Images for Performances


Assoc. Prof. Margaret C. Perivoliotis, BA, Dr.

Department of Interior Design, Technological Educational Institute (TEI), Athens, Greece.



Barbara Toumazatou, educator.

Department of Interior Design, Technological Educational Institute (TEI), Athens, Greece.





The paper addresses an exploration and co-creation in art, design, stage design and performances. The case study is an interaction of different disciplines, in regards to their methods and techniques, for their use and application of images in stage design production, applied and educated within the framework of the European funded programs. The project is a co-designing project, with the direct involvement of professors, students and people of art, design, and the theatre business, aiming to offer new possibilities to designers, artists and students. The research team explored connections within the areas of art, applied design, stage design, textiles, ancient arts and crafts and new technology. Participating students’ applied research, on a team assigned project, on a selected performance from the Ancient Drama, followed. The approach was interdisciplinary, operating at a number of levels, from exploration of the aesthetics, design, stage design, to new technology applications. It focuses on the possibilities of incorporating the strengths of new technology in stage design applications and presentations as a vital starting point and an alternative way of international dialogue, and as a new medium for expression of feelings, emotions and ideas. The use of technology was vital during all stages of the present work, expanding the range of possibilities and outcomes. It is a proposal that wishes to stimulate further interdisciplinary, international/intercultural educational projects and to open up new horizons to educators and stage designers with a spirit for innovation.


1. Introduction

The project is a multidisciplinary art, design/stage design work, part of the educational collaborations between TEI of Athens and Budapest University, aiming to offer new possibilities to the students of both Universities and new approaches to stage productions. The idea that motivated the present work derived from the fact that during the last years many local stage-design production companies have produced poor designing and inadequate performances, with subsequent major financial problems. Different factors contribute to a performance success or failure, but often they can be traced back to the designers’ designing ability or inability of innovative and human-centred design approaches. Designers are asked to bring quality, innovation and human consideration to their designing, if they wish to be competitive in the present highly demanding era [11, 25].

Design innovation is always closely related to critical reflection, experimentation and practical delivery. Innovation and design go hand in hand as any new design is effectively an innovation in itself, especially if new approaches or new concepts have been incorporated, and what one designer does could benefit another; exactly as innovation is addressed in the hereafter presented work. Innovation in design does not have to be product related, as happened in the present experiment. It can encompass new media/material in a traditional application or the use of a known component somewhere where it has not been adapted before. The co-creation of the performance event, as discussed in this paper, has been applied and educated within the framework of the European funded programs. It was an interdisciplinary event, relevant to partners’ curricula and of common interest.


2. Designing the Performance

Designing can be generally defined as an activity. Design is also a language that we use to bridge disciplines. The activities a research community considers appropriate are its methods and techniques. The adapted activities by the partners were research on design, stage design and drama, performances, new technology, textiles/fibres and the ancient encaustic art. Participating students’ applied research, on a team assigned project, on a selected performance from the Ancient Hellenic Drama followed it. Within both the preceding of the design creation, as well as during the process of the performance event, research on all the above aspects was a substantial part of the partners work [13].

The objectives of the project were to promote interdisciplinary intercultural design research among partners; to analyse the visual aspect of performances from an art/design point of view; to facilitate a dialogue on the benefits and limitations of contemporary technological developments [21]. The aims of the case study were to create new opportunities, visions, skills, design directions and media for the participating students. Additionally the research team was targeting to improve the present situation of local theatrical business that is one of the oldest local cultures and thus of the greatest value to Greece.

Teamwork is an area that requires delicate handling, as power relationships can begin to emerge. If clumsily handled this can lead at best to hurt feelings, and at worst, a failed project. Keeping always this in mind the research team adapted the following methods and actions, in relation to the project: meetings to discuss and outline the main activities; a framework of tasks; discussions to enhance the scope of stage design, performances, modern technology, textiles and the application of ancient/traditional arts and crafts beyond the existing application limits.


3. Stage Design

Stage designers are responsible for designing stage settings for performances and productions, from a single event or drama performances, where the action takes place in one room, to complex productions with scenery and scene changes. They may also become involved in costume design and to identify suitable outside locations for productions. Considerable research is necessary before the design work. They produce models that are used to demonstrate the setting of stage or location, and they are often skilled in modelling. The traditional medium for conceptualisation of stage design was pencil and paper sketching that facilitated the rapid development of design ideas in a short period of time. Recently, for the design process, computer aided design and model making are increasingly used in all kinds of performance designing [14].

Drama has its roots in the ancient Hellenic religious worships/performances. The transition, from religious worship to drama, occurred around sixth century BC in Athens, according to the legend, by Thespis, who first had the idea to add speaking actors to the religious performances of choral song and dance, which took place throughout Greece. Masked actors held these archaic wordless performances outdoors, in daylight, during religious festivals, since the Minoan era - long before the Dorian invasion. These archaic performances inspired the current research experiment, offering the idea to use the international language of design, of ancient arts, of textiles and textures, of shades and colours, in order to express feelings, emotions, drama.

Was there an ancient equivalent of a stage/costume designer? Stage and costume design is not a static art with fixed rules, but in antiquity neither architecture nor costume/fashion changed as rapidly as they do now. Theatre is ephemeral by nature, but scholars have managed to make intelligent and convincing inferences about costumes, masks, properties, wooden stage buildings, and even stage business and acting techniques. Indirect evidence has been found in vase-paintings and sculptures.

Concerning costume design and since the material had to be produced in the same way and the available raw materials and dyes remained the same, changes in clothing style were likely to be variations on an old theme. It is a fact that the ancient theatrical costume has received very little attention in the study of stagecraft. One reason for this is the lack of direct evidence, due to the perishability of the cloth from which those costumes were made.

In order to identify the project paths, the partners studied selected parts and scenes of well-known classical dramas, international stage and costume design productions and performances, masters’ paintings, ancient statues, frescos and fragments of fifth-century pottery representing drama, stage, actors and chorus wearing everyday clothing, boots, masks and also richly pleated chitons in purple and gold. The participating students selected a single scene/event from an ancient drama of their choice to work on, focusing on costume design and scenery, combing traditional arts and new technology. The encaustic was used as an experimental artistic medium for the creation of scenery and costumes. The participants academic background of design/interior design was more that adequate, since all were familiar with interior and basic costume design, basic art applications, modelling, and applications of new technology.

The author addressed the issue whether there is any relation between modern theatre and classical drama. Comedy and tragedy are the types of drama, which were developed and flourished in ancient Athens the fifth century BC. They have influenced nearly all the subsequent Western drama, starting with that of the Romans, with their extravagant public performances and spectacles that included everything from pantomime to mock naval battles. Opera owes its existence to an attempt to return from the Roman to the Greek type of theatre. Both French classical tragedy and 19th and 20th century Irish drama feature Greek themes. Even Brecht wrote an Antigone, and Jules Dassin's film ‘A Dream of Passion’ is based on Euripides ‘Media’. Commedia dell' arte bears a strong resemblance to Roman comedy. In modern times, many television programs echo the topical humour of Aristophanes. The contemporary proscenium theatre evolved from a modern misinterpretation of the descriptions of theatrical buildings by the Roman architect Vitruvius. Greek and Roman plays remain among the most powerful, moving, provocative, funny, biting, witty, and pertinent dramas with a lasting influence. They are part of European culture, flourishing on stages around the world, moving beyond their traditional Western sphere of influence, as directors explore their structural and thematic links with the performing arts of India, Korea, Indonesia, Africa, and Japan - to name only a few.

Presenting ancient drama from a new viewpoint and with new media is an art/design work, since during the process the artist views things without preconception. Designing for performances can be considered as a human-centred design, in its very broad meaning of the term, since culture and drama are fundamental parts of human nature, and this is how has been addressed from antiquity. Human-centred product development is the process that focuses on users and their needs rather than on technology; needs meaning here physical, mental and cultural. The human centred approach of this work applies to the entire project, considering cultural, social, emotional and physical factors of participants/designers and receivers/participants. Of course if one is unfamiliar with the real culture, the attempt to recreate drama can destroy both the performance and the artist’s intention. Stage/performance designers, producers and companies need to rethink the ways in which they communicate values, culture and technology – old and new ones. The last two decades stage/performance design and application have been integrated by technology. Design follows technological imperatives for the most part, but is it also influenced by it? The project attempts to discuss the designing of a performance event using technologies that do not limit or over-influence it. The goal of the partners was the adaptation of technology that is serving and not overcoming, users/educators/participants, fitting their task, necessities and limitations.


4. Encaustic, and Ancient Art

Encaustic is an ancient Greek art, as drama is too.  Both words, drama and encaustic, are Greek words, with encaustic deriving from “encaustikos” meaning "the burning in", while drama means “action”. The encaustic art became familiar to the Western world from the funerary portraits that were placed over the mummies found in Fayum, Egypt, of the 1st and 2nd centuries AD, painted by Greek painters of the time. A significant Greek population had settled in Egypt following its conquest by Alexander the Great, eventually adopting the local customs. Many of these pieces have survived with their colour as fresh as any recently completed work. In Antiquity, sculptures, marble or bronze, were coloured, just like the mosaics, the wall paintings and many other classical works of art, mainly by the application of the encaustic. In the period of economic instability that followed the decline of the Roman Empire, encaustic fell into disuse. The painting of icons was carried on as late as the 12th century, but for the most part it became a lost art, until 19th century, when artist started experimenting again with the use of the encaustic.

Encaustic is a beeswax-based paint that is kept molten on a heated palette and then is applied to a surface. It can be polished, modelled, sculpted, textured, and combined with collage materials. It cools immediately, so that there is no drying time and it can always be reworked. The durability of encaustic is due to the fact that beeswax is impervious to moisture. Encaustic paint has no toxic fumes, nor does it require the use of solvents. As a result, a number of health hazards are reduced or eliminated. Can the encaustic be applied on paper and fabrics? 20th century’s availability of portable electric heating implements and variety of tools has made it possible. Images on wax-coated cards can easily be transferred onto fabric. Pigments of colour and beeswax can draw designs on paper and clothing like pencils. Then they are ironed, the wax melts and is absorbed into the fabric, creating a print. These simple processes opened up all sorts of possibilities on natural fibres that will retain a reasonable version of the printed wax image and offered support to the present research work, its applications and conclusions.



5. The Case Study

In the present case study ten educators, professors and tutors collaborated with twenty-five design students. The working group was an interdisciplinary, multidisciplinary team that included also stage designers, artists and representatives from technology. All students had general design education, and basic knowledge of stage design, textile design, traditional arts and crafts and new technology. The experiment was arranged in small groups of one, two or three participants, according to their personal wish, their level of education, and their semester of attendance. All followed a similar work procedure that lasted the same time period. The encaustic technique was decided for the creation/decoration of scenery and costumes, as meeting the cultural identity of Greece, is applicable on textiles/fabrics and fibre products, quite well known to the participating students, with media of production plenty, of local origin and with low cost.

The participating students started their work with data selection on stage design, performances, ancient drama and the encaustic. Designing and proposals for the specific selected performance followed. Introductory sessions were considered as necessary in order to solve technical problems and to discuss the technical and design aspects, the organization and implementation of technology, of designing, of the techniques and technologies to be used, and the application of the encaustic. The finale of the work was a performance [26, 28, 30].

The use and implementation of technology was vital during all stages of the research work and the case study, and included the adoption of multimedia and the interactive learning environments of computer-mediated communications and computer-supported collaborative learning. Through centuries and from the cave era to the age of industrialization, design has evolved with the assistance of technology [4]. Design practice has changed dramatically in the last decade, because of the technological revolution that directly impacts on design in its various forms and in many ways. New technology has become part of lives and education. Computers are powerful and flexible tools addressing the needs of individuals, providing access to a wealth of information, and encouraging designers to explore and create [22, 23, 27]. These new tools and resources have provided exciting and unprecedented opportunities for both, the participating students and the research team. The research procedure indicated as the best collaborative approach for long distance researchers, the adaptation of asynchronous computer-mediated communication, as a system that allows groups to interact over time and geographical location [2, 3, 5, 7, 8, 10,18].



6. The Adapted Methodology

A method is a set of steps, or guidelines, used to perform a task. The research activities and the interaction/participation between partners were studied in order to build a successful work methodology. The task started with research, continued through didactic strategy definition, requirements and application, concluded with the design process and technology adoption, and finished with performance presentation and evaluation [29]. The adapted research methodology for the present assignment had five steps, interlacing and linked one to the other.  It is a methodology that has been already tested to previous design projects, undertaken by the author and the research team [19, 20]. Any of the phases of the design methodology may be revisited from any of the other phases, especially in the early stages of the project, though it is difficult to identify exactly where in the process the change could occur [1].

- Awareness of Problem: Awareness of problem comes from multiple sources. The output of this phase is a proposal, formal or informal, for a new research effort. Out of the detailed analysis of the present situation of local theatrical enterprises and of the possibilities of new technology emerged the first awareness of the problem on which the research would focus: how to design and present a performance adapting new media and technology.

- Suggestion: The suggestion phase follows immediately behind the proposal and is intimately connected with it. There were many approaches to the problem and the research group discussed them over a period of months. New insights into the problem continued to emerge from the students’ undertaken applied research. During the alternating cycles of discussions, reading and individual cogitation that characterized the design research efforts, the adaptation of the encaustic as means of artistic expression/creation for the present assignment was identified as the best answer to the request for innovative design development. An asynchronous communication system was adapted among the long distance partners for fast and flexible communication.

- Development: Design is implemented in this phase. The techniques for implementation will of course vary depending on the artefact to be constructed. In the present work the participants, with the pre-determined criterion of the cultural quality of the performance designing, implemented the encaustic art with the quality of a paradigm, and presented their designs by technological means.

- Evaluation: Once constructed, the artefact is evaluated according to criteria that are always implicit and frequently made explicit in the proposal (Awareness of Problem phase). Deviations from expectations, both quantitative and qualitative are carefully noted and must be tentatively explained. In a sense evaluation takes place continuously in a design process, since a large number of “micro-evaluations” take place at every design decision. The consulting assistance off stage designers in a kind of “market research/acceptability” and the evaluation by both partners of the participants’ designing and performances were the main actions of the evaluation process.

- Conclusion: This phase is the finale of a specific research effort. Typically, it is the result of satisfying, that is, though there are still deviations from the (multiply) revised hypothetical predictions, the results are adjudged as good enough. The knowledge gained in the effort and the facts that have been learned, can be repeatable applied and may well serve as subject of further research. For the present case study the gained knowledge and the facts that have been learned, can be indeed characterised repeatable, and can be applied by researchers, designers, artists and stage designers to other similar projects [12].

An important issue of the adapted methodology was the involvement of all the participating students in activities that allowed them to get close to information and gain access to data. They were assigned to inquire libraries, theatres, cinemas, museums, archaeological sites, and select information, photos and slides on performances, drama, theatre, to attend performances in different theatres and places, to see videos and DVDs with international performances. A rapid virtual access to the places and people of their choice was offered to all of them, through a combination of activities and visits, as a part of their education program. The didactic of the design process had the following steps:

-Vision/Inspiration: to imagine, inspired by a visual or mental input/procedure, of how the assigned work will appear, giving also an idea of its character.

-Proposal: This is the phase that gives form to vision, the designing process.

-Motivation: It is fundamental element of the design process, made up of general and specific goals that generate the final face of creation.

The design sessions were expanded with lectures on construction, style and composition and also with a discussion of aesthetics, including video, slides and image presentations. The students were supported both in content and in process by supervisors, by methods of research during the fist part of their assignment, and by application research methods during the designing part of the assignment. After one semester’s work the participating groups collected their design work in a folder for evaluation. They presented designs, inspirations, and research on the ways, means and media to be adapted into the final performance event. All designs were created during the design sessions by a combination of hand and computer work. Encaustic was also applied to the designed costumes by hand and by technological means, (Figure 1).

The research team evaluated the works, and they were turned back accompanied with written remarks and statements, thus helping the participants to work on their proposals completion with the best possible results. Within designing, constraints rose in many forms: the performance cost, the materials and dimensions the participants had selected and their personal colour/design selections/preferences, which drama to select, how to apply designs, what computer programmes to select, how to communicate [9]. The processes that would be used can constrain the materials and the dimensions the participants had selected. Preferences were constraints and in many situations constraints emerged during designing. Linguistic problems could also be constrains, as in the present work that involved multilingual partners and participants. The partners decided not to take into consideration most constrains, since the project was an experimental one, and the students were free to select the media of their preference in order to design and present the performance. Many of them were inspired by a combination of technologically oriented modernity and ancient/archaic prototypes.
























Figure 1. Applying the encaustic art has created the modernized costume of Media, of the homonymous ancient tragedy. Colours and lines are expressing anger, jealousy, revenge.

7 The Performance Event

Two performances took place at the auditorium of the Technological Educational Institute of Athens in front of the partners, professors, international students and the research team. The participants followed the archaic pre-classical ceremonial way. The actors were silent, often masked figures with costumes “designed” by projected overlapping images (Figure 2). The scenery was created by two to four overlapping designs that were parallel projected by slide/video/overhead projectors on fabrics pre-treated with the encaustic. Colour was applied via the projectors and unusual/extreme colour combinations resulted. Selected electronic sounds and music accompanied and completed the emotional atmosphere of the performance. The final, in many cases abstract, design/colour decisions and combinations were presented together with the prototype design inspirations in layers, with the multiple parallel applications of projectors and selected electronic lighting systems. Craft paper, fibbers and fabrics were also used in order to “build” the scenery and form the figures. All these elements were substituting words, actors, costumes and scenery, embodying everything and everybody, creating a magical and altogether mythical atmosphere for the participants and the audience. Eyes became the gates for all kind of words, forms, feelings and emotions. Drama was expressed and evolutes by continues design projections, connected and presenting the myth, and by colours and sounds that were magnetizing the audience. Linguistic differences, difficulties and disabilities were minimized [15-17].

The presence and importance of colour - its importance often neglected in design disciplines - was the focus-point, the key element and the strongest medium of communication and the power of creation and expression of feelings and emotions of all the students involved in the present experiment [6]. Colour is very important for life - a grey world would have been very sad and monotonous - since it influences personalities and moods, and provides enjoyment and pleasure. It has been a powerful tool for humans from the cave era to nowadays, its perception being one of the first triumphs of the human intellect. In design works, most of the time, we study and analyse design deeply, often forgetting the tremendous transformations that would occur - and do occur - with the use of colour, transformations that do not just influence forms and shapes, but mainly reflect the designers’ inner cultural and emotional world. Within the present experiment colours, lines, patterns, textures and shapes have defined passion, tranquillity, happiness, anger, hate and all kind of feelings in an astonishing way. With the lines’ and colours’ selections the students expressed their thoughts, hidden emotions, artistic anxieties, visions, and even cultural heritages.















Figure 2, Examples of the students’ scenery work for the final presentation:

8 Discussions and Conclusions

The great thing concerning the present work was that it was with, for and about people. The research team explored a project that has a social need, developed ideas and aesthetics by making connections across culture and new technology. Technology proved to be a valuable tool that does not only act for sharing knowledge; it also provides new aesthetics, innovative designs, improving sensibility and expressing emotions. The finally successful long distance co-creating synergy with the Budapest University proved that initiative, imagination and the application of technology could make the establishment of long-distance design research possible. 

The case study offered many important outcomes for the research team. Research and practice cannot be seen as separated parts, as well as technological improvements; they are partners of conversation and they should be equally balanced. In order to make students aware of this they should enjoy the research part and the creation that results, showing them that the project will embody their visions and emotions. The recently growing and enduring emphasis for technological applications in design and performances could open new horizons for innovation, if the human dimension of designing is not lost in the process. Promoting creativity and allowing it to mature in a spirit of freedom is one of the best ways of maintaining cultural vitality, while access to new technologies opens the way to original forms of expression. In the here presented experiment the aim was to create new opportunities for young Greek designers, hoping to bring a long-term positive effect to their deeply rooted professional problems, and to help them realize that their competitive power depends on cultural elements, human intelligence and creativity.




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