Leave a comment

Designing Violence In The Theatre


The opening scene of Romeo and Juliet uses violence to introduce the basic conflict. Shakespeare is not content to tell us that the Montagues and Capulets are fighting, but insists on showing it. Why? Because in seeing the fighting first hand we learn about the nature of the conflict. 

– Rick Gilbert, HowlRound

   The writer types… [A punch is thrown], [He stabs him in the gut], [They continue to brawl]. We sit through play by play where violence is involved, trying to inform the audience of conflict that is occurring through the scenes. But as Gilbert mentions in his article “The Significance of Violence Design”, if it is just flashy sword play the audience will not believe the violence, seeing well designed violence in a scene enables the audience to believe the violence and therefore believe the conflict. 

   This conversation is important to so many different aspects of theatre. If the violence is written, should it exist on stage? And, to what extent should it exist? During Contemporary Dramatic Literature the other day we came into discussion about violence and its portrayal in theatre while reading Blasted by Sarah Kane. I don’t understand how a design team could go into a discussion about that piece without being somewhat scared. 

   Mark Blankenship from the Times wrote, “But gore isn’t the point. “The purpose of the violence in Sarah’s plays is diametrically opposed to the purpose of violence in most other people’s plays,” Mr. Kane said. “The purpose of the violence in Sarah’s plays is to re-sensitize people to what violence is.” Eyes are stabbed out, people are violently raped with traces of blood, heads are laying on the ground, babies are eaten… violence is constantly surrounding the piece. But, you cannot do this show by dulling down the violence. Sarah Kane, and Blankenship explained, put the violence there for a reason. The violence needs to be planned in a beautifully gory way in order to allow the audience to understand the realness of the conflict and drama that is occurring between the characters on stage.

 A good violence design does more than discourse on violence; it also gives the audience information about the characters. Just as a costumer’s design tells the audience about the characters who wear the clothes, the violence design tells the audience about the characters who fight. Those choices are informed by the script and developed in consultation with the director, but they are the designer’s artistic contribution: an integral part of the unique joint project that is a theatrical production.  


The directors choice to bring violence onto the stage is a must for this show, and for any show where the writer takes the time to place in detail within the script the actions that are occurring and their results. The violence design is the set of decisions that determine what the story will be. The violence designer’s job is to make those decisions and then create the stage combat choreography that will tell that story safely and effectively. 

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: