The use of montage in performance is a sophisticated technique that sometimes confuses drama students due to its complexity. This article attempts to demystify montage and assist teachers and students in their understanding of this convention.
Etymology: First things first. The term “montage” originates from the old French word “monter”, meaning “a mounting” or “to mount”.
Definition: “Any combination of disparate elements that forms or is felt to form a unified whole”. Single word definitions include “assembly” and “editing”.
Origins: The origins of montage lie in the visual arts and cinema, but the principles adopted by these artists can be transferred into the use of montage in a dramatic context. Soviet filmmaker Sergei Eisenstein developed a theory of montage where in practice changes between shots were obvious and even jolting for the viewer. He referred to a collision between individual images, resulting in a third image or new idea, linking his art to his Marxist principles. Similarly, another Marxist, Bertolt Brecht, believed that montage could…
… connect dissimilars in such a way as to ‘shock’ people into new recognitions and understandings (Bertolt Brecht)
Style: In many ways the use of montage in a dramatic performance is a non-realistic or non-naturalistic device because of the way it contradicts the traditional notion of a progressive growth in plot and character development. With montage, real time is either extended or contracted, or both, as the content of the drama jumps around. The term juxtaposition is integral to a student’s understanding of montage, where two or more things (dramatic images) are placed side by side for comparison or contrast. Montage also allows for
… a way in which continuity could be broken or fractured and through this the audience (Brecht’s) was to be kept in a constant state of alertness (Cooper and Mackey, Theatre Studies, 1995)
Students in Victoria studying VCE Drama have several examination structures where “a montage of dramatic images” is asked to be created in a solo performance. The Victorian Curriculum and Assessment Authority define montage as
… a juxtaposition of dramatic images, often presented in rapid succession. The dramatic images are closely linked and presented to create an overall impression, and/or a summary of events/actions and/or an introduction to events/actions (VCAA, 2013)
Episodes: Matthew Clausen, in his popular Australian text book for drama students discusses “montage playbuilding” where he states
The montage playbuilt performance explores a central theme, issue or subject through the use of short, self-contained scenes. These scenes or episodes give the montage playbuilt performance an episodic quality. Each scene is independent of the others; however, the scenes are unified by their exploration of a theme, issue or subject. Each scene in a montage playbuilt performance has its own timing and thrust. (Clausen, Centre Stage, 2nd ed. 2010)
Key Elements: Various elements of drama should be used judiciously by students in order to create effective montage in performance. These should also be manipulated and experimented with in order to create the desired effect. The key words and phrases from this article that should be considered carefully by students are
- (dramatic) images
- rapid succession
- episodic (quality)
- closely linked
- unified (whole)
- short, self-contained scenes
- overall impression
- side by side
- non-naturalistic, non-realistic
- disparate elements
If a solo performer, students should also consider using transformation of character, time and place when using montage as these elements will enable a non-naturalistic performance style.Note: In the 2013 VCE Drama solo performance examination, three or more images must be used in order to satisfy the use of montage (see examination instructions).