Scenography and the Senses

Engaging the tactile, olfactory, and gustatory senses

Authored by: Stephen Di Benedetto

The Routledge Companion to Scenography

Print publication date:  October  2017
Online publication date:  September  2017

Print ISBN: 9781138917804
eBook ISBN: 9781315688817
Adobe ISBN:


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A scenography of the senses consists of the conception of a design and the elements and principles used to create the material environment for performance, and also an audience’s response to that material performance environment. It is a sensual engagement experienced through a body’s response to and within the theatrical event. This chapter explores how the senses, particularly those other than sight and sound, fit into the theatrical event and audience experience. The audience’s engagement with the designed experience begins with a theory of embodied cognition describing that an onlooker’s apprehension is situated; a perceiver uses the tools of observation deployed in everyday existence as a frame to understand the communitarian accessibility of the performative experience. Theories of embodied cognition describe the ways that we scan the environment for situational clues about how and to what we ought to respond. Even when decoupled from the environment, the activity of the mind is grounded in mechanisms that evolved for interaction with the environment – that is, mechanisms of sensory processing and motor control. We look for moving lights, bright colors and actions to see how we ought to negotiate the environment and look for clues of how to engage within it. It is in this mode of engagement that audiences explore what the theatrical event offers.

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