in 2001. Most of these works have been created in response to the special features of the three theatres inside the building, which can be merged or separated, with his designs creating infinite possibilities for different types of texts and performances within these spaces.

Joining us for a four-day intensive artist seminar, Pappelbaum will share how his work begins with the script, how he analyses and visualises the text, how he creates a model and deals with the materials and proportions of the set, and how the concept is finally presented to the audience.

Artistic Director of Edward Lam Dance Theatre
Edward Lam

About Scenography

Dating back to 20th century Eastern Europe, the term scenography embraces all elements of the theatrical space, approaching a production as an holistic experience. The role of the scenographer differs from a set designer or costumer designer, they are artists with specific skills and a unique aesthetic sense. The practice of scenography in theatre making has evolved over the years, especially within the contemporary theatre scene. More than just set design, scenography is also more than the sum of the set, props, costumes and lighting. It is a practice akin to the manipulation of space and time, and the scenographer, as such, is like a magician who determines what the audience is allowed to see and how they see it.

About the “Creation” Series

At its heart, West Kowloon’s artistic strategy is to create good works for our future venues, works that have a longer lifespan in order to reach larger audiences. These works will need a more rigorous creation pathway over a longer gestation period.

To this end, we are committed to providing more artists from Hong Kong and the region with access to a range of professional workshops, research and development programmes, collaboration opportunities and discourse that help to clarify their artistic practice and strengthen the pathways to making good work. Between 2015 and 2018, we have developed a number of initiatives such as the New Works Forum, the International Workshop Festival of Theatre and various seminars that have benefitted many artists and their practice. Such programmes have also helped build strong relationships with international artists and artistic institutions.

These initiatives are now rebranded under a district-wide platform called “Creation” that encompasses artist capacity building programmes, works development, artist residencies, and artist-led research and development. Creation is a workshop, a place to create and generate new ideas. A place where artists put things together, and where people gather to create together. Creation will exist in different forms across different artistic disciplines, and across our new venues, as Creation for Freespace, Creation for Lyric Theatre Complex and Creation for Xiqu Centre.