Tag Archives: cliche

27 Visual Theatre Cliches

Though this is almost a month old, I’ve been wanting to get around to it. In Time Out London, Andrew Haydon has made a list of cliches of visual theatre that should be banned (The article has since disappeared from their website). He posits that these metaphorical objects and devices are so overused, that they’ve lost their impact. Here is the list with my commentary as it relates to props.

  • Battered brown leather suitcases – Just in the last two days, we’ve had 4 of our battered brown suitcases returned from shows that closed. Obviously it’s a popular item and your prop stock will benefit from having several. Just remember to do your research; the battered brown leather suitcase is not appropriate for every period and location. You certainly don’t find them in common use today.
  • Microphones – I assume he’s talking about microphones as a prop rather than to solve sound issues. I’d agree, mostly because as time goes on, the younger generations will be less familiar with their use (as most performers use nearly invisible mic packs) and would get less meaning out of their use on stage.
  • Accordions – Like the suitcase, this is fine if called for in the show and design. Again, they are less common throughout history then you may think.
  • Feathers falling from the ceiling – Sounds like the scenery department.
  • Sand – Scenery
  • Bowler hats – Costumes (or millinery, if your theatre is lucky enough to have that department). Though not props, I second their overuse.
  • Live video feeds / projection – Not props, but I’m not sure this is specific enough to be a cliche. It’s kind of like saying “hard surfaces” is a cliche.
  • Umbrellas – particularly when projected on or used to signify birds – I can’t say I’ve ever seen them used as birds, but in photography, umbrellas are most certainly overused as visual elements.
  • Shredded paper plus fan as snow – Is this a visual cliche? I think if a show calls for snow, this is a fairly cheap alternative to professional snow machines (less chemicals, too).
  • Ukuleles – Agreed.
  • Lots of big tellies – I’d agree this convention is used quite a bit. Still, if you walk around Manhattan, you’d find yourself surrounded by more moving video screens then even two years ago. They’re on buses, taxis, billboards, even shoes.
  • People climbing out of pieces of furniture – Not props.
  • Static/white noise during blackouts – Sound
  • Movement sequences instead of blackouts – Choreography
  • Rostra – Scenery
  • Blackouts – Not props, but really?
  • Polythene sheeting – Another “cliche” that is so broad I don’t know if it should be here.
  • String – And I thought the last one was too broad.
  • White face – Makeup.
  • No curtain call – Directing.
  • Clocks – counting down the seconds, stopped or running normally – I’d have to bring up my earlier argument about how younger and younger generations are less exposed to clocks (analog) than we might think, and would get less out of their use as convention.
  • Over- or under-sized furniture – I’m sorry to see this on the list, as these can often be really cool to build.
  • Laptops – Again, really? Their use is so ubiquitous these days, yet everything points to them becoming even more and more popular. Can you tell the stories of today without including the props of today? It’s like trying to tell the story of a waiter without using plates.
  • Nursery rhymes sung discordantly – “Visual” cliche?
  • Heartbeats – Again, “visual”?
  • Spooky children’s voices – possibly singing nursery rhymes, almost invariably – Ring-a-ring-a-roses. – Isn’t this one already in the list?
  • Sequences where all the performers talk in canon before ending abruptly with a scream – Yep.

As you can see, the list seems to be hastily put together. A number of them are not visual cliches, several seem to be more pet peeves than cliches, and a few are too broad to be considered cliches. If anyone out there has any additional ideas to add to this list, let me know!