The theatreâ€”its glamour and its gloryâ€”not only the very young are fascinated by it. The stage and its world of heightened and selected reality are full of enticement for all of us, and everyone who creates a part of its magic and wonder becomes for us a personality of special interest. Such a personality is Aline Bernstein, who has won distinction and fame in a field which few women artists have as yet invadedâ€”the art and craft of stage setting.
A play to be successful needs not only to be well written around an interesting idea and well acted, it must also be well staged. Imagine an actress standing against bare walls in a street dress speaking her lines, and imagine the same actress properly costumed against a fitting background of beauty and distinction, and you will see immediately what a stage setting contributes to the finished performance. In the first case the actress merely represents the playwright’s conception, in the second she becomes the being he created, and you accept her as that uncritically; accept her the more completely the more subtly artistic the stage setting that surrounds her.
That is what Aline Bernstein has done throughout her career, what she is at present doing at the Belasco Theatre, where she is creating the setting for the new Elmer Rice plays.
“I try,” she says, “to invoke the mood of the play with my settings, to create a background which, while never obtruding itself, sustains like an accompaniment the events on the stage. It is very hard work. The smallest detail counts. A dab of color hereâ€”a brilliant light or of a softening shadow thereâ€”but when it is finished it expresses in form and color the inmost thought of the play.”
And then she tells of her career.
“I grew up in the very atmosphere of the theatre,” she relates. “My father was an actor, and as other little girls dress their dolls so I began early to dress plays. Everything I did I saw in terms of the stage, and thus it happened that I created for myself, quite naturally, a personal technique.”
Her art education was at the best sketch. For a while she attended classes under Robert Henri, but the things that really count she found for herself, she still finds for herself, for each new work means a new experience and added artistic development.
“My first artistic steps were taken at the Neighborhood Playhouse in Grand Street,” tells Miss Bernstein. “There, in that wonderful laboratory for budding artists, I experimented for the first time on a real stage and designed settings that managed to express the mood of the play together with my own individuality. Then came a very fruitful connection with Eva LeGalienne in her Repertory Theatre.
“There I worked with real enthusiasm, for my work ceased to be ephemeral. What I did one year I saw again the next and could judge it then with detachment, often measuring my artistic growth against the work of the past. Finally I achieved the desire of every creative artist of the stage â€” Broadway productions. Now I work for Mr. Elmer Rice, for Mr. Gordon, for other producers. I have, as the saying goes, arrived.
“But one really arrives only to depart for new goals. The longer I live the greater grows my conviction that happiness lies not in monetary returnsâ€”they are not over-great at that in my professionâ€”nor even in success, but in the work itself. Did not an old philosopher say: ‘I think, therefore I am’? I’d like to change it to: ‘I work, therefore I am.’ That’s my philosophy of life.”
And thus one leaves her, engrossed in her creative work, a true priestess in the temple of art.