Blue Plaque for Stevenage's theatre revolutionary Edward Gordon Craig
The birthplace of one of Stevenage's most famous sons has been adorned with a special Blue Plaque commemorating his links with the town.
Edward Gordon Craig was one of the most influential theatre producers, set designers and theatre theorists of his day and of course gives his name to Stevenage’s much loved Gordon Craig theatre.
Marking the culmination of a Who is Gordon Craig? project set up by Stevenage Arts Guild and Stevenage Museum to celebrate his life, the blue plaque at Craig’s birthplace at 23 Orchard Road was unveiled on Sunday.
Present at the unveiling were Craig’s granddaughters Bunty Taylor and Ellie Craig as well as town mayor Pam Stuart and her consort Tony Turner and councillors and Arts Guild members.
Hilary Spiers, who chairs the Arts Guild, said: “We haven’t got so many things like this in Stevenage and with a new arts strategy for the town being unveiled, the time is right to celebrate great people who’ve lived here.”
On the same day, a new permanent exhibit about Edward Gordon Craig was officially opened in the foyer of the theatre that bears his name.
Craig was the second child of acclaimed actress Ellen Terry and the architect Edward William Godwin.
He was baptised, at the age of 16, as Edward Henry Gordon but took the surname Craig by deed poll in 1883.
Although Craig briefly appeared on the stage at the age of six, it was not until he was 17 that, at the behest of his mother, he became an actor.
Craig won acclaim as an actor, but he felt he would never match Irving or his mother and therefore chose to become a producer.
In his first production, the opera Dido and Aeneas by Henry Purcell, Craig introduced radical changes in stage management, scenery, and lighting. He used simplified, stylised stage settings and symbolic lighting effects. He went on to stage George Frederic Handel’s Acis and Galatea in 1902 for the Purcell Operatic Society and Henrik Ibsen’s The Vikings in 1903 for Ellen Terry’s company at the Imperial Theatre, London.
In his sets, decor, and costumes for these productions, Craig asserted his revolutionary theories of theatrical design.
After financial setbacks in England, in 1904, Craig went into voluntary exile to Germany.
While there he wrote his best-known essay, The Art of the Theatre.
He finally arrived in Italy, where he created the sets for a production of Ibsen’s Rosmersholm for Eleonora Duse and settled in Florence.
There he invented the portable folding screens used in set designs and established his Gordon Craig School for the Art of the Theatre in Arena Goldini, for students of stage design.
After the First World War, which put an end to his school’s activities, Craig turned increasingly to theatrical history – writing Henry Irving (1930) and Ellen Terry and Her Secret Self (1931).
However, he also was involved in some outstanding productions – designing sets and scenery for Ibsen’s The Pretenders (Copenhagen, 1926) and the decor for Macbeth (New York, 1928).
Craig’s life was just as colourful as his artistic reputation – he had some 13 children by eight different partners.
In 1931 he went to live in France and in 1948 made his home in Vence, in the south of that country, where he wrote his memoirs entitled Index to the Story of My Days (1957).
He died there in 1966 at the age of 94, but has left a lasting legacy on the world of theatre.
He was made a Companion of Honour in the Queen’s Birthday Honours of 1956, and Stevenage’s Gordon Craig Theatre – which opened in 1975 – is named after him.
You can learn more about him by looking at the Stevenage Arts Guild project website at edwardgordoncraig.co.uk.