We do not add anything to the empty space that it can achieve on its own, so what is designed comes from a need for the physical communication of the story. We find that anything superfluous only gets in the way of the storytelling; anything that is not used by or for the actors seems out of place in the production. The designs thus far tend to open the possibilities for real physical actions and spatial composition. We are inspired by the work of Neher: “His sets are significant statements about reality. He takes a bold sweep, never letting inessential detail or decoration distract from the statement, which is an artistic and intellectual one.” We design with the idea that anything that is not serving the truth of the story is working against it.
The design does not have to be minimal, but it does have to be useful. When it is not being manipulated, touched, or talked about, it has to exist in the space in a meaningful way. The design has to function in a way that gives it real life in the world of the play rather than looking like something from real life outside the theatre that has no function on stage. Neher protests in a letter to Brecht:
“The young people on whom everything depends shouldn’t learn from such articles how to construct a steam-engine, rather how a steam engine works—that would be reality for you—how it starts, lets off steam, moves its connecting rod and so on. Too little attention is paid these days to the life of reality. The things we put on the stage are dead, never mind how real they are, if they have no function—if they are not used by the actors or used on their behalf.”
Without context and purpose, what we put on stage just takes up space that could be filled with action, and thus would impede the storytelling.
It is important to consider that what is happening on stage is actually happening and it is happening on stage. Caspar Neher refuses to comment officially on realist stage design, and writes to Brecht in a personal note that, “The words ‘picture’ and ‘stage’ are incompatible…A picture is never realistic, the stage is always realistic. That’s why I maintain that the ‘realistic stage picture’ is a nonsense. Nor can I imagine what can possibly be meant by it.” We understand his statements to mean that there is reality in the theatre, but it is in the context of the production. Everything in a production should be designed to exist and function realistically in the world of the story. Using physical action as storytelling, we are able to teach the audience how the world we have created works. The term ‘realistic’ is most commonly used to mean ‘mimicking the world outside of the theatre’, while to us, as we have learned from the works of Brecht and Neher, the term means ‘true within the context of the story’.
All parts of a production must function like gears of a machine together. If anything is working independently of the rest of the production, it is outside of the world of the play and is irrelevant or superfluous to the story.