Canon stories (Q29723)

From CanonBase

A Canon story is one of the Canon of 100 stories that together map the history of technical theatre, in 10 time periods and 10 themes.

About the Canon Stories[edit]

The CANON stories are 100 entry points into the bigger story of theatre design, technology and architecture across thousands of years of history and across the continent of Europe. We have selected some of the most significant concepts, achievements, practices, technologies, artefacts and buildings as well as supporting sources that together form a story about the many ways we have created theatre, performances and events, in different places and at different times. The stories are organised into 10 time periods and 10 themes:

A: stage mechanics and sets

B: special effects and projection

C: lighting

D: sound

E: architecture

F: scenography

G: knowledge transfer

H: theatre management

I: health and safety

J: the ‘unexpected’ - curious, surprising or less well-known facets of our history

A canon is the ‘list of facts considered to be permanently established as being of the highest importance in a specific field’. It is the list that every knowledgeable person in a field is expected to know and understand. We can interpret this definition for our project as ‘the hundred most important stories one needs to know about theatre technical history.’ Of course, such a thing is impossible – we would need 200, 500, a thousand stories, and still it would not be enough. We have though tried to select 100 entry points, that together map the territory, and invite further exploration. Each one is perhaps a kind of corridor through time and disciplines, that opens onto various additional doors, leading to further immersion: to people, places, performances and innovations that reflect a turning point or essential part of our history.

Perhaps one day we will write another 100 stories, or perhaps you will, based on your own ideas of what is most important. However you respond to these stories, we hope you will find something surprising, exciting, and which stimulates you to dig deeper, and to learn more about the rich field that is the history of technical theatre.

Download the stories in pdf

You can buy a physical copy of the 100 Stories at the Great British Bookshop (including international sales).

List of Stories[edit]


A.01 The First Mechanical Stage: Wagons, revolves and periaktoi

B.01 Deus Ex Machina: Cranes to fly people

C.01 Daylight: The ‘natural’ state and how to control it

D.01 Can You Hear Me at the Back?: Acoustic amplification in early theatre

E.01 A Place for Seeing, a Place for Thinking: The theatre at Epidaurus

F.01 Setting the Stage: The first scenery

G.01 Architecture Codified: The books of Vitruvius

H.01 The Thespian Cart: Theatre on Tour

I.01 Entrances and Exits: Crowd management in antiquity

J.01 Reconstructing the Past: The stage machinery of the Colosseum

Middle Ages[edit]

A.02 From the Heavens: Medieval stage machinery in churches

B.02 The Hellmouth: Theatre of fear and morality

C.02 Theatre by Firelight: Candles and oil lamps

D.02 ‘Imitating Heaven’s Thunder’: Sound effects in religious plays

E.02 For the People: Theatre in the market-place

F.02 Many Mansions: The simultaneous and the Terence stage

G.02 In Writing: Documenting stage action and techniques

H.02 Finding a Formula: The business model of Commedia dell´Arte

I.02 Look After Yourself: The unregulated work environment of the Middle Ages

J.02 Seeking Attention: Making a stage without a theatre


A.03 A World Below: Lifts, traps and Hell beneath the stage

B.03 Playing with Fire: Theatre and pyrotechnics

C.03 Light as Spectacle: Illuminating, decorative and mobile

D.03 Sounds and Sweet Airs: Music in Shakespeare's theatre

E.03 Room for Everyone: The first commercial theatres

F.03 A World On Stage: The illusion of perspective

G.03 Scenography Codified: Serlio's scenes for comedy, tragedy and satire

H.03 The Price of Entry: Commercialising theatre

I.03 Fire, Disease and Violence: The Hazards of the Elizabethan Pit

J.03 Vanishing Point: Making room for infinity in the Teatro Olimpico


A.04 The Transforming Stage: Synchronised scene changes

B.04 Nature on Stage: Seas, skies and storms

C.04 Light and Transformation: The dynamic stage

D.04 The Sounds of Nature: Wind, rain and thunder

E.04 Fit for a King: Baroque court theatres

F.04 The Architectural Scene: The work of the Galli-Bibiena family

G.04 How to Build a Theatre: The books of Sabbatini and Furttenbach

H.04 How Big is Too Big?: The Teatro Farnese

I.04 Keeping Control: The fire extinguisher

J.04 Framing the Picture: The proscenium arch and professional invisibility

Industrial Age[edit]

A.05 The Steel Stage: Metal machinery and flying

B.05 Phantasmagoria: Pepper's ghost and the magic lantern

C.05 In the Limelight: Focusing and controlling the light

D.05 The Mystic Gulf: The invisible orchestra

E.05 The Magic Box: Theatres of romantic illusion

F.05 Production and Reproduction: The mass production of scenes and scenery

G.05 The Brandt Dynasty: Intra-family knowledge transfer over generations

H.05 Industrial Revolution: Reorganising theatre for an industrial society

I.05 For Thine Especial Safety: The fire safety curtain

J.05 Learning from Tragedy: The fire at the Ringtheater, Vienna

Early 20th Century[edit]

A.06 The Powered Stage: Hydraulics and motors

B.06 Infinite Skies: Lighting the cyclorama

C.06 ‘Naked Trashiness’: Theatre goes electric

D.06 Home Theatre: Hear the show by phone

E.06 Together in One Room: Hellerau and the fall of the fourth wall

F.06 Rejecting Naturalism: The expressionist and abstract scenography of Edward Gordon Craig

G.06 A Traveler Through Europe: The ideas of Mariano Fortuny

H.06 Theatres Built to Order: The professional theatre architect

I.06 The Asphaleia System: A fire-proof stage

J.06 Togetherness: Organisations for mutual support

Inter-war Period[edit]

A.07 Stage Engineering Codified: The work and writings of Friedrich Kranich

B.07 Writing with Shadows: Gobos, textures and images

C.07 Painting with Light: The spotlight and the ‘multi-lantern complexity’

D.07 Filling the Space: Live sound reinforcement

E.07 Utopias of the Imagination: Total theatre, new societies

F.07 Theatre as Art, Art as Theatre: Oskar Schlemmer and the Triadic Ballet

G.07 New Purpose, New Techniques: The spread of political theatre

H.07 Women Take the (Back) Stage: Women in technical theatre

I.07 Working Together: Standardisation and compatibility

J.07 Colour Music: An art on the margins

Post-war Period[edit]

A.08 A Moving Experience: The revolving auditorium at Český Krumlov

B.08 Architectures of Space and Image: The light beams and projections of Josef Svoboda

C.08 Dynamic Light: Controlling light in time

D.08 Sound on Cue: A new dramaturgy

E.08 A Democratic Stage: We all see everything now

F.08 Scenography as Dramaturgy: The stagings of Brecht, Littlewood and Beckett

G.08 The Empty Space: Rethinking what makes theatre

H.08 Theatres By Design: The rise of the theatre consultant

I.08 Moral Safety: The Windmill Girls, censorship, and protecting the public

J.08 Sticking With It: The unexpected success of gaffer tape

Late 20th Century[edit]

A.09 The Temporary Stage: Truss, chain hoists and entertainment rigging

B.09 A Life of Its Own: The multimedia stage

C.09 Changeable Everything: Automated lighting

D.09 Power and Control: The right sound where you want it

E.09 Any Theatre You Want: Flexible and adaptable spaces

F.09 Theatre without Theatres: Site-specific performance and found spaces

G.09 The Prague Quadrennial: An international meeting place

H.09 Shelter or Building?: Companies that create their own spaces

I.09 A Matter of Principle: The UK Health and Safety at Work Act 1974

J.09 Zero Point: Shared conventions, standards and reference systems

Early 21st Century[edit]

A.10 Six Degrees of Freedom: Stage automation and control

B.10 Every Surface is a Screen: Projection and pixel mapping

C.10 A Light-emitting World: LEDs everywhere

D.10 Sonic Objects: The development of spatialised sound

E.10 The Guggenheim Effect: Social and cultural engineering through the arts

F.10 Virtual Stages: Immersive technologies and hybrid spaces

G.10 What's Ours Is Yours: The CANON database and open sources

H.10 It's All Data: Digital working methods

I.10 Sharing Safe Practices: The international ETTEC safety passport

J.10 Learning to Say No: The Love Parade disaster and the identity of technicians

A Canon story is one of the Canon of 100 stories that together map the history of technical theatre, in 10 time periods and 10 themes.
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Canon stories
A Canon story is one of the Canon of 100 stories that together map the history of technical theatre, in 10 time periods and 10 themes.