Modern Theatres 1950–2020
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Modern Theatres 1950–2020

David Staples, David Staples

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eBook - ePub

Modern Theatres 1950–2020

David Staples, David Staples

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About This Book

Modern Theatres 1950–2020 is an investigation of theatres, concert halls and opera houses in Asia, Europe, the Middle East and North and South America.

The book explores in detail 30 of the most significant theatres, concert halls, opera houses and dance spaces that opened between 1950 and 2010. Each theatre is reviewed and assessed by experts in theatre buildings, such as architects, acousticians, consultants and theatre practitioners, and illustrated with full-colour photographs and comparative plans and sections. A further 20 theatres that opened from 2009 to 2020 are concisely reviewed and illustrated.

An excellent resource for students of theatre planning, theatre architecture and architectural design, Modern Theatres 1950 – 2020 discusses the role of performing arts buildings in cities, explores their public and performances spaces and examines the acoustics and technologies needed in a great building. This beautifully illustrated book is also a must-read for architects, theater designers, theatre historians, and theatre practitioners.

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PART 1.00


David Staples
A number of experts were invited to contribute essays covering many aspects of theatre buildings and their technologies. The essays commence with some thoughts on changes in society and cities. They go on to discuss types of theatre – opera houses, concert halls and playhouses and conclude with comments on acoustics and theatre technologies.
Authors were asked to focus their thoughts on the period 1950 to 2020 but the essays start with one by Dr David Wilmore on Edwin Sachs, a Victorian architect, stagehand, engineer and fireman. He pioneered a scientific approach to the examination and prevention of fires. But perhaps Sachs’ greatest legacy are the three volumes entitled Modern Opera Houses and Theatres he published in 1896, 1897 and 1898 – almost exactly 120 years ago. This extraordinary work documented in immaculate detail many of the most important theatres of that period. Sachs was an inspiration to those involved in this volume and we stand in awe of his achievement, which we cannot hope to repeat in this work but acknowledge wholeheartedly.
The period 1950 to 2020 has seen profound change in society, technologies, politics and the world. Those changes have affected and influenced the performing arts and performing arts buildings. In 1950 the old world order and hierarchy of cities had been disrupted by the Second World War. The iron curtain divided Europe while the 1970’s oil price boom brought the Middle East to prominence. The 20th century was described as America’s century. After only two decades the 21st century is already being labelled China’s century.
A recent study offers a classification of cities, with only New York and London described as Alpha++. The next tier, Alpha+, embraces Beijing, Dubai, Hong Kong, Paris, Shanghai, Singapore, Sydney and Tokyo, several of which were insignificant in 1950 but have grown to prominence in a short period. The editor offers a chapter on cities and the changes not only in successful, growing cities but the role of performing arts buildings in urban renewal and regeneration.
Theatres are public buildings; they must attract the public and audiences if they are to be successful. They also have an important role to play in their community, town or city. Two authors have explored aspects of this public face. Boštjan Vuga, a Slovenian architect, has contributed an essay on publicness and place making. Moving inside the building, theatre consultant Robert Shook has written about the public – front of house – spaces.
Alistair Fair is an academic and writer about theatre spaces while Josh Dachs is one of the world’s leading theatre consultants. From opposite sides of the Atlantic their essays comment on changes in theatre architecture. Alistair’s “Towards a New Theatre Architecture” is informed by the UK experience while Josh’s “Prevailing Themes in 20th- Century Theatre Architecture” brings a North American perspective.
Three people have discussed ‘types’ of theatres. Nicholas Payne, having headed several major opera companies, is Executive Director of Opera Europa and has written on ‘The Modern Opera House’. Chris Blair is a leading acoustic consultant (and conductor) who discusses the evolution of the concert hall. Concert halls have seen possibly the most profound change of any type of performing arts building. Playhouses and the rediscovery of the 3D nature of rooms is explored in an essay by theatre architect Tim Foster.
The essays conclude with some examinations of acoustics and the technologies that are essential to make sure a building works. Acoustician Sébastien Jouan discusses acoustics and the acoustic techniques used in the design of modern theatres.
Mark Arger, stage engineer, has been at the forefront of design and innovation in stage equipment. He offers an informed perspective on stage engineering innovation.
The biggest innovation in stage lighting was the discovery of electricity; the move from gas to electricity stopped the devastating theatre fires of the 19th century. The Savoy Theatre in London was not only the first theatre to be lit by electricity but also the first public building in the world to be entirely lit by electricity. No such radical innovation has taken place in stage lighting between 1950 and 2020, but lighting technology has undergone important developments. Mark White of Electronic Theatre Controls (ETC) is a former chair of the ABTT and explores the changes that have taken place in stage lighting.
In 1950 amplification and sound systems were crude and of poor (or very poor) quality. Today they are incredibly sophisticated, not only used to amplify or play an effect but increasingly being used as an integral part of performances and compositions. All musicals are amplified, and actors are increasingly amplified – seamlessly. Most contemporary dance is performed to a recorded soundtrack. Even opera houses and concert halls are embracing sound systems. Chris Full explores some of the innovations and changes.
The final essay by Raj Patel is possibly the most speculative. The last ten years have seen growing interest and use of new media and technologies like virtual and augmented reality. Theatres are increasingly using spectacular projections and video mapping. What are the impacts and opportunities in 2020?

Edwin O. Sachs

A British Theatrical Enigma

David Wilmore
Edwin Sachs
Born on the 5th April 1870 in St. John’s Wood, London, Edwin Sachs was trained as an architect in Berlin, and after a period as a government pupil he studied at the famous Königliche Technische Hochshule in Charlottenburg and worked as an architectural assistant to Böckmann & Ende, who specialised in public buildings rather than theatres. In 1890 he became an ensign in the Berlin Royal Fire Brigade and then went on to gain a supernumerary commission in the Vienna Metropolitan Fire Brigade. This was followed by service in the Paris Fire Brigade before he returned to London to take part in more fire-fighting. He qualified as an architect at the age of 22 in 1892 and appears to have set up his own architectural practice almost immediately.
The next four years were spent writing his magnum opus, Modern Opera Houses and Theatres – a three-volume elephant folio treatise published consecutively in 1896,1897 and 1898 – the first volume being co-authored by Ernest A.E. Woodrow, a fellow architect who was also fascinated by theatre architecture. However, in a prefatory note to the second volume Sachs stated that Woodrow had much to his regret been unable to continue with the project.
The concept of a parallèle – a publication which presents architectural drawings in a consistent manner and at a constant scale was not a new idea even in 1896 – but it was largely something that had been published within mainland Europe. Sachs seized upon the idea as a marvellous way in which to compare and contrast both the advantages and disadvantages associated with theatre design and construction.
It is clear that Sachs had had a wonderful opportunity to examine and record many of the splendid theatres and opera houses of Europe whilst completing his architectural education – theatres and opera houses that were wholly funded, both in capital and revenue terms, by the state. Returning to Britain Sachs was faced with the realisation that theatre design and construction in this country was wholly in the realm of the commercial theatrical impresario. In consequence the theatres of Great Britain, unlike so many of its other public buildings, did not, certainly from the outside, reflect the artistic or the architectural ambition of the British Empire. This seems to be something which Sachs could neither accept nor even forgive in architectural terms – and something for which, even with the perspective of over 120 years, it is difficult to reconcile. One cannot even begin to imagine the morning in 1898 when Volume III of Modern Opera Houses and Theatres was delivered to 9, Warwick Court, London – the registered office of the most prolific British theatre architect of the late nineteenth century, Frank Matcham. Unsurprisingly Matcham, like many other well-known theatre people including W.S. Gilbert, C.J. Phipps, Augustus Harris, Alfred Darbyshire and Henry Irving, had supported Sachs in his endeavours and was a named subscriber in the preface to all three volumes. Sachs’ analysis of his subscriber’s work comes from a wholly European perspective, it provides little national context and is … well, quite frankly jaw dropping!
In the work of Frank Matcham, I need hardly say that there has never been any pretence of architectural rendering, and that his reputation for successful construction of playhouses is based entirely on his economic planning. That this is the case there can be little doubt, and that in construction it is less ‘tricky’ than the work of the specialist previously named [C.J. Phipps], goes without saying. There is no doubt, too, that his plans have a certain individuality, and that his scheme generally serves the unambitious purpose of the occupiers in a satisfactory manner. However, to fully illustrate such theatres in a volume dealing with theatre architecture in its best sense would be as anomalous as to include the ordinary ‘jerry-builder’s’ cottages in a volume on domestic architecture. It has been my purpose to select typical and interesting examples of theatre architecture in all parts of Europe, and if I did not include such work as that of C.J. Phipps and Frank Matcham in these volumes, I am afraid England would have to stand almost entirely unrepresented. That such work is typical cannot be denied, and I am sure it is interesting in comparison with the other examples which predominate in these volumes.
Title page from Edwin Sachs’ Modern Opera Houses and Theatres
Matcham’s response to this unrestrained criticism has, perhaps fortunately, not survived but we can only begin to imagine what he might have thought about it. Sachs’ criticism is wholly predicated on his idealist ambition for architectural statement rather than on the realities of commercial theatre design in Great Britain at the end of the 19th century. In mitigation we may put this criticism down in part to the exuberance of youth for Sachs was still only 28 years old. Moreover his critique is perhaps worth considering within the context of his relationships, Matcham and to a lesser extent Phipps are chastised for their economy of design whereas Ernest Runtz, Alfred Darbyshire and Oswald Wylson (of Wylson and Long) both receive high praise for their theatre designs – but then they would – both being members of the British Fire Prevention Committee Executive chaired and founded by none other than Edwin O. Sachs. To accuse him of cronyism would be unfair, for friendship and respect is often established and earned through work. It is however inconceivable to imagine Matcham wanting to sit on that committee after such a written public...

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