Revolving stage

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A revolving stage is a mechanically controlled platform within a theatre that can be rotated in order to speed up the changing of a scene within a show. A fully revolving set was an innovation constructed by the hydraulics engineer Tommaso Francini for an elaborately produced pageant, Le ballet de la délivrance de Renaud, which was presented for Marie de Medici in January 1617 at the Palais du Louvre and noted with admiration by contemporaries. Such a stage is also commonly referred to as a turntable.

Kabuki theatre development[edit]

Background[edit]

Kabuki theatre began in Japan around 1603 when Okuni, a Shinto priestess of the Izumi shrine, traveled with a group of priestesses to Kyoto to become performers. Okuni and her nuns danced sensualized versions of Buddhist and Shinto ritual dances, using the shows as a shop window for their services at night.[1] They originally performed in the dry river bed of the River Kamo on a makeshift wooden stage, but as Okuni’s shows gained popularity they began to tour, performing at the imperial court at least once. Eventually, they were able to build a permanent theatre in 1604, modeled after Japan's aristocratic Nōh theatre which had dominated the previous era. Kabuki, with its origins in popular entertainment, drew crowds of common folk, along with high-class samurai looking to win their favorite performer for the night. This mixing of social classes troubled the Tokugawa Shogunate, who stressed the strict separation of different classes. When rivalries between Okuni’s samurai clients grew too intense, the shogunate took advantage of the conflict and banned women from performing onstage in 1629. The women were replaced by beautiful teenage boys who took part in the same after-dark activities, leading Kabuki to be banned from the stage completely in 1652. An actor-manager in Kyoto, Murayama Matabei, went to the authorities responsible and staged a hunger strike outside their offices.[2] In 1654 Kabuki was allowed to return with restrictions. The shogunate declared that only adult men with “shaved pates” were allowed to perform, the shows must be fully acted plays and not variety shows, and actors had to remain in their own quarter of the city and refrain from mixing with the general public in their private life.[3] With the dampened sensuality of Kabuki theatre, performers turned to exploiting art and spectacle to keep their audiences engaged.

The Genroku period of 1688 saw the solidification of the aesthetics of Kabuki under the new restrictions placed by the shogunate. Nōh theatre of the previous period was the theatre of aristocrats. After the embarrassment Kabuki brought to upper class society, it needed to develop into a more serious art form in order to survive. However, Kabuki theatre did not lose the influence of its origins as popular entertainment.  A majority of the Kabuki repertoire was adapted from Bunraku puppet theatre, another popular entertainment of the same period.[4] New innovations had to be made to adapt small scale puppet theatre into full scale plays, as well as elevate the source material to a higher class of art.

The Mawari-Butai[edit]

The revolving stage, called the mawari-butai, was invented by Edo playwright Nakimi Shozo in 1729 and solved the issue of moving heavy scenic properties quickly as Kabuki adopted Bunraku into full scale designs.[5] The mawari-butai also served to capture the audience’s interest in the rambunctious theatre atmosphere. The mawari-butai was originally a raised mechanical platform that had to be operated manually by stage hands. The audience would have been able to see the stage hands turning the set as the action of the actors carried on continuously into the next scene. By the 1800s the mawari-butai had evolved to become flush with the stage, and to include an inner revolve and an outer revolve that could be spun simultaneously to achieve certain special effects. Stage hands now moved under stage, requiring the strength of at least four people to push the revolving stage to its next position.[6] The mawari-butai in Kabuki theatre was always manually operated by stage hands.

The mawari-butai allowed great spectacle and ease of set changes, but it also provided a great opportunity for story and aesthetic choices. No more than two sets were constructed on the revolve. These sets could be entirely different settings or show a change in mood or time within one setting.[7] By walking on the revolve in the opposite direction of its motion, actors could appear to go on long journeys through woods, down city streets, etc.[5] The addition of the inner revolve allowed for set pieces to move in relation to each other. For example, two boats could sail past each other in an epic sea battle like in Chikamatsu Monzaemon’s The Girl From Hakata. The inner revolve sometimes was fitted with a lift that could be used to make set pieces rise from the floor, or to make buildings appear as if they are crashing down.[8] The mawari-butai takes on a filmic effect and “fades the actor in and out of the realm of the performance”.[7] Kabuki does not strive to be realistic, it strives to be a decorated space. Kabuki is first and foremost an actor’s theatre and asks the audience to suspend reality of setting, instead adapting to the conventions of Kabuki.

Japanese Influence on the West[edit]

Following the Meiji Restoration in 1868, Japan ended a long period of isolation and reopened trade with European countries. After so long in isolation, Japanese art flooded the European market, sparking a great “Japonism” fever. The conventions of Japanese Kabuki theatre developed in isolation from the rest of the world, so the innovations quickly spread to European theatre. Karl Lautenschlager built the first revolving stage in western theatre in 1896 for Mozart’s Don Giovanni at the Residenz Theatre. This revolving stage was raised slightly above the stage level and was electrically powered by motors that turned wheels along a track. With the proscenium arch, only a quarter of the revolve was visible to the audience. Four sets were constructed on Lautenschlager’s revolving stage as opposed to Kabuki’s limit of two.[9] In 1889 Lautenschlager was hired by the Munich court theatre to design an efficient revolving stage for productions of Shakespeare. Here marks the greatest role of the revolving stage in its western history as the new Shakespeare stage.[7] The revolving stage trickled into the designs of Germany and Russia’s Reinhardt and Meyerhold as its popularity grew.[10] Revolving stages are still a fixture of both Kabuki theatre and western theatre today. The automation of the revolving stage and lifts has allowed many more aesthetic possibilities in shows such as Cats and Les Miserable, as well as the automated double revolve, or concentric revolve, in Hamilton, further solidifying these Kabuki innovations into the western mainstream.

Ten years after Lautenschlager’s stage, Max Reinhardt employed it in the premiere of Frühlings Erwachen by Frank Wedekind. Soon this revolving stage was a trend in Berlin. Another adaptation of the Kabuki stage popular among German directors was the Blumensteg, a jutting extension of the stage into the audience. The European acquaintance with Kabuki came either from travels in Japan or from texts, but also from Japanese troupes touring Europe. In 1893, Kawakami Otojiro and his troupe of actors arrived in Paris, returning again in 1900 and playing in Berlin in 1902. Kawakami's troop performed two pieces, Kesa and Shogun, both of which were westernized and were performed without music and with the majority of the dialogue eliminated. This being the case, these performances tended toward pantomime and dance. Dramatists and critics quickly latched on to what they saw as a "re-theatricalization of the theater." Among the actors in these plays was Sada Yacco, first Japanese star in Europe, who influenced pioneers of modern dance such as Loie Fuller and Isadora Duncan, she performed for Queen Victoria in 1900, and enjoyed the status of a European star.[11][12]

Early western development[edit]

The first modern revolving stage in the western world was built by Karl Lautenschläger (1843–1906) in 1896 in Munich, Germany. Lautenschläger studied under Carl Brandt at the court theatre in Darmstad. From there he went to Munich, where he worked for 22 years and became the head machinist at the Royal theatre. He is known for his revolving stage, sometimes called the Lautenschläger stage, which later acquired the legacy of being called the new Shakespeare stage. The stage was installed at the Residenz Theatre for a performance of Don Giovanni, an opera by Wolfgang Mozart. The revolve at the Residenz Theatre was fifty feet in diameter and was raised slightly off of the regular stage floor. With the proscenium, a little less than a fourth of the revolve was visible to the audience. Lautenschläger used electricity to power the turntable, with the table turning on rollers, which ran on a circular track. This particular revolve was split into quarter sections and allowed four scenes to be set at the top of the show. The revolving stage allowed for depth, like landscapes with views in the distance and a more three-dimensional set in front of the walls of the revolve.

For theatres like the Dresden, that did not have an underside to their stage, each sector of the revolve would have two wheels operating directly on the stage floor and propelled by a small motor fixed to the underside of the turntable. Some revolves had only two separate sections while some had as many as seven. Not all sections had to be split into equal proportions. Sections could be very shallow or very deep, according to what the scene required. Rectangular sections were even used many times for indoor scenes. Some revolves had sections that connected to each other to give the appearance of travel and help give the set perspective. Eventually traps, elevators and revolving stages combined in some theatres. The individual sections of the turntable could be lowered and raised to and from underneath the stage to make scene changes even more efficient.

In 1889, the Munich court theatre hired Lautenschläger to design a stage that was more efficient for Shakespearean productions, which required many changes of scenery. His revolving stage seemed to be the perfect solution. Other theatres and other companies performing Shakespeare quickly began to use the revolving stage, and it started to become known as the new Shakespeare stage. This was probably the biggest role for the revolving stage in its history.

Pros of early western designs[edit]

  • As a designer lays out the taverns, houses, and cobblestone streets to have sectioned off on the circular set, he could imagine an actor walking from one location to the next as a part of the scene. Some directors even employed the rotation of the stage with a purposeful view from the audience allowing them to see the characters walk from one setting to the next.
  • The sectioned design created wall structures to build usually costly sets on. The structure provided for much more interesting scenic designs, especially when concerning the outdoor hills and mountains. The angled frames of the stage dividers were often used to support tree structures or tall rolling hills.
  • Time was the biggest problem solved by the revolving stage. There was a particular problem with Shakespearean plays that required so many changes of scenery that some runs were as long as one could imagine a 20-act play would be. Using the revolving stage, the scene changes were a fraction of their previous length. It only took the time to rotate a 1/4 or even a 1/6 way around the circular stage.

Cons of early western design[edit]

  • Angled walls often provided a problem. It was impossible, as a scenic designer, to incorporate a horizon for anything on stage because there was no such back wall to support the perspective of it.
  • The height of certain sets in certain sections proved to be an issue as well. When large buildings or tall constructions of the inside of a house were built in one section, they generally exceeded the length of the framing walls. When the stage spun, the audience could then see the buildings in other scenes. This would offset other places such as the inside of a house or a wide-open field.
  • The vibrations from the early designs of the mechanical revolving stage were off-putting in an auditorium.

Present-day use[edit]

Revolving stages are still in use in theater, but benefit from the rise of automation in scenic design. The use of a revolving stage in the original staging of Cats was considered revolutionary at the time,[13] with a section of the stalls mounted onto the revolve as well.[14] The original London staging of Les Misérables is one of the most notable modern uses of a revolving stage, considered "iconic";[15] it made sixty-three rotations in each performance.[16] Director Trevor Nunn's decision to use the feature was informed by the need for rapid changes of location, especially in light of scenes added to the musical in its adaptation from the original French version.[17]: 75  The turntable also provided "cinematic" changes of perspective on a scene, and, crucially, permitted the cast to walk against the revolve for dramatic motion.[17]: 98  Double-rotating stages, known as a concentric revolve, have also been used in theater productions such as Hamilton. Having one revolving stage inside of the other allows for more flexibility by allowing each to rotate in different directions or at different speeds.

Other uses[edit]

Today revolving stage are primarily used in marketing and trade shows and constructed in a modular design that can be set up and taken down quickly in different types of venues. Driven from the central core or indirectly from an external hub, these stages take advantage of rotating ring couplers to provide rotating power to the stage deck so there is no twisting of power cords or need to reverse the stage. In many cases the stage is left rotating for days at a time, carrying a load up to an SUV.

The revolving stage is also sometimes used at concerts and music festivals, especially larger ones, to allow one band to set up and check their equipment while another opening band is performing. This allows for a much faster transition between an opening band and the next one on the lineup. One such example was the Goose Lake International Music Festival, held in Michigan in August, 1970.[18]

A notable revolving stage show that is used for the concept for Walt Disney's Carousel of Progress in Tomorrowland at Magic Kingdom in Walt Disney World Resort in Bay Lake, Florida just outside of Orlando Florida, where the stage remains stationary while the auditorium revolves around it.

See also[edit]

References[edit]

  1. ^ ARCARI, JASON (October 2007). "Modern Japanese Theatre and Performance. Edited by David Jortner, Keiko McDonald and Kevin J. WetmoreJr. Lanham and Oxford: Lexington Books, 2006. Pp. vii + 289 + illus. $85/£56/€88.20 Hb. - The Traditional Theatre of Japan: Kyogen, Noh, Kabuki, and Puppetry. By John Wesley Harris. New York: The Edwin Mellen Press, 2006. Pp. vi + 253 + 11 illus. £69.95/$109.95 Hb". Theatre Research International. 32 (3): 334–336. doi:10.1017/s0307883307003239. ISSN 0307-8833.
  2. ^ ARCARI, JASON (October 2007). "Modern Japanese Theatre and Performance. Edited by David Jortner, Keiko McDonald and Kevin J. WetmoreJr. Lanham and Oxford: Lexington Books, 2006. Pp. vii + 289 + illus. $85/£56/€88.20 Hb. - The Traditional Theatre of Japan: Kyogen, Noh, Kabuki, and Puppetry. By John Wesley Harris. New York: The Edwin Mellen Press, 2006. Pp. vi + 253 + 11 illus. £69.95/$109.95 Hb". Theatre Research International. 32 (3): 334–336. doi:10.1017/s0307883307003239. ISSN 0307-8833.
  3. ^ ARCARI, JASON (October 2007). "Modern Japanese Theatre and Performance. Edited by David Jortner, Keiko McDonald and Kevin J. WetmoreJr. Lanham and Oxford: Lexington Books, 2006. Pp. vii + 289 + illus. $85/£56/€88.20 Hb. - The Traditional Theatre of Japan: Kyogen, Noh, Kabuki, and Puppetry. By John Wesley Harris. New York: The Edwin Mellen Press, 2006. Pp. vi + 253 + 11 illus. £69.95/$109.95 Hb". Theatre Research International. 32 (3): 334–336. doi:10.1017/s0307883307003239. ISSN 0307-8833.
  4. ^ Verfasser, Kenny, Don (1974). On stage in Japan Kabuki, Bunraku, Noh, Gagaku ; [an invitation to traditional Japanese theatres]. Shufunotomo. OCLC 1072503372. {{cite book}}: |last= has generic name (help)
  5. ^ a b "Chapter 5. How Faubion Bowers "Saved" Kabuki", The Man Who Saved Kabuki, University of Hawaii Press, pp. 66–102, 2017-12-31, doi:10.1515/9780824864842-007, ISBN 9780824864842, retrieved 2022-10-17
  6. ^ ARCARI, JASON (October 2007). "Modern Japanese Theatre and Performance. Edited by David Jortner, Keiko McDonald and Kevin J. WetmoreJr. Lanham and Oxford: Lexington Books, 2006. Pp. vii + 289 + illus. $85/£56/€88.20 Hb. - The Traditional Theatre of Japan: Kyogen, Noh, Kabuki, and Puppetry. By John Wesley Harris. New York: The Edwin Mellen Press, 2006. Pp. vi + 253 + 11 illus. £69.95/$109.95 Hb". Theatre Research International. 32 (3): 334–336. doi:10.1017/s0307883307003239. ISSN 0307-8833.
  7. ^ a b c Ernst, Earle (October 1954). "Notes on the Form of Kabuki, I". Educational Theatre Journal. 6 (3): 201–209. doi:10.2307/3203959. JSTOR 3203959.
  8. ^ ARCARI, JASON (October 2007). "Modern Japanese Theatre and Performance. Edited by David Jortner, Keiko McDonald and Kevin J. WetmoreJr. Lanham and Oxford: Lexington Books, 2006. Pp. vii + 289 + illus. $85/£56/€88.20 Hb. - The Traditional Theatre of Japan: Kyogen, Noh, Kabuki, and Puppetry. By John Wesley Harris. New York: The Edwin Mellen Press, 2006. Pp. vi + 253 + 11 illus. £69.95/$109.95 Hb". Theatre Research International. 32 (3): 334–336. doi:10.1017/s0307883307003239. ISSN 0307-8833.
  9. ^ "Lautenschlager's New Revolving Stage". Scientific American. 42 (1078supp): 17230–17231. 1896-08-29. doi:10.1038/scientificamerican08291896-17230supp. ISSN 0036-8733.
  10. ^ Gillespie, John K.; Inoura, Yoshinobu; Toshio, Kawatake (1983). "The Traditional Theater of Japan". Asian Folklore Studies. 42 (1): 137. doi:10.2307/1178371. ISSN 0385-2342. JSTOR 1178371.
  11. ^ "International Conference". www.jsme.or.jp. Retrieved 2020-12-28.
  12. ^ Maltarich, Bill, 1969- (2005). Samurai and supermen : national socialist views of Japan. Oxford: P. Lang. ISBN 3-03910-303-2. OCLC 59359992.{{cite book}}: CS1 maint: multiple names: authors list (link)
  13. ^ Webb, Paul (15 January 2002). "London Production of Cats to Close on May 11". Playbill. Archived from the original on 23 May 2019. Retrieved 15 May 2019.
  14. ^ Christiansen, Richard (13 September 1981). "'Cats': Hit feline musical has London purring". Chicago Tribune. p. 117 – via Newspapers.com.
  15. ^ Marshall, Alex (July 1, 2019). "The 'Les Misérables' Revolving Stage Is Going. Fans Are in a Spin". The New York Times.
  16. ^ Rousuck, J. Wynn (April 9, 2000). "Les facts about 'Les Miserables'". Baltimore Sun.
  17. ^ a b Behr, Edward (January 1993). The Complete Book of Les Miserables. Arcade. ISBN 9781559701563.
  18. ^ Thal, Debra. "Goose Lake vs Blues Festival". Michigan Daily. Ann Arbor, Michigan. p. 4. Retrieved May 10, 2012.

General references[edit]

  • The American Architect and Building News. Volume 53. Boston: American. Architect and Building News Co, 1896.
  • Ackermann, Friedrich Adolf. The Oberammergau Passion Play, 1890. Fifth Edition. Munich: Friedrich Adolf Ackermann, 1890.
  • Fuerst, Walter René and Hume, Samuel J. Twentieth-Century Stage Decoration. Volume 1. New York: Dover Publications, 1967.
  • Hoffer, Charles. Music Listening Today. Fourth Edition. Boston: Schirmer Cengage Learning, 2009.
  • Izenour, George C. Theater Technology. New Haven: Yale University Press, 1996.
  • MacGowan, Kenneth. The Theatre of Tomorrow. New York: Boni and Liveright, 1921. Print.
  • Ortolano, Benito. The Japanese theatre: from shamanistic ritual to contemporary pluralism. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1990.
  • Randl, Chad. Revolving architecture. New York: Princeton Architectural Press, 2008. Print.
  • Sachs, Edwin. Modern Theatre Stages. New York: Engineering, 1897. Print.
  • Vermette, Margaret. The Musical World of Boublil and Schönberg: The Creators of Les Misérables, Miss Saigon, Martin *Guerre, and The Pirate Queen. New York: Applause Theatre & Cinema Books, 2006.
  • Williams, Simon. Shakespeare on the German stage: 1586–1914. Volume 1. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1990.
  • WPG, . The Revolving Stage at the Munich Royal Residential and Court Theatre. New York: American Architect and Architecture, 1896. Print.