In the late 19th century the music world was graced by an artist who would push the boundaries of music and art. Richard Wagner laid the foundation for performance art. Wagner combined several art forms into a cohesive unit. One of the primary elements that Wagner would use to create this holistic creation was music, which was the driving force for many of his pieces. But he incorporated other media such as scenic design, costumes, and intricate themes. The themes of many of his operas explored love between people and were at times expressed through mythical elements.
After the passing of Wagner, the collective art world would remain dormant for some 30 years after his death. In the early 20th century collective art was revived through Serge Diaghilav's Ballets Russes. His company would explore collective art in a different direction than Wagner. One of the primary aspects of Wagner's operas and Diaghilav's productions was that the Ballets Russes never used speech to narrate the story. Wagner on the other hand used speech and vocals to express the narration. Additionally, the method of creation between the Ballets Russes and Wagner was that Wagner primarily produced almost every aspect of the performance, while on the other hand the Ballets had an expert in each field to give direction. For example, the story line to The Rite of Spring was created by Stravinsky, but the choreography was developed by Vaslav Nijinsky. In contrast to this piece, almost every aspect of Wagner's Das Rheingold was created by Wagner. Wagner created the music, designed the stage set, instructed the movement of the actors, and all other things. The primary difference in the method between Wagner and the Ballets Russes is that the Ballets Russes relied on input from one expert from each media and Wagner used a solo approach.
Many of the above artistic works have been archived through various means such as scores, librettos, and all other things. But unfortunately the methods of creation for these productions have been rarely recorded and/or available for scholarly inspection. In the two examples above, one can find a libretto on each, which outlines the overall story, but does not help the artist to learn how to create a multi-artistic piece. In this installment of several articles, the questions that will be addressed and answered include: What is a libretto? How can a libretto aid in developing a story line? How does one choose a theme? Should the story development be linear or abstract?
The first issue that a collective artist must address is the theme that will be explored. A theme is the foundation for a production. Themes can be simple or complex in design. Debussy's Afternoon of a Fawn has a simple theme in that it explores the end of teenage years and marks the beginning of adulthood. In addition to this piece, Wagner's Flying Dutchmen investigates the intricacies of an interpersonal relationship. In these two examples the themes are fairly straightforward. In contrast to the Flying Dutchmen and Afternoon of a Fawn, The Rite of Spring appears to be complex at first, but after analysis one will find that in the very least it explores the various aspects of iconoclasm.
After a theme has been chosen, the thematic development must be created. The thematic development in essence brings life to a theme. The question that an artist must address is how one wants the story to develop? During this stage one must choose as to whether the story will develop in a linear or abstract form. A story that is linear generally has the simple format of a beginning, middle, and end. In contrast to this format, the abstract method generally shows various aspects of a whole. Furthermore, the abstract format can be a brief excerpt of a situation. Afternoon of a Fawn is an example of this method. It only shows an encounter of a woman meeting a fawn in the forest. In relation to the first description of the abstract method, Act I of The Rite of Spring, exhibits the various ceremonies that represent the creation of the earth. Unlike Act I of The Rite of Spring, Act II follows a linear format. It begins with the selection of a virgin to be sacrificed. From this selection, the story proceeds into the next stage of development where the honoring of the chosen virgin is made public. Afterwards, the story ends with the sacrifice.
In addition to addressing the issue of whether thematic development will be abstract or linear, the collective artist must address if dialogue will be used. If dialogue is used, then it should be created during this stage. The last part of this stage is to determine how the story will be divided into sections. The purpose of using sections, for the most part, is to maintain clarity of thought and aid in the development of the theme. The hierarchy that a story can be divided into primarily includes acts and scenes. An act, by definition is part of a whole and within each act a portion of the theme is explored. Scenes, on the other hand, are the smallest part of an act and they essentially support the act's proportionate theme.
After the collective artist has addressed the questions dealing with the theme and story development, now the artist needs to create a libretto. A libretto, in essence, is an outline detailing all of the elements of the production. It includes the dialogue, scenic design, stage lighting, and all other things. The purpose for a libretto gives the creative artist(s) a point of reference when they begin to produce the production. Some important features of the libretto include a synopsis of the production both whole and in part. Additionally, the libretto will include any dialogue that is used. The last aspect that one will see in a libretto is any stage commands, lighting effects, visual elements, and all other things. These elements usually outline their function and when they will occur.
After an artist has created a theme, determined the thematic development, and compiled all these aspects into a libretto. Then they move onto the next stage of the creative process. In the next article, I will discuss this process and how it relates to the various arts. Furthermore, I will detail the strengths and weakness of a few media.
Andrew Hanna, a collective artist from Philadelphia, began his early exploration and study into the collective arts during his undergraduate years at The University of the Arts. Prophecies of War, a collective art piece that explores the stages of war, was performed at The Philadelphia Arts Bank.