Video: Edward Gordon Craig: His Own Words and Images

The voice of Edward Gordon Craig recorded 1951-1960 and his designs, 1900-1926.

Images, audio and film used with the kind consent of The Edward Gordon Craig Estate.
Images and film reproduced by permission of the Provost and Fellows of Eton College.
Digitisation and composition: Pearldrop Video
Audio and image curation: Grete Dalum-Tilds and Andy Purves

Made in 2017 as part of the Who is Gordon Craig? project, led by Stevenage Arts Guild, supported by The Heritage Lottery Fund, celebrating the life and work of Edward Gordon Craig in his birthplace of Stevenage and beyond, 50 years after his death. 

FULL TRANSCRIPTION

The voice of Edward Gordon Craig

 

I have to talk to you…

Are you listening?

In 1900 I had produced Purcell’s opera Dido and Aeneas in London.

In 1901 I had produced Purcell’s Masque from his opera Dioclesian.

And in 1902 Handel’s Acis and Galatea.

In 1902 I produced a play, Bethlehem, by Laurence Housman at the Imperial Institute in London.

In 1903, at The Imperial Theatre, not the institute, I produced Ibsen’s Vikings at Helgeland and Shakespeare’s Much Ado About Nothing.

We had, in three years, launched some of the most original stage ideas of the century.

It is now necessary to stop, forget all else and positively look… take a long look at nature.

To have made machines to project light, to colour it, to increase its strength and to dim it only proves a waste of time and patience if we’ve forgotten to find out what it is that light does and to note a few of its lesser obvious and certainly more expressive and subtle effects.

As there is such a thing as always looking before you leap… so you must, I think, look before you light a stage. We shall soon see why we have to turn once more to a more serious and careful study of light. Studying as an artist studies, by looking at daylight… until light dawns in us.

 

In 1907, I think it was, I suddenly saw that the only way to get a new stage was to get a new scene and what could that scene be?... I made the screens. When I came to patent them, the man said this is the most patentable thing that he’s ever come across… why… he said because anyone can imitate them. They’re too simple. But I would deny that as being the truth. Nobody can imitate them.

Windows are the main channels through which the lighting enters the room and then the stage. What games the light will play when it comes in through the door or window… and begins its play. The beginning of all drama is movement and this applies as much to the play of light as to any other part of the whole.

Macbeth… it is the first scene of the first act that ha always troubled me. As a rule, thundering voices… when shall we three meet again, flash of lightning, thunder and all of that. Instead of that, a quiet room, a big bed… Lady Macbeth, asleep. And behind the curtains you see a movement, at the beginning, it grows, this movement, one, two, three and then the gentle voices whispered, when shall we… they have been making a charm over her. They have been doing their wicked business. When shall we three meet again? Very quiet. And they answer, very quietly… and it goes on until the end of the scene. Paddock calls… fair is foul and foul is fair, hover through the fog and filthy air… sh… and at that moment… you hear in the distance the pipes of the scotch bagpipes playing… return of the army. Lady Macbeth makes a single movement of pain. This goes on more and more, the bagpipes. They steal away from the room and are gone. Very quiet indeed.

With Shakespeare there is nothing real at all! I can’t exaggerate that too much. We spoil Shakespeare – have done so for years - by trying to make it fit in to a real house and a real room and real people. Nothing of the kind! It is a great dream. And If we can get that feeling which is in dream and in music then we are near to Shakespeare.

They were a loose set of prints. Then on the eve of being issued in my book which was entitled Towards a New Theatre. He took them and we began going through them. Every now and then he picked out certain designs and put them aside in a heap. These designs he now took up and spread out before him. Then, leaning back in his chair, he settled down and looked at them again saying a word that was more often used in Italy – bella, which means beautiful. But to receive praise was not my object in showing the designs to Salvini. I wanted to hear one thing from him, as a representative of the great days of acting, and one thing only. So I asked him, will you please tell me, can the actor act in such a scene? He turned around, for I was behind him, as if the ghost in Hamlet was about to appear before him… he frowned and he said, these scenes liberate the actor. They liberate him from the little gothic room in which he has been stuck. Then he touched one of the steps in one of the designs – you felt that he wanted to be moving on it. I then told him that in England actors put forward the argument that, although the scenes were beautiful in themselves, they were quite impossible to be acted in. His eyebrows went up and down rapidly. He touched the design again with the tip of his finger and he said in measured tones this: The actor that cannot act in that scene is no true artist. “Non e artiste.” [Sweeter, more encouraging things I have never yet had said to me by anyone in any theatre or by anyone with so ripe an experience. I had never before met a great actor of the past who told me that my scenes were good to act in, though often an incompetent actor had said they were impossible.] And so that first meeting with Tomasso Salvini in 1913 is one of the memorable days of my life. When old men of thirty or forty or fifty had seen a foe in me and looked upon me and my ideas as a danger to themselves, this young man of 82 or 84 saw a friend and gave me a guarantee that my principles will prevail.

At that time the streets of Moscow were not very well paved and one drove in sledges in great silence on snow strewn ground. I remember this silence very well. In the cold air, only the voices of people rang out clearly along the roads. My welcome was a warm-hearted one.

Stanislavsky told me that he and his company would assist me in every possible way; also that I was to use their theatre as it were my own. They could not have been kinder and I am sure their intentions were very good indeed.

This Florentine model was quite a large one made in wood and its parts were moveable. Screens of all sizes – the size of the model was about 6 feet wide and seven feet to seven feet six inches high. We began preliminary rehearsals with the screens in front of us. Each scene was composed of my screens and a number of nicely made bits which I called extra pieces. They have never, to this day, been properly used and, should I die before I can show how these screens should be used, their amazing value will never come to be understood. Do not, please, suppose that because I made these little screens I speak of them having done an amazing work – I have not. But the screens themselves are magical and I am the only one who understands their magic.

I have something to say about Isadora Duncan. She was the first and only dancer I ever saw. When she died it seemed, to some of us, that the dancing ceased. She projected the dance in this world of ours in full belief that what she was doing was right and great. And it was. She was speaking in her own language. Do you understand? Her own language. And so she came to move as no one had ever seen anyone move before. And if she is speaking what is it she is saying? No one would ever be able to report truly or exactly, yet no one present had one moment’s doubt. It is extraordinary, isn’t it? Only this can we say, that she was telling to the air the very thing that we all longed to hear. Until she came we had never dreamed we should hear it… and now we heard them.

She put on some bits of stuff which, when hung up on a peg, looked like torn rags than anything else. When she put them on they became transformed. She transformed them into marvels of beauty and, at every step she took, they spoke – I do not exaggerate.

 I know something about my art after twenty years’ study – I want to know more. I want to know enough to be of use to those who can do more. I want to leave behind me the seeds of the art for it does not yet exist. And such seeds are not to be discovered in a moment.

So let your machines be simple and let your craftsmen be skilled and let an artist supervise everything. And in the staging of a play - as in the writing of it – heart and head and hands must be as one.