Image: Borja Alba
Image: Borja Alba
Image: Borja Alba
Image: Borja Alba
Image: Borja Alba
Image: Borja Alba
Image: Borja Alba
Image: Borja Alba

The book as a stage: Jorge Fernandez Puebla's staging of "Ninette y un señor de Murcia"

According to the ISBN agency data, 103,000 books were published in 2011 in Spain. Only 30,244 of them (29.3%) were drama books. That was the publishing landscape Jorge Fernandez Puebla came upon when he started to think about his BA project in Graphic Design at the Escuela de Arte Número 10 in Madrid. “In a time and place were book’s decline is a fact and many different texts compete in their quest to find and editor”, Jorge says, “on the world’s shelves plays are among the less popular books… maybe because their point is not to be read but rather performed, in the broadest sense of the word.”

Resolved to find the reasons for this relative unpopularity, Jorge sailed out to create an editorial project which would lessen the gap between drama books and readers. An idea pops up in my mind while looking at the results of Jorge’s research, that maybe the problem with these texts is about the divorce between textual and visual languages. Traditionally, drama texts are thought of as a skeleton holding a basically audiovisual set-up. And when being edited and typeset, they are treated like a skeleton. What all paratextual elements in drama books communicate to the reader is the feeling that he or she is looking at an unfinished work, at something that is not meant to be read but to be “used” (either by drama professionals or by academic researchers), and that’s also why drama books more often than not are annotated editions. In this re-mediation of the Spanish play “Ninette y un señor de Murcia” Jorge’s project aims to incorporate all that visual dimension (“transferring into the book [as object], visually and materially, the essence of the play’s staging, communicating the experience of an evening spent at the theatre”, Jorge states).


At first Jorge was convinced that part of the unpopularity of drama texts was due to the relative unfriendliness and unattractiveness of their mise en page. The many annotations and various kinds of information included in these texts result in an abundance of typographic resources—tabulations, dashes, italics, uppercase letters, footnotes, parenthesis and square bracket— which make the page seem “dirty”, giving it its “skeleton” appearance.

But during his research Jorge discovered that the apparent complexity of the drama book layout really resulted in reading simplicity. The jumble of typographic resources intends to mark a reading rhythm and establish some order in a clipped text whose meaning depends on the ability of the reader to properly articulate the various levels of information (dialogue, annotations, context data, scenography instructions…).

In order to achieve this reading simplicity, Jorge went for a 13 x 19.6 cm format. This allowed him to use both a big text box (in which all typographic variations could be included without giving it an overloaded look) and also big margins (there’s a very generous 2.5 cm foot margin) to visually lighten the page. In order to ease the reader’s shift between reading levels, text annotations (which appear interweaved with the primary text in italics) were put in a “visually inferior level”, with their black ink reduced 10% in printing.

Jorge made also use of the dash (a basic typographic element in any drama text) as a unifying feature in the 3 volumes of his project. “I wanted to highlight it in the aesthetics and graphics of everything that’s not the text”, Jorge says, “as a common thread and generator of visual directions, and also as an introductory element to the information, in the same way it is normally used to introduce the dialogue lines”.


There was a double challenge Jorge had to face in his project: putting all the additional visual information that readers would get to know during the play staging (“the amount of data and indications about what’s happening outside the page”, as Jorge puts it) into the book, on the one hand, and not making the layout look unnecessary complex or “ornate”, on the other.

In order to achieve all this, he structured the book around 4 visual metaphors (the theatre ticket, the curtain, the acts into which the play is divided and the subsequent intimate reflection of the reader) and some other distinct graphic elements.

The ticket gives us access to the theatre and Jorge translated it into a wrapping band which needs to be torn apart by the reader in order to open the book (to gain admission to the text). With this gesture, with which the play commences, the reader is linked to its action and developing.

“The curtain”, Jorge says, “is really the theatre magic, that which hides everything from us. We anxiously await its opening; it makes us face the unknown.” In a material evocation of the curtain, a portrait appears from behind the cover as if an actor was poking his head through the curtain.

A simple but efficient procedure marks the play’s division into acts: the text is divided into two volumes. In the first of them the scenography is represented with the use of a die-cut window which shows us some of the more significant visual details in the play (the house’s wallpaper, the paintings hanging on the wall, the city of Paris). In the second part of the first act a series of photographs printed in folded pages, as if it were a family photographic album, present the cast. A lot of contextual elements play an essential role in the second act and Jorge shows them to the reader by including examples of the graphic culture of the Paris of the 60’s (the cover of the record the characters listen to, posters of the department store were the main character works and of other plays mentioned in the text…).

In a third volume, entitled “Lo que se ve/lo que no se ve” (“What can be seen /what cannot be seen”) some elements referring to the spectator’s subsequent reflection on the play are included. When the play is over and the curtain falls down comes that moment when hypothesis on the characters’ fate are elaborated. Jorge’s edition invites readers to discover or imagine new information which is not explicit in the text and so it is hidden in the book inside the french folded pages.

Jorge confesses his first plan was about making the book look more complex. He thought some visual decoration would be of help in making the book look more attractive. He soon noticed the double challenge his project posed, for it should move in the complete opposite direction, that of simplification. The different reading levels made the text complex enough already. Jorge’s work falls along the same lines designer and critic Ellen Lupton states should be editorial design’s objective in the 21st century: rendering the text graphically visual in order to offer some orientation marks and signs to the reader an some shortcuts into the text, among all its information.

Comments (1)

Realmente las obras de teatro plantean un reto brutal ante el silencio de los libros. Y visto lo que contáis, son un campo de pruebas total para el lenguaje híbrido. (De todos modos que el teatro suponga un 29,3% de la edición en España a mi me parece muchísimo!!!!!!)

Formatística (Cecilia)

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