Theater Design, by George C. Izenour, manuscripts and related materials, 1900-1977 (bulk 1977)


Collection Overview

Theater Design, by George C. Izenour, manuscripts and related materials
Dates (Inclusive):
Dates (Inclusive):
Izenour, George C.
Collection Number:
3 Cubic feet
For current information on the location of these materials, please consult the  library catalog.
Special Collections Library. Pennsylvania State University.

Biographical / Historical

George Charles Izenour was an electronic stage lighting researcher, inventor, teacher, and consultant. He wrote, "viewed in hindsight, my professional life as a theater engineer was virtually a continuous process of inventions and commercial licensing agreements for lighting control systems, flying systems, associated hardware, and controls. I have habitually, and for good reason, always reacted to the marketplace."

Izenour was born in New Brighton, Pennsylvania, 24 July 1912. He graduated from Wittenberg College, Springfield, Ohio, in 1936. In 1937 Izenour and his new bride moved to California and began his lifelong work in theater design and engineering with the Los Angeles project of the WPA Federal Theater as lighting director/designer. Izenour created for himself the profession of theater designer-engineer/consultant not only to design stage machinery and control systems but to design the theater itself. With a grant from the Rockefeller Foundation, he established the Electro-Mechanical Laboratory, Yale School of Drama, Yale University, New Haven, Connecticut, which he founded and directed from October 1939 until his retirement in 1977. For thirty-eight years Yale provided the building but Izenour had to raise funds for the operating budget of the laboratory and his salary. During World War II, Izenour was recruited by the Airborne Instruments Laboratory (AIL), a division of the Office of Scientific Research and Development, to work as a member of the Aircraft Compensation Group in developing the magnetic airborne detector for subsurface detection and sinking of submarines from aircraft. Here he became a self-taught mechanical designer and electronics engineer. Izenour left AIL in July 1946 and returned to New Haven in September to resume his own work.

In the laboratory, Izenour focused on developing a practical, moderately priced, remote electronic stage lighting intensity control system; he succeeded with an electronic console system for stage lighting (the world's first practical all-electronic switching and dimming circuit) in 1947. In May 1949 he was granted patents that protected both the electronic circuitry of the system and the mechanical design of the controls. Rather than selling the patents, he negotiated an exclusive commercial license to build and exploit commercially the electronic lighting intensity control system with Century Lighting Inc. and its executive vice president Ed Kook. Izenour became Century's field engineer as well as its systems designer. Black-and-white network television opened up opportunities for expansion in 1951 and Century negotiated for the Century-Izenour (C-I) system to be the approved method of lighting control for CBS and NBC productions. During the winter and early spring of 1948 Izenour designed and fabricated the first working scale model of the synchronous winch system, patented in 1959. By the end of the 1950s Izenour added theater design and engineering consultant to his credentials. He participated as theater design-engineering and/or acoustical consultant in more than 100 buildings. He designed and built stage machinery for the Dallas, Texas theater center, 1959; Loeb Drama Center, Harvard University, Cambridge, Massachusetts, 1960; drama center, University of South Florida, Tampa, 1961; and other multiple-use theater buildings.

Izenour has published three books, Theater Design (New York: McGraw-Hill, 1977; reprint, Yale University Press, 1996), Theater Technology (New York: McGraw-Hill, 1988; reprint, Yale University Press, 1996), and Roofed Theaters of Classical Antiquity (New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 1992). To explain complex spatial relationships, Izenour and his draftsmen/graphic artists decided upon the longitudinal perspective section to capture the ambience of both stage and auditorium during performance, and orthographic isometric for structure and machinery. The Izenour Drawings of the Theater, an organized collection, came to the attention of the U.S. Information Service (USIS), the cultural branch of the Department of State. The USIS assembled a traveling exhibition of 100 of the drawings for showing throughout the world; the world premiere was held at the American Academy in Rome on 22 April 1977.

Realigned priorities at the Yale Drama School prompted Izenour to move his theater consulting practice off campus, retire from teaching, and sell the laboratory to the J. R. Clancy Company in Syracuse, New York in February 1977. George Izenour died 24 March 2007.

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Scope and Contents

The vast majority of materials consists of undated manuscripts, graphics, captions, and galleys for Theater Design, published by McGraw-Hill, Inc., in 1977. In its vast scope and technical detail, this volume presents the history, aesthetics, philosophy, biography, analysis, and technical details of theaters from classical beginnings to current and evolving practices. Its 900 graphics required the combined effort of twenty-one co-workers over eight years. They created the many 1/8" scale representations of theaters from classical era to the late 20th century, which include many technical details, and permit easy comparison of theaters in different historical periods. This collection documents the process of including these graphics in a published work. It includes photographic reproductions of the drawings used as illustrations in the book, captions for the illustrations, and paste ups of the illustrations. Finally, reduced images are organized by chapter in a massive “graphics dummy.” The collection also contains the edited galleys for the text alone, and a scale galley that includes illustrations. The final galley includes corrections as well as notes for the subject, author, and theater name indexes included in the final volume. The graphics dummy and final galley are stored separately due to their size. This collection documents Izenour’s vision of and dedication to the project, his perseverance, and his ability to capably manage a project of this magnitude.

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Administrative Information

Access Restrictions

Collection is open for research.

Preferred Citation

[Identification of item], Theater Design, by George C. Izenour, manuscripts and related materials, RBM 2359, Special Collections Library, University Libraries, Pennsylvania State University.

Immediate Source of Acquisition

This collection was donated to Special Collections Library, Rare Books and Manuscripts by George C. Izenour in approximately 1998.

Processing Information

Processed by Doris Malkmus, 2012.

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Controlled Access Headings

Personal Name(s)

  • Izenour, George C.

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Collection Inventory

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