Tensions between abstraction and replication in early-twentieth-century design : Norman Bel Geddes' designs for Broadway's The Miracle
Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)
I make a major contribution to American scenographic historiography with this revised account of Norman Bel Geddes’ set for Max Reinhardt’s 1924 Broadway production of The Miracle, a design theatre scholars have consistently used not only to define Geddes’ aesthetic “versatility,” but also as a prime exemplar of New Stagecraft style. Based on both secondary and primary research material, I contend that the cathedral setting was neither indicative of Geddes’ fundamental aesthetic principles, nor of the aesthetic principles of the New Stagecraft. I firmly establish the principles of the latter within the first definitive, concise demarcation of what constitutes New Stagecraft design as “a dialectic between European Modernism and American realism (informed by technology) that also adheres to Kenneth Macgowan’s principle of simplification, suggestion and synthesis,” which necessarily excludes the set from the movement altogether. Using this same definition, I also offer historiography Geddes’ costume designs for the production as important, but little-known paradigms of New Stagecraft costuming. As part of the costume study, I also reveal the scenographer’s preliminary sketches taken directly from his archives and align them stylistically with design practices of three major movements of the European First-Wave Avant Garde (by all indications, Geddes did not have any knowledge of them.) In doing so, I illustrate that the European theatre did not have the monopoly on particular breakthroughs in twentieth-century stage dress. Geddes’ early sketches make a strong case for the position that some Modern American costume design was not derivative, but products of original conception shaped by the conditions of The Machine Age, which simultaneously influenced theatrical design on both continents. I conclude the study by reinstalling The Miracle into theatre historiography with a new significance to the American theatre: its set, which included the entire house, was the first in a succession of production designs that continue to traverse the Broadway proscenium, a permanent fixture on The Great White Way for the last century and beyond.
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Mabry, John Thomas-Hood, "Tensions between abstraction and replication in early-twentieth-century design : Norman Bel Geddes' designs for Broadway's The Miracle" (2013). LSU Doctoral Dissertations. 870.