Bedford/St. Martin's virtuaLit Interactive Drama Tutorial Notebook VIEW SEND
Drama in Depth Approaches and Contexts
Select a PlayElements of DramaCultural ContextsCritical Approaches
Setting and Staging


The SETTING of a play, like that of a short story, is the place and time where the events of the drama take place. But unlike a short story, where the setting can be somewhat easy to overlook, in a play it dominates the audience's experience of the drama. It quite literally forms the backdrop for the action. Sometimes there are multiple settings in a single play; sometimes the entire story unfolds in one place. In many cases the setting itself can function as a character; in every case the setting for the drama establishes the emotional atmosphere, or mood, for the story. Keep in mind that the setting constitutes more than the physical characteristics of the set, such as the way a room is decorated or how the furniture is arranged. It also includes the historical and cultural moment in which the story takes place, or its social context.

If setting is the playwright's idea of where and when a drama takes place, STAGING is the transformation of that idea into performance. Staging includes not only the physical set, but also the lighting, sound system, backdrops, costumes, furniture, and scenery employed in the production. Another element of staging is the physical movement of the actors. Do they stand still, flail their arms, pace back and forth frantically, sulk in a corner? How close to one another do they stand? Do they look at one another or avert their eyes? What gestures do they make?

The staging of a play can be elaborate or spare, depending on the intentions of both the playwright and the director. Even if you can't attend a performance of a play, the script usually includes the author's stage directions, which indicate how the dialogue should be acted out, how the characters should be positioned against one another and the set, and how they should move about the stage. Although directors might follow the playwright's instructions, some directors prefer realism, choosing a stage meant to appear natural to the characters' lives and situation; other directors might try to focus attention on the characters themselves by employing nonrealistic- maybe surrealistic, symbolic, or minimalist - staging. The location where a play is performed also sets boundaries on how it can be staged: An outdoor stage offers different possibilities than an intimate theater or a Broadway venue. The possibilities of staging are particularly noticeable in film adaptations of plays. Budget, camerawork, and editing make possible elaborations and detail that a stage set can't normally accommodate.

One of the joys of drama is that the staging for any one play will always differ from one production to another. All of the choices a director makes affect how the audience interprets the action.

mood: the underlying feeling or atmosphere produced by a play's setting
social context: the significant cultural issues affecting a story's setting or authorship
stage directions: a playwright's instructions, usually embedded within the script itself, on how the written work should be adapted to live performance
realism: staging meant to appear natural to the characters' lives and situation
nonrealistic: creative staging - maybe surrealistic, symbolic, or minimalist - that draws attention away from the setting and focuses it on the characters

Bedford/St. Martin's | Order a Book | Instructor Registration | Contact Us | Contact Your Sales Representative