Theater from Restoration Through Romanticism Essay Sample
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- Category: romanticism
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Theater from Restoration Through Romanticism Essay Sample
The drama of the English Restoration combined aspects of English and continental Renaissance theater, both in playwriting and in theater architecture. French influence was also felt with the introduction of neoclassical ideals into serious English drama. By the eighteenth century, there was an attempt to break away from the Italianate traditions. Theater shapes changed, and playwrights abandoned the neoclassical ideals in favor of romanticism. As the middle classes became socially more prominent, the theater created sentimental comedy, middle-class tragedy, and drama to suit their tastes. In addition, productions became more unified and more historically accurate. In the nineteenth century, this trend continued with the birth of the theatrical director, or regisseur. Comfortable modern proscenium theaters were built, such as Booth’s Theater and the Bayreuth Festspielhaus.
The era of Renaissance theatre happened after the Reformation, where the Church of England broke away from papal control and Rome. In this era, plays replaced a large majority of the general public’s moral teaching and where they got it. The increase in attendance to plays meant that costumes could become more colorful and interesting, which meant that costumes were often contemporary exaggerated translations of historical dress rather than accurate representations. It is in this era when playwrights became celebrities of the day, rather than scholars as Aeschylus and Sophocles had been in ancient Greece. William Shakespeare and Christopher Marlowe wrote plays that drew large crowds, and were regarded as self-made men, as they had came from humble backgrounds and worked for their success. Women were still not allowed to be professional or amateur dramatists, and female characters were played by younger male actors with padding to give the appearance of curves and cleavage. As an addition to tragedy and tragicomedy, historical and morality plays emerged portraying stories to educate and inform. The Renaissance era ended in 1642, as the Puritan movement gathered power and deemed enjoyment as sinful, wrong and against the Lord.
This resulted in London theatres, such as the Globe, the Curtain
Theatre and the Red Romanticism first had its lyrical poetry, which was the natural expansion of deeply aroused sensibility bursting beyond the bounds of all doctrines; its dramatic poetry, on the contrary, was 0the application of long elaborated ideas and theories, in open and deliberate antagonism with those by which Classic tragedy had been governed. The words Classicism and Romanticism took their most precise meaning from the theatre, in reality the true battle-ground of these two schools. The innovators clearly perceived that they must become masters of the stage in order to win their cause. Here they were confronted by two of the greatest names in our literature, and a dramatic system perfect of its kind and in touch both with the society in which it had been formed and with the peculiar temperament of our race as fashioned by centuries of Classic culture. All the militant activity of the young school turned to the drama for the final field of victory. The Age of Independence
The Rise of the middle class was occurring – trading and manufacturing joined agriculture as major sources of wealth. Concentration of people in towns and cities increased. Between 1750 and 1800, Romanticism took hold, and flourished between 1789 and 1843 in Europe. The American Revolution (1770) and the French Revolution (1791) further asserted that men had freedom to act on their own consciences. Known as the “Age of Independence.”
Since Romanticism, at bottom but “liberalism” in art, aimed to substitute a “popular” for a “court” literature, it was obviously necessary to address the people; therefore a new theatre must be created. The people had formerly been but a “thick wall upon which art had only painted a fresco;” now was the time to “move the multitudes and arouse them to their very depths.” Only the drama could give a truly national character to the Romantic Movement. Going along with this was the view that Nature was something to honor. God had created nature, and we must know as much about it as possible. Nature is Truth. Major Characteristics of Romanticism:
1. Abiding trust in nature’s goodness:
a. emotions and instinct more important than reason (reason is the product of education – not natural – corruptible) b. glorification
of “The Natural Man” – the “noble savage” – the primitive and untutored personality (American Indians, African Blacks, South Sea Islanders) – all worthy people to observe). c. Primitivism – the simple and unsophisticated life was best. i. led to an interest in old civilizations
ii. archeology develops as a science – Egyptian and Medieval became important areas of study iii. glorification of Greek society (not Roman)
iv. Medieval studies – urged by nationalism – helped nations develop identity — which was an important aspect of Romanticism ideas. 2. Equality of people – social and economic classes disparaged— An era of revolutions – since overthrow of governments often seemed to require elimination of social classes. 3. A premium on detail – detail is the pathway to truth. Tended to look for the particular, specific, and unique, not the general or typical. All creation was unified, a one-ness; therefore, each detail was important. 4. Ultimate truth must always be sought, but we will probably never find it. Artists become seen as misunderstood geniuses, both blessed and cursed by their art. Common folk could not understand.
The struggle for truth, which was unattainable, let to a melancholy strain in Romanticism. 5. Art served an exalted purpose – the role of art was to lead people to perceive the underlying unity of all existence and thus to eliminate conflict – “to make man whole again” 6. Subjectivity – both artist and critic were necessarily subjective and personal. There was no objective set of external criteria for achieving art or critiquing art. The focus was not so much on the art, but on the artist or the perceiver of the art. Thus, there was a “democratization” of art – one’s feeling are as good as anyone else’s. Romantic Plays, old and new, tended to appeal to emotions rather than intellect. Special effects therefore focused on the supernatural and the mysterious – visual over verbal, sensational rather than intellectual.. Aristocrats tended to go to the opera and ballet, and more middle-class now went to the theatre. In Germany: Sturm und drang – “Storm and Stress”
Romanticism’s sub-category in Germany was sturm und drang. Johann Wolfgang von Goethe [Guurr’-tuh) (1749-1832) – his plays characterized by sprawling action, long and arduous. Faust parts I and II, 1801 and 1831) is now accepted more as a closet drama, a literary work, rather than one to be presented on stage. Friedrich Schiller (1759-1805) – William Tell (1804) – a stirring celebration of democracy, individualism, and nationalism. In France – Victor Hugo’s Hernani (1830) — caused a riot. Should long-accepted Romantic ideals be allowed in France’s National Theatre? Remember, the French Academy had determined that all French plays would be neoclassical in form. While some of the contemporary poets were pure elegiacs, there were others who seemed to consider lyrical poetry only as a sort of “prelude.” Victor Hugo, who assumed the direction of Romanticism from its inception, early deemed the drama its inevitable and definitive culmination.
In his manifesto published in 1827, and adopted by the new school, the author of Cromwell summons poetry to the rebuilding of the theatre. According to his thinking, humanity has passed the age of lyricism and epopées; the present is the age of the drama, and art, without renouncing its other forms, must eventually become more and more absorbed in it. The ode and the epopee contain the germ of the theatre, but, when developed, it includes both alike; for our contemporary civilization it is “poetry complete.” It contained elevated language, noble characters, and the five-act form, and was thus Neoclassical; However, it also had common people as some important characters, struggles with a ruler, violence and death, and humor — and was thus NOT neoclassical. Eventually, Romanticism won out, even in France, but not without a struggle.
Actors During the Romantic Period
The Kembles – dominated English theatre till 1815:
John Phillip Kemble (1757-1823), and Mrs. Sarah Siddons, his sister (1755-1831) – their acting was idealized – with grace, dignity, a “classical style.: Edmund Kean (1787-1833) – considered to have “perfected” the romantic style. Usually played villainous roles – sacrificed dignity for emotion. William Charles Macready (17930-1873) – a compromise between the Kembles and Kean – careful rehearsals, detailed characterizations. He popularized historical accuracy in settings and costumes. Tyrone Power (1785-1844) – did comic Irish portrayals. – a comic actor. Henry Irving (1838-1905) – the first English actor to be knighted; worked with Ellen Terry (1847-1928) Synthesized trends in complexity and realism in staging (concealing set changes, for instance). Was also a manager, as were most famous actors at that time. In France: Sarah Bernhardt (1845-1923) — specialized in “breeches roles” (women playing men) Edwin Booth (1833-1893) – brother of John Wilkes Booth – famous for interpretations of Shakespearean roles. Romantic Theatre Practice:
Audience size increased even more.
As seeing becomes more important than hearing (remember, the sound was so important before, and detailed, realistic sets were not the norm), the orchestra seats (which had up till then been the cheap seats) became more valuable. The upper galleries – the “gods” – were the cheapest.
Audiences, especially those in the gods, were loud and vocal. Scenery included drops, flats, ground rows (cutaway flats standing free on the stage floor). Carefully and realistically painted.
Candles or oil lamps – but by 1830, gaslight was used (Chestnut Street Theatre in Philadelphia was the first to be lit by gas, in 1816). By the 1820’s, Covent garden and Drury lane Theatres in London used gaslight. Gaslight increased illumination, had better control of intensity, but still had wavering flames. Many special effects:
Flying, trap doors, water pump systems, moving panoramas to give the illusion of travel, treadmills by the late 1800 (allowed for horses and chariot races, etc.), volcanic eruptions, fires, etc. Assumptions: The stage was to present an illusion of reality, with many details, and was to be historically and geographically accurate. Significance: While Romanticism was not at all realistic in its acting, drama, or direction, in set, costume, and lighting it attempted to be as realistic as possible. Romanticism inadvertently paved the way for easier acceptance of Realism. But first, we must go through a movement that helped make theatre more popular and accepted by the common person.
So here’s the basic deal: Cromwell banned theatre when he ruled. Then he was kicked out and a king was placed in his stead.When that happened, theatre boomed again. The biggest two changes in theatre were: 1) the advent of the director (as a separate, non-actor) and 2) allowing women onstage for the first time. Other changes included: one-time casts (no more residential or repertory companies); the invention of the box set; use of multiple points of perspective in sets; advanced set machinery.
Restoration (and 18th century) comedy ridiculed human failings– breaches of a “sophisticated code of manners” established by the courtiers of Charles II. They assumed (but never stated) an ideal mode of life which they expected the audience to accept. The Ideal Gentleman was well born, dressed well, was poised and witty, skilled in love making, was able to conduct several affairs simultaneously, never boasted of his affairs, was always discreet, and never fell in love (or showed true compassion). If he was married, he could not be jealous if his wife took a lover. The Fashionable Young Lady was familiar with the world of intrigue, but did not become involved in it. If she was a widow (or married to an older man) she could take a lover, as long as she was not found out. If she was married, she should not expect constancy in her husband. Best Example of an English Comedy of Manners
William Congreve| William Congreve (1670-1729) wrote four comedies and one tragedy. His masterpiece is The Way of the World (1700), considered by many to be the best example of a Restoration Comedy. Read the play snyopsis on page 413 in the Appendix. |
John Dryden| John Dryden (1631-1700), influencial poet, critic, translator and playwright is primarily remembered (as a dramatist) for his Neo-Classic tragedies. He dominated the literary life of Restoration England and was made Poet Laureate of England in 1667. The title of his best important play is All For Love, or A World Well Lost (1677). It is based on William Shakespeare’s Anthony and Cleopatra. He condensed the 15 years of dramatic time in Shakespeare’s play into one 24 hour day. He compressed Shakespeare’s large cast (30 men and 4 women) drama into a much smaller and more managable size (6 men and 4 women). Unlike Shakespeare who had scenes in Rome and Egypt, Dryden’s play takes place in one location: in front of the temple of Isis in Alexandre, Egypt. He took Shakespeare’s episodic tragedy, and turned it into a small cast climactic tragedy which observed the unity of time and place. | Actor-manager system
During the Elizabethan period, the acting company was a stock company. The control of the organization was vested in the “shareholders.” A Restoration acting company was owned and controlled by one man: the manager. He usually was the leading actor of the company, and chose those plays which best exhibited his abilities. The remainder of the acting company was hired and did not share in the company’s profit (or loss). The leading English actor-manager of the 18th Century
David Garrick| David Garrick (1717-1779). In addition to being an actor with over ninety roles in his repertory and the manager and “patent holder” of Drury Lane (1747 to 1776), he was a playwright, director and designer. As a director he oversaw the entire production process. He expected his actors to be on time, to have their lines memorized, and to act during rehearsal. As a designer he introduced appropriate and historically accurate costumes to the English stage.
During the Restoration, women were introduced onto the English Stage. Since acting was still socially unacceptable, it was often difficult recruiting women to perform on stage. There also were few women’s roles in the plays (primarily the work of Shakespeare) that most managers staged.
Nell Gwynn, most popular comic actress of the Restoration
Nell Gwynn| Eleanor “Nell” Gwynn (1650-1687), one of the most popular comic actress of the Restoration, performed for only four years: 1665-1669. During her tenure on stage she became the mistress of King Charles II and bore him two illegitimate sons: Charles Beauclerk (1670-1726) and James Beauclerk (1671-1680). She was retired from the stage, by order of the King, in 1669. | Legitimate theatre
They were the only legal theatres in London permitted to present full length (five act) dramas. These theatres were also known as Royal Theatres (because they were licensed by the King ) and Patent Theatres (because the document which licensed them was called a patent). In today’s world, the legitimate theatre is the “theatre of the spoken word.”
Only two are the legitimate theaters. These were originally (in 1660) the two playhouses managed by William Davenant (1606-1668) and Thomas Killigrew (1612-1683). After parliment passed the Licensing Act of 1737, the two legitimate houses were Covent Garden and Drury Lane. They lasted for 183 years, from 1660 to 1843.
A minor theatre was a legal, licensed, London playhouse which could not perform “regular” drama. Plays that are permitted to present
1. Short plays (two or three act),
2. Operas (both ballad and Italianate),
3. Melodramas (plays with a musical score) and
4. Illustrated lectures (for example: Presenting Othello as an “illustrated lecture” on jelousy). Restoration Stage Restoration Theatre
|The Restoration stage was a proscenium theatre with a deep forestage or apron. There was a proscenium opening which framed the scenery. Most of the action took place on the forestage. Entrances and exits were made through doors on the either side of the apron.The 650 seats (in 1700) were distributed between the pit, boxes, and galleries. The most expensive seats were in the private boxes (four shillings) which surrounded the first floor pit (two shillings, six pence). The cheapest seats were in the two galleries (one shilling, six pence and one shilling). See the illustration of Drury Lane on page 313. | Scenery used on an English Restoration stage
Restoration theatres used the wing – border – backdrop style of scenery.
Because of the cost, scenic units painted for one show were usually incorporated into a theatre’s stock set for use in other productions.
Richard Sheridan| Richard Sheridan (1751-1816), the leading English playwright of the 18th century is remembered for his sentimental comedies. Like Restoration comedy, they were also a comedy of manners, but they reaffirmed middle class morality. The School for Scandal (1777) is his most important play . His other two major, often revived works are The Rivals (1775) and The Critic (1779).
In 1776 Sheridan became a stock holder in and manager of Drury Lane, one of the two patent houses. He became a member of Parliament (repesenting Stafford) in 1780 making him a politician as well as theatre manager and playwright. John Gay
John Gay| John Gay’s (1685-1732) only major dramatic work is The Beggar’s Opera (1728), a ballad opera telling the story of Macheath, the head of a band of robbers, Peachum, the “godfather” of London’s underworld and Polly, Peachum’s daughter and Macheath’s wife. With 62 consecutive performances at Lincoln’s Inn Field, a minor theatre, this early form of musical-comedy is considered by many, to be the theatre’s first long run.|
Ballad Opera and Italian Opera
In a ballad opera recitatives are replaced with spoken dialogue and the music (with original words) was adapted from popular folk songs, bar-room tunes, famaliar ballads, even airs (airas) and choruses from opera. The songs were brief so they would not slow down the story. In an Italian opera, the dialogue becomes recitatives and the music is specifically composed for the work. Lewis Hallam
William Hallam attempted to open a third legitimate theatre in London in the 1750’s. When his request to the king was denied, he sent his brother Lewis (1714-1756) and a company of twelve actors to the colonies where they established a theatre in Williamsburg, Pennsylvania in 1752. The company also performed in New York, Philadelphia and Charleston, South Carolina. When Lewis died, his widow married actor David Douglass, and together in 1758, they formed the American Company. Many theatre historians declare this to be the beginning of the commercial American theatre. Major Change in Theatre architecture during the 18th century Drury Lane, 1794| Because the size of the theatre audience grew during the 18th century, the capacity of the auditoriums also grew. In 1700, Drury Lane could seat a maximum of 650, a hundred years later, after the addition of three new galleries, the seating capacity was 3600; a five fold increase. Not only did the capacity of the house increase, so did the size of the stage.
The Drury Lane of the English Restoration had a stage that was only 34 feet deep: 17 feet from the foot lights to the proscenium arch and 17 feet from the arch to the back wall. (See the Ground Plan on page 320). In 1800 the stage house of Drury Lane was 85 feet wide and 92 feet deep. The proscenium opening was 43 feet wide by 38 feet high. The 3600 seat Drury Lane, which was really too large for drama, burned to the ground in 1809. A new Theatre Royal was built in Drury Lane in 1812. Today, November 2011, that theatre is the London home of Shreck, the Musical.
Stage of the Drottningholm Theatre| This small court theatre was built in the middle of the 18th Century (1766) at the summer palace of the Swedish royal family. The space was closed in 1792, “rediscovered” in 1920 and reopened in 1922. It is today a working example of an eighteenth century Italianate proscenium theatre complete with 15 complete sets of scenery.
The entire Romantic theatre can be summed up in three poets: Victor Hugo, Alfred de Vigny, and Alexandre Dumas.
Victor Hugo unfolds all the wealth of his poetry on the stage. To vigor of passion, vivacity of coloring, grandeur of tirades, may be added force of situation, the instinct for scenic effect, a rapid, pressing action, a skill in composition always maintaining his work within its lines, and binding its parts closely together. If his dramas fall below his ideal, in spite of so many great works it is, in great part, due to the peculiarly lyrical bias of his genius. He seems always to have in view certain culminating points which he hastens to ascend in order there to make heard those vivid, vibrating couplets in which he gives full swing to his eloquence. Victor Hugo’s dramas lack most a profound and complete analysis of the characters so vigorously presented. Though there are, here and there, admirable psychological fragments, the poet never gives us an entire soul, and too often replaces psychology by a superb rhetoric of sentiment. Too lyrical in this sense, he is so also in that he does not issue from himself; we find more or less of the author in all his creations. Victor Hugo’s characters “live by his breath and speak with his voice.” Sometimes they are mere creatures of fancy.
Hernani, Didier, Ruy Blas, all thoroughly “Romantic” heroes, do not represent the poet’s soul, but his imagination. They have footing neither in history nor in human truth. In addition to this defect there is also another, not less incompatible with that “truth” which Romanticism aims to restore. We have only to read Victor Hugo’s prefaces to learn how he conceives the subjects and characters of his dramas. Not living men and real events, but logical formulas, first present themselves to him. The four most important characters of Ruy Blas “represent the main facts noted by the philosophical historian concerning the Spanish monarchy of a hundred years ago.” That paternal love may transform the being most degraded by the physical deformity, is the idea that producedle Roi s’amuse. That maternal love may purify moral deformity is the inspiration ofLucrèce Borgia. The original conception of Angelo consists in bringing together a woman of society and one without its pale, in order to guard the one from despotism and the other from contempt. Finally, the thought that the poet attempted to realize in Marie Tudor is that a “queen may be great as a queen and true as a woman.”
This rational conception of subjects necessarily leads to abstraction. All the activity of the poet’s creations is designed to realize an “idea” or a “thought.” It is not the cevelopment of characters, it is the deduction from a thesis. Victor Hugo delights in clashing the disparities of a character, and in this way he avoids that vice of Classic tragedy which reduces an individual to a sentiment. But these very disparities form an artificial whole; by making contrasts so violent do we not also falsify human nature? Victor Hugo’s faults are counterbalanced by his profound insight into history, from which he borrows features of local reality, just, fresh tints, a vivid, picturesque setting which imnparts the colors of life to his dramas. In this he is also aided by his art of combining dramatic incidents, the energy with which he urges on his characters, his thorough understanding of the stage,–by all those constructive qualities comprehended in the theatrical gift. With Alfred de Vigny these faults are much more marked, and they are not redeemed by the same qualities.
It seems as though the timid, prudent author of Eloa should never have risked the theatre. However, he was the first to descend into this arena. It is true, the drama which he brought out before Hernani was but a translation. Only one of those that followed achieved any degree of success, Chatterton, a pathetic work, and according to Saint-Beuve but the analysis of a “literary malady.” A broad picture of man could not be expected from him. Vigny’s delicate art has admirably personified on the stage the type of poet who is wounded by the meannesses and vulgarities of contemporary environment; but, as he has said, “Chatterton was but a man’s name, the poet was everything for him.” And we may add that this poet was the author of the drama.
Alfred de Vigny made known his fundamental conception of the theatre at the beginning of his career. “If art is a fable,” it should be a philosophical fable.” He has given a rational explanation of all his works. La Maréchale d’Ancre, as well as Chatterton, was developed from an abstract idea. “From the centre of the circle described by this composition, a keen eye can perceive that Destiny against which we are ever struggling, but which overcomes us as soon as our characters become enfeebled.” According to the poet, even the little comedy, Quitte pour la peur, also contains “a very grave question beneath its light form.” Alfred de Vigny declares that the time has come for what he calls the “Drama of Thought,” and this is what he wishes to substitute for the drama of life and action. In his exhaustless fecundity, the ardor of his temperament, his expansive enthusiasm, his sensual love of life, movement, color, and everything that moves and glitters, Alexandre Dumas is directly opposed to Alfred de Vigny. In 1829 the author of Henri IIIbrought dramatic gifts of rare vigor to the stage. No contemporary poet was his equal in the gift for effect, fertility of resource, skill and aptness in stage setting.
His works owe their exceptional vogue to truly dramatic qualities, though sustained by no solid foundation of learning. Is not the theatre, in fact, a peculiarly popular form of art? His marvellous power of assimilation has sometimes succeeded in reviving the past; but his dramas are too often historical only in their exterior features, in costume, and details that attract the eye. Local color can only be found upon the surface of his works. He openly confesses that he considers history but a “hook upon which to hang his pictures.” He concerns himself much less with human truth than with picturesque decoration and thrilling catastrophes.
He appeals to the nerves and senses of his spectators. He only shows the outside of man and life. His theatre is a façade. In explaining his popularity, Alexandre Dumas’ faults and virtues also indicate those of the new style towards which he, little by little, directed Romanticism. For the Romantic drama as conceived by Victor Hugo, he substituted that very drama which the leader of Romanticism predicted and attempted to overthrow in his preface to Cromwell. It is a drama appealing solely to curiosity, quite exterior and material, composed of machinations and soon destined to end in melodrama.
While Alexandre Dumas was turning more and more towards a crude triviality, Victor Hugo continued to lift ever higher that ideal which his grandeur-loving genius from the outset attempted to realize on the stage. His last and one of his finest works, les Burgraves, came in conflict with public taste on account of the strange and inhuman elements it contained. Théophile Gautier relates that the poet’s friends, feeling that the work was in danger, besought the engraver Célestin Nanteuil to recruit for the first presentation three hundred young Spartans determined to conquer or die. “Go and say to your master that youth no longer exists,” responded Nanteuil, shaking his long hair. “These memorable words,” says Sainte-Beuve, “make a date marking the last stage of the Romantic movement; all means had been forced, there was nothing left but to retrograde.”
PROMINENT PEOPLE WITH THEIR CONTRIBUTIONS
James O’Neill as Monte Cristo| James O’Neill (1847-1920), an acknowledged Shakespearean actor, played the title role of Edmond Dantes, the Count of Monte Cristo, at least 6000 times over a 30 year period. His performance was recorded on film by Edwin Porter in 1913.
Edmund Rostand| Edmund Rostand (1868-1918) is best remembered for Cyrano de Bergerac (1897), the story of a 17th century (1619-1655) French nobleman (with a very large nose) and his love for his cousin Roxanne.
Johann Wolfgang von Goethe| Goethe (1749-1832) is Germany’s greatest literary figure. He is to German literature what Shakespeare is to English drama, and Moliere is to French comedy.
Edwin Booth as Hamlet| Edwin Booth (1833-1893) was America’s leading 19th century Shakespearean actor. He used a subtle, psychological approach. He brought Shakespeare to the American stage, using for the first time, a full accurate script. In 1863, during the height of the Civil War, he performed Hamlet for one hundred consecutive nights, setting a record that would stand until the 1922-1923 John Barrymore production at New York’s Sam H Harris Theatre. He briefly retired from the stage after his brother, John Wilkes Booth, assassinated President Abraham Lincoln at Ford’s Theatre. See the photo of Edwin Booth as Hamlet on page 329.
Sir Henry Irving as Hamlet| Before arriving in London in 1866, Henry Irving (1838-1905) had performed in Sunderland (1856), Edinburgh (1857-1860), Manchester (1860-1865) and Liverpool (1865). With performances of Hamlet (1874), Macbeth (1875) and Othello (1876) he gained a reputation as England’s greatest actor. In 1878, after forming a partnership with actress Ellen Terry, he became actor-manager of London’s Lyceum Theatre where they successfully revived Goethe’s Faust and Shakespeare’s Hamlet. In 1895 he became the first actor in British history to be Knighted.
Sarah Bernhardt as Hamlet| Sarah Bernhardt (1844-1923), “The Divine Sarah” debuted on the stage of the Comédie Française in 1862. After a successful 14 year career in France she arrived in London (1876) where she quickly established herself as the leading actress of the day. Her first (of nine) American tours was four years later in 1880. (Her last American visit was in 1918). In 1899 she founded, in Paris, the Theatre Sarah Bernhardt. The same year, at the age of 55, she played the title role in Shakespeare’s Hamlet in Paris, London and New York. In 1900 she took her talent before the camera making eleven films including both Alexandre Dumas’ fils La Dame aux Camélias (1910 and 1912) and La Tosca (1909). Even though her left leg was amputated at the age of 71 (1915), she continued to perform, playing parts she could act while seated, until her death in 1923. During her 62-year career, she played some 70 roles, all in French, in more than 125 productions. She is probably the first truly international star. Georg II
Duke of Saxe-Meiningen| Georg II, the Duke of Saxe-Meiningen, operated a small, professional court theatre. He used the ensemble system of production. He believed in a long (six to eight months) rehearsal period. His sets and costumes were historically accurate. He used a realistic style of production, but the plays he presented were romantic. He toured his company for 16 years (1874 to 1890) and influenced production techniques in Paris and Moscow. William Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar and Friedrich Schiller’s (1759-1805) William Tell (1804) are his two most often performed productions.
Characteristics of a Melodrama
Uncle Tom’s Cabin| Melodrama contained a spotless hero who was usually falsely accused (but cleared by the last act) and an evil black hearted villain (who was often a banker or lawyer). Background music underscored sentimental speeches and the action sequences, just like in a film. The greatest excitement was the chase. Melodrama developed the largest popular audience in American theatre history. Uncle Tom’s Cabin is America’s most successful 19th century. It was based on Harriet Beacher Stowe’s novel of the same name. The play, adapted by George Aiken, was written in six acts, included 30 scenes, and was performed by a cast of 25. There were American productions of Uncle Tom’s Cabin into the 1930’s.
“Major Bowes’ Amateurs In Person” on the Golden Rod Floating Theatre In the early part of the 19th century, most major American cities were built along a river (usually the Mississippi or Ohio) or a canal. Mounting a theatre on a flat boat, and taking the show to the major cities along the river was an efficient way to tour, and no “western” community was large enough to support a resident theatre company. William Chapman’s two hundred seat Floating Theatre is considered America’s first showboat. Starting in 1831, it traveled the Ohio and Mississippi Rivers from Pittsburgh to New Orleans. By thy 1850s there were dozens of showboats plyings the water ways of the midwest. They continued to operate into the middle of the 20th century. In the late 1950s, the Golden Rod, pictured above, was permanently docked on the St. Louis waterfront. It was the home of an acting company who performed classic 19th century melodrama, like The Drunkard (1844) and The Octoroon (1859), each weekend. I saw a number of these productions while I was living in southern Illinois. The American showboat was immortalized first in the novel by Edna Ferber (Show Boat, 1926), and later in the Jerome Kern – Oscar Hammerstein II musical: Show Boat, (1928). Melodrama is the type of play they present.
Aberdeen’s first theatre
According to the Early History of Brown County (1965), Aberdeen’s first “theatre” was located in a hall above Frenchie’s Saloon. In a 1973 taped oral-history interview, Lorraine Roesch quoted her mother, Mrs. A. N. Aldrich (one of Aberdeen’s pioneer families) saying “I remember Aberdeen’s first theatre upstairs over a saloon with a stairway up the outside of the building. Here I saw the drama: The Two Orphens by a traveling troupe.”
In September 1884, three years after the railroad arrived, Charles Gottschalk (1860-1944) opened the National Skating Rink, a large wooden structure located on the south east corner of Lincoln Street and Third Avenue. This enterprise lasted about six months. Three years later, in 1887, Gottshcalk turned what had been his indoor skating rink into the Aberdeen Opera House (also known as the Gottschalk Opera House or simply, The Gottschalk). This was Aberdeen’s first playhouse. It had a seating capacity of 700 and a 40 foot wide by 25 foot deep stage with a 20′ by 14′ proscenium opening.
The New Gottschalk Opera House & Hotel — 1902-1910
The original Gottschalk burned in 1902 and was replaced with another wooden structure the same year. The second Opera House, which was somewhat larger (Seating capacity: 860, Stage: 54′ wide by 30′ deep by 44′ high, Proscenium: 30′ wide by 22′ high), burned eight years later (1910) in one of Aberdeen’s most spectular fires. It was replaced in May 1913 by the new, fire proof, Aberdeen Theatre (Seating capacity: 940; Stage: 54′ wide by 34′ deep by 54′ high; Proscenium: 32′ by 25′) which in November of 1914 became the Orpheum Theatre. Aberdeen was one of twenty-six South Dakota towns with at least one theatre or opera house listed in the 1908-09 issue of the Julius Cahn – Gus Hill Theatrical Guide. The Guide, which was the “bible” of the theatrical booking agent, gave the seating capacity and stage dimensions of the houses available to the traveling rep companies.
The Gottschalk Opera House Fire — July 1910
Mlle Rhea| The Gottschalk was used primarily for local political meetings, church revivals, school graduations, and amateur theatricals. Once or twice a month a professional acting company would arrive in town and present a repertory of two to five plays. They traveled by rail bringing their props and costumes with them and expecting the local theatre to provide the needed scenery and furniture. They would stay in a local hotel for two day to a week performing a differnt show each night. If their visit was successful, the company would return the following year with new scripts. In September 1888, Mlle. Rhea and Her Grand Company of Players were in Aberdeen for two days. They presented two plays at the Gottschalk: Shakespeare’s Much Ado About Nothing and Adrienne Lecouvreur, a French tragedy by Eugène Scribe and Ernest Legouve. Tickets were priced at $ 1.00 ($ 24.00 in 2010 dollars). Mlle. Rhea (Hortense-Berbe Loret, 1844-1899) was a popular, well known Belgium born and French trained, European actress who performed for 17 years in Brussels, Rouen, Paris, St Petersburg and London. She arrived in the United States in 1881.
She performed her repertory in a heavily accented English. | Probably the most successful touring company to play Aberdeen was the Clint and Bessie Robbins Company of Youth and Cleverness. They appeared annually on the stages of the Orpheum and Capital Theatres for nearly 20 years from the late 1910s through the mid 1930s. In the fall of 1928, Clint and Bessie Robbins and their company of 13 actors were in town for six days. They gave six performances of three plays: The Behaviour of Mrs. Crane, Stella Dallas and The Noose on the stage of the Orphum Theatre. Their last visit was in the late 30s and they were forced to perform in a tent because no theatres were available. By the early 40s most of the traveling shows had left the business, a victim of the movies who had stolen both their theatres and their audience. According to Billboard magazine, in January 1942 the Robbins were operating a gift shop in southern California and in 1944 they were working at a defense plant in Portland, Oregon,
Eugene Scribe| Eugene Scribe (1791-1861) and Victorien Sardou (1831-1908). Scribe has been credited with 300 scripts, mostly comedies. Sardou is the author of Tosca (1887) a romantic tragedy written for Sarah Bernhardt (1844-1923) the leading French actress of her day. It was adapted into an opera by Giacomo Puccini (1858-1924) in 1900. | Well-made-play
Elements of the well-made-play formula were used by the early realistic playwrights, especially Henrik Ibsen. Characteristics of a well-made-play
1. Extensive exposition and careful preparation (fore shadowing) early in the play, 2. A tightly knit cause-and-effect arrangement of plot incidents, 3. Each scene builds to a strong climax (or crisis),
4. A secret known to the audience, but not to the play’s characters, 5. A “show down” or confrontational scene between the play’s two major characters near the climax, and 6. A careful resolution of the action so there are no loose ends. Star System
In the star system, the production is built around the lead actor, the “star”. He owned the company. His wife was usually the leading lady, and his son and daughter would often play the “romantic” leads. Plays were selected to show off the star’s talents. The supporting cast was there to assist the star. The star-system was an outgrowth of the actor-manager system which dates back to the English Restoration. In the ensemble approach, there are no stars. There are leading roles, simply because that’s the way plays are written. But the actor who played the lead in one production, would have a supporting role in the next show. In the star system, the star played all of the leads, all the time.
It was a sin for the star to rehearse. He stood at the front edge of the stage and spoke directly to the audience. The audience would often applaud at the end of a scene. If there was enough applause, the star might do an encore.
Richard Wagner (1813-1883) and Georg II, the Duke of Saxe-Meiningen (1826-1914) are the people who changed star system to the ensemble system. Wagner was one of Germany’s most influential 19th century opera composers and theatrical producers. He believed that drama should be “dipped in the magic fountain of music” to combine the greatness of Shakespeare with that of Beethoven. He believed all elements of a production should come under the control of one man, the all powerful director who would synthesize the theatrical elements into a Gesamtkunstwerk, or “a master art work.”
Set for Cathy from Heilbronn by Heinrich von Kleist (1810)
Painted by the Brueckner Brothers, Coburg, for the Meiningen Company Stock Set
A collection of “generic” sets which the theatre manager would use for his company’s productions What were some of the scenic designs theatre managers stocked? A small local theatre would own at least four basic designs, a… 1. Kitchen set,
2. Parlor set,
3. Woodland scene, and
4. City street scene.
The manager would decide which of these four designs would best fit the settings required for each play he presented. The action was set either in the city or in the country (woodland scene) and delt with the lives of the rich (who lived in the parlor) or the poor (who seemed to spend most of their time in the kitchen).
Set for Plaza Suite
An interior set which uses flats (wood frames covered with canvas) to create the back and side walls, and often ceiling, of a “realistic” room. Fourth-wall Concept
Denis Diderot| According to French philosopher Denis Diderot (1713-1784) the scenic artist should create a “real” room (four walls) then remove one of these walls so the audience can watch the action of the play unfold on stage. In a realistic production, the focus of the action should remain with in the confines of the “room”. As for as the actor is concerned, there is no audience, only the other characters in the “room.”
In the first third of the 19th century, gas lamps replaced the candles and oil lamps as the primary source of light in the theater. Philadelphia’s Chestnut Street Theatre was outfitted with gas light in 1816.
Gas Table is a collection of valves used by the gasman to control the intensity of light. For the first time it became practical to dim the house lights forcing the audience to focus their attention on the stage. Limelight
Limelight| The 19th century spotlight which created the brilliant pool of light that followed the “star,” hence the origin of the phrase “He’s in the limelight.” The light was produced by heating a block of calcium carbonate (lime) to incandescence with a oxyo-hydrogen torch. It was used both as a follow spot and the source of theatrical beams of sunlight and moonlight.
Nineteenth-century theatre describes a wide range of movements in the theatrical culture of Europe and the United States in the 19th century. In the West, they include Romanticism, melodrama, thewell-made plays of Scribe and Sardou, the farces of Feydeau, the problem plays of Naturalism and Realism, Wagner’s operatic Gesamtkunstwerk, Gilbert and Sullivan’s plays and operas, Wilde’sdrawing-room comedies, Symbolism, and proto-Expressionism in the late works of August Strindberg and Henrik Ibsen. Several important technical innovations were introduced between 1875 and 1914. First gas lighting and then electric lights, introduced in London’s Savoy Theatre in 1881, replaced candlelight. Theelevator stage was first installed in the Budapest Opera House in 1884. This allowed entire sections of the stage to be raised, lowered, or tilted to give depth and levels to the scene. The revolving stage was introduced to Europe by Karl Lautenschläger at the Residenz Theatre, Munich in 1896.
Beginning in France after the theatre monopolies were abolished in 1791 during the French Revolution, melodrama became the most popular theatrical form. Although monopolies and subsidies were reinstated under Napoleon, it continued to be extremely popular and brought in larger audiences than the state-sponsored drama and operas. Although melodrama can be traced back to classical Greece, the term mélodrame did not appear until 1766 and only became popular after 1800. August von Kotzebue’s Misanthropy and Repentance (1798) is often considered the first melodramatic play. The plays of Kotzebue and René Charles Guilbert de Pixérécourt established melodrama as the dominant dramatic form of the early 19th century. David Grimsted, in his book Melodrama Unveiled (1968), argues that: Its conventions were false, its language stilted and commonplace, its characters stereotypes, and its morality and theology gross simplifications. Yet its appeal was great and understandable.
It took the lives of common people seriously and paid much respect to their superior purity and wisdom. […] And its moral parable struggled to reconcile social fears and life’s awesomeness with the period’s confidence in absolute moral standards, man’s upward progress, and a benevolent providence that insured the triumph of the pure. In Paris, the 19th century saw a flourishing of melodrama in the many theatres that were located on the popular Boulevard du Crime, especially in the Gaîté. All this was to come to an end, however, when most of these theatres were demolished during therebuilding of Paris by Baron Haussmann in 1862. By the end of the 19th century, the term melodrama had nearly exclusively narrowed down to a specific genre of salon entertainment: more or less rhythmically spoken words (often poetry)—not sung, sometimes more or less enacted, at least with some dramatic structure or plot—synchronized to an accompaniment of music (usually piano). It was looked down on as a genre for authors and composers of lesser stature (probably also the reason why virtually no realisations of the genre are still remembered). Romanticism in Germany and France
In Germany, there was a trend toward historic accuracy in costumes and settings, a revolution in theatre architecture, and the introduction of the theatrical form of German Romanticism. Influenced by trends in 19th-century philosophy and the visual arts, German writers were increasingly fascinated with their Teutonic past and had a growing sense of nationalism. The plays of Gotthold Ephraim Lessing, Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, Friedrich Schiller, and other Sturm und Drang playwrights, inspired a growing faith in feeling and instinct as guides to moral behavior. Romantics borrowed from the philosophy of Immanuel Kant to formulate the theoretical basis of “Romantic” art. According to Romantics, art is of enormous significance because it gives eternal truths a concrete, material form that the limited human sensory apparatus may apprehend. Among those who called themselves Romantics during this period, August Wilhelm Schlegel and Ludwig Tieck were the most deeply concerned with theatre After a time, Romanticism was adopted in France with the plays of Victor Hugo, Alexandre Dumas, Alfred de Musset, and George Sand. By the 1840s, however, enthusiasm for Romantic drama had faded in France and a new “Theatre of Common Sense” replaced it. Meiningen Ensemble and Richard Wagner
In Germany, drama entered a state of decline from which it did not recover until the 1890s. The major playwrights of the period were Otto Ludwig and Gustav Freytag. The lack of new dramatists was not keenly felt because the plays of Shakespeare, Lessing, Goethe, and Schiller were prominent in the repertory. The most important theatrical force in later 19th-century Germany was that of Georg II, Duke of Saxe-Meiningen and his Meiningen Ensemble, under the direction of Ludwig Chronegk. The Ensemble’s productions are often considered the most historically accurate of the 19th century, although his primary goal was to serve the interests of the playwright. The Ensemble’s productions utilised detailed, historically accurate costumes and furniture, something that was unprecedented in Europe at the time. The Meiningen Ensemble stands at the beginning of the new movement toward unified production (or what Richard Wagner would call the Gesamtkunstwerk) and the rise of the director(at the expense of the actor) as the dominant artist in theatre-making. The Meiningen Ensemble traveled throughout Europe from 1874-1890 and met with unparalleled success wherever they went.
Audiences had grown tired with regular, shallow entertainment theatre and were beginning to demand a more creatively and intellectually stimulating form of expression that the Ensemble was able to provide. Therefore, the Meiningen Ensemble can be seen as the forerunners of the art-theatre movement which appeared in Europe at the end of the 1880s. Richard Wagner (1813-1883) rejected the contemporary trend toward realism and argued that the dramatist should be a myth maker who portrays an ideal world through the expression of inner impulses and aspirations of a people. Wagner used musicto defeat performers’ personal whims. The melody and tempo of music allowed him to have greater personal control over performance than he would with spoken drama. As with the Meininger Ensemble, Wagner believed that the author-composershould supervise every aspect of production to unify all the elements into a “master art work.” Wagner also introduced a new type of auditorium that abolished the side boxes, pits, and galleries that were a prominent feature of most European theatres and replaced them with a 1,745 seat fan-shaped auditorium that was 50 feet wide at the proscenium and 115 feet at the rear. This allowed every seat in the auditorium to enjoy a full view of the stage and meant that there were no “good” seats.
Theatre in Britain
Edward George Bulwer-Lytton.
In Britain, Percy Bysshe Shelley and Lord Byron were the most important literary dramatists of their time (although Shelley’s plays were not performed until later in the century). Shakespeare was enormously popular, and began to be performed with texts closer to the original, as the drastic rewriting of 17th and 18th century performing versions for the theatre (as opposed to his plays in book form, which were also widely read) was gradually removed over the first half of the century. In the minor theatres, burletta and melodrama were the most popular. Kotzebue’s plays were translated into English and Thomas Holcroft’s A Tale of Mystery was the first of many English melodramas. Pierce Egan, Douglas William Jerrold, Edward Fitzball, James Roland MacLaren and John Baldwin Buckstone initiated a trend towards more contemporary and rural stories in preference to the usual historical or fantastical melodramas. James Sheridan Knowles and Edward George Bulwer-Lytton established a “gentlemanly” drama that began to re-establish the former prestige of the theatre with the aristocracy. Melodramas, light comedies, operas, Shakespeare and classic English drama, pantomimes, translations of French farces and, from the 1860s, French operettas, continued to be popular, together with Victorian burlesque.
The most successful dramatists were James Planché and Dion Boucicault, whose penchant for making the latest scientific inventions important elements in his plots exerted considerable influence on theatrical production. His first big success, London Assurance (1841) was a comedy in the style of Sheridan, but he wrote in various styles, including melodrama. T. W. Robertson wrote popular domestic comedies and introduced a more naturalistic style of acting and stagecraft to the British stage in the 1860s. So successful were the comic operas of Gilbert and Sullivan, such as H.M.S. Pinafore (1878) and The Mikado (1885), that they greatly expanded the audience for musical theatre. This, together with much improved street lighting and transportation in London and New York led to a late Victorian and Edwardian theatre building boom in the West End and on Broadway. At the end of the century, Edwardian musical comedy came to dominate the musical stage. In the 1890s the comedies of Oscar Wilde and George Bernard Shaw offered sophisticated social comment and were very popular.
Theatre in the United States
The Black Crook (1866)
In the Theatre of the United States, Philadelphia was the dominant theatrical centre until 1815. Thomas Wignell established the Chestnut Street Theatre and gathered a group of actors that included William Warrenand Thomas Abthorpe Cooper (who later was considered the leading actor in North America). In its infancy, playwrights such as Royall Tyler, William Dunlap, and John Howard Payne laid the foundations for a native drama. Professional theatre was first established in the west in 1815 when Samuel Drake (1769-1854) took a company down the Ohio River and established a circuit that included Lexington, Louisville, andFrankfort. New York City’s importance as a theatrical center grew until it became the primary theatre center during the century, and the theatre district slowly moved north from lower Manhattan until it finally arrived in midtown at the end of the century. On the musical stage, Harrigan and Hart innovated with comic musical plays from the 1870s, but London imports came to dominate, beginning with Victorian burlesque, then Gilbert and Sullivan from 1880, and finally Edwardian musical comedies at the end of the century.
In France, the “well-made play” of Eugene Scribe became popular with playwrights. Its structure was employed by realist playwrights Alexandre Dumas, fils, Emile Augier, and Victorien Sardou. Sardou was one of the world’s most popular playwrights between 1860 and 1900. He adapted the well-made play to every dramatic type, from comedies to historical spectacles. George Bernard Shaw thought that Sardou’s plays epitomized the decadence and mindlessness into which the late 19th-century theatre had descended, a state that he labeled “Sardoodledom”.
Rise of realism in Russia
In Russia, Aleksandr Griboyedov, Alexander Pushkin, and Nikolai Polevoy were the most accomplished playwrights. As elsewhere, Russia was dominated by melodrama and musical theatre. More realistic drama began to emerge with the plays of Nikolai Gogol and the acting of Mikhail Shchepkin. Under close government supervision, the Russian theatre expanded considerably. Prince Alexander Shakhovskoy opened state theatres and training schools, attempted to raise the level of Russian production after a trip to Paris, and put in place regulations for governing troupes that remained in effect until 1917. Realism began earlier in the 19th century in Russia than elsewhere in Europe and took a more uncompromising form.
Beginning with the plays of Ivan Turgenev (who used “domestic detail to reveal inner turmoil”), Aleksandr Ostrovsky (who was Russia’s first professional playwright), Aleksey Pisemsky (whose A Bitter Fate (1859) anticipated Naturalism), and Leo Tolstoy (whose The Power of Darkness (1886) is “one of the most effective of naturalistic plays”), a tradition of psychological realism in Russia culminated with the establishment of the Moscow Art Theatre by Constantin Stanislavski and Vladimir Nemirovich-Danchenko. Ostrovsky is often credited with creating a peculiarly Russian drama. His plays Enough Stupidity in Every Wise Man (1868) and The Storm (1859) draw on the life that he knew best, that of the middle class. Other important Russian playwrights of the 19th century include Alexander Sukhovo-Kobylin and Mikhail Saltikov-Shchedrin. Naturalism and Realism
Henrik Ibsen, the “father” of modern drama.
Naturalism, a theatrical movement born out of Charles Darwin’s The Origin of Species (1859) and contemporary political and economic conditions, found its main proponent in Émile Zola. His essay “Naturalism in the Theatre” (1881) argued that poetry is everywhere instead of in the past or abstraction: “There is more poetry in the little apartment of a bourgeois than in all the empty worm-eaten palaces of history.” The realisation of Zola’s ideas was hindered by a lack of capable dramatists writing naturalist drama. André Antoine emerged in the 1880s with his Théâtre Libre that was only open to members and therefore was exempt from censorship. He quickly won the approval of Zola and began to stage Naturalistic works and other foreign realistic pieces. Antoine was unique in his set design as he built sets with the “fourth wall” intact, only deciding which wall to remove later. The most important French playwrights of this period were given first hearing by Antoine including Georges Porto-Riche, François de Curel, and Eugène Brieux. The work of Henry Arthur Jones and Arthur Wing Pinero initiated a new direction on the English stage.
While their work paved the way, the development of more significant drama owes itself most to the playwrightHenrik Ibsen. Ibsen was born in Norway in 1828. He wrote twenty-five plays, the most famous of which are A Doll’s House (1879), Ghosts (1881), The Wild Duck (1884), and Hedda Gabler (1890). A Doll’s House and Ghostsshocked conservatives: Nora’s departure in A Doll’s House was viewed as an attack on family and home, while the allusions to venereal disease and sexual misconduct in Ghosts were considered deeply offensive to standards of public decency. Ibsen refined Scribe’s well-made play formula to make it more fitting to the realistic style. He provided a model for writers of the realistic school. In addition, his works Rosmersholm(1886) and When We Dead Awaken (1899) evoke a sense of mysterious forces at work in human destiny, which was the be a major theme of symbolism and the so-called “Theatre of the Absurd”. After Ibsen, British theatre experienced revitalization with the work of George Bernard Shaw, Oscar Wilde, and (in fact from 1900) John Galsworthy. Unlike most of the gloomy and intensely serious work of their contemporaries, Shaw and Wilde wrote primarily in the comic form.
(1863 – 1938)
As founder of the first acting “System”, co-founder of the Moscow Art Theatre(1897-), and an eminent practitioner of the naturalist school of thought, Konstantin Stanislavski unequivocally challenged traditional notions of the dramatic process, establishing himself as one of the most pioneering thinkers in modern theatre. Stanislavski coined phrases such as “stage direction”, laid the foundations of modern opera and gave instant renown to the works of such talented writers and playwrights as Maksim Gorki and Anton Chekhov. His process of character development, the “Stanislavski Method”, was the catalyst for method acting- arguably the most influential acting system on the modern stage and screen. Such renowned schools of acting and directing as the Group Theatre (1931 – 1941) and The Actors Studio (1947 -) are a legacy of Stanislavski’s pioneering vision. Like all pioneering thinkers however, Stanislavski stood on the shoulders of giants. Much of the thought and philosophy Stanislavsky applied to the theatre derives from his predecessors.
Pushkin, Russia’s original literary hero and the father of the native realist tradition, wrote that the goal of the artist is to supply truthful feelings under given circumstances, which Stanislavski adopted as his lifelong artistic motto. – Polyakova, Elena; Stanislavsky Stanislavsky was born Konstantin Sergeyevich Alexeyev in Moscow on January 5, 1863, amidst the transition from the feudal serfdom of Czarist Russia under the rule of Peter the Great, to the free enterprise of the Industrial Revolution. More than one hundred years prior, Konstantin’s ancestor Alexei Petrov had broken the chains of serfdom that bound the family and gained immediate status and wealth as a merchant. By the time Konstantin was born, the Alexeyev business of gold and silver thread production had made the family name well known throughout the world. Silver and gold were not the only interests of the Alexeyev family. While Konstantin was still very young, the family organized a theatre group called the Alexeyev Circle. Throughout his ascent to a major role on the stage, Konstantin maintained obligations to his family business, organizing shareholder meetings and keeping the accounts in order. However, his preoccupation with all aspects of theatrical production eventually made him a leading member of his family’s theatre group.
Reared by a wealthy and generous father, Konstantin was never short of funding in his early stage performances. Ultimately, in order to escape the stereotype of the prodigal son and to be mindful of the reputation of his family, at the age of 25, Konstantin took the stage name Stanislavski. In the same year he established the Society of Art and Literature as an amateaur company at the Maly Theatre, where he gained experience in ethics, aesthetics and stagecraft. As he progressed independently, Stanislavsky began to further challenge the traditional stage approach. In 1898, in cooperation with Vladimir Nemirovich- Danchenko, Stanislavski founded the Moscow Art Theatre, Russia’s first ensemble theatre. “The program for our undertaking was revolutionary.
We protested against the old manner of acting and against theatricality, against artificial pathos and declamation, and against affectation on the stage, and inferior conventional productions and decoration, against the star system which had been a bad affect on the cast, against the whole arrangement of plays and against the poor repertoire of the theatres.” – Stanislavski Using the Moscow Art Theatre as his conduit, Stanislavski developed his own unique system of training wherein actors would research the situation created by the script, break down the text according to their character’s motivations and recall their own experiences, thereby causing actions and reactions according to these motivations. The actor would ideally make his motivations for acting identical to those of the character in the script. He could then replay these emotions and experiences in the role of the character in order to achieve a more genuine performance. The 17th Century melodrama “Tsar Fyodor” was the first production in which these techniques were showcased. “How does an actor act? … How can the actor learn to inspire himself? What can he do to impel himself toward that necessary yet maddeningly elusive creative mood? These were the simple, awesome riddles Stanislavksi dedicated his life to exploring.
Where and how to ‘seek those roads into the secret sources of inspiration must serve as the fundamental life problem of every true actor’ … If the ability to receive the creative mood in its full measure is given to the genius by nature”, Stanislavski wondered, “then perhaps ordinary people may reach a like state after a great deal of hard work with themselves – not in its full measure, but at least in part.” – A Method to Their Madness: The History of the Actors Studio Using this system, Stanislavski succeeded like no producer or director before him in translating the works of such renowned playwrights as Chekov and Gorki, whose writings were aptly suited to his method. With their social consciousness and emphasis on the importance of imagery and theme rather than plot, they were blank canvasses on which Stanislavski could exercise his artful hand. Stanislavski clearly could not separate the theatre from its social context. He viewed theatre as a medium with great social and educational significance. During the civil unrest leading up to the first Russian revolution in 1905, Stanislavski courageously reflected social issues on the stage.
Twelve years later, during the Red October of 1917, Bolshevism had swept through Russia and the Soviet Union was established. In the violence of revolution, Lenin’s personal protection saved Stanislavski from being eliminated along with the Czardom. The USSR maintained allegiance to Stanislavski and his socially conscious method of production and his theatre began to produce plays containing Soviet propoganda. “The revolution thundered in and made its demands on us. There began a period of new explorations, of reappraisal of the old and the search for new ways. At a time when the new for the sake of the new and the negation of everything that had come before held sway in the theatre, we could not reject out of hand all that was fine in the past … This link with the past and the eagerness to move to an unknown future, the searching quests of the new theatre – all this helped to keep us from succumbing to the dangerous ‘charms’ of formalism … We did not succumb; instead we began our quest for new ways, cautiously but doggedly.” – Stanislavski In 1918 Stanislakski established the First Studio as a school for young actors and in his later years wrote several books such as My Life in Art, many of which were translated into more than 20 languages. (See more complete list in the left column).
Through his earnest professional and educational leadership, Stanislavksi spread his knowledge to numerous understudies, leaving a legacy that cannot be overstated. “It was with a feeling of deep emotion and joy that we entered Stanislavski’s house: a tall old man with snow white hair rose from the arm chair to greet us. It was enough for us to converse with Stanislavski just 5- 10 minutes to come away feeling like a new born person, cleansed of all that might be ‘bad’ in art.” – Khmelyov In 1938, just before World War II, Stanislavski died holding on to the ideal of a peaceful, socially responsible world. A world completely engulfed in the experiences and interchange of works of art that people of every nation would identify with and cherish. “Let the wisdom of the old guide the buoyancy and vitality of the youth; let the buoyancy and vitality of the youth sustain the wisdom of the old.” -Stanislavski
○ progression of techniques used to train actors to draw believable emotions to their performances. ○ Stanislavski developed the “method of physical actions,” to solve the dilemma of spontaneous emotion in a created environment. ○ In this technique, the actor would perform a physical motion or a series of physical activities to create the desired emotional response for the character. Emotions were considered to be formed from the subconscious, so this technique allowed the actors to consciously target and control their subconscious emotions through movement. ○ For instance, if an actor needed to weep, he could sigh and hold his head in his hands, a physical action that many who are crying instinctively do. ○ On stage, if an actor experiences only internal feelings or only physical actions, then the performance is dead. ○ The reasoning behind this goes back to the union of the psychological and physical. The two go hand-in-hand. If an actor attempts to portray a character by employing one aspect of the union without the other, then they are performing incompletely. Internal experiences and their physical expression are unbreakably united.
Whether it is through a facial expression or the tapping of a foot, everything a human experiences psychologically is displayed through physical means. This is termed a psycho-physical union. ○ The correct physical action does not come automatically for every psychological response nor are they stimulate identical responses for every individual. Many times, actors need to experiment until they determine what best works for them and for the character they are trying to portray. The best way to experiment with this is through improvisation. The best improvisers are those who can intuitively act and behave onstage as though they are in a real situation. ○ Through his work, Stanislavski reversed the human reaction system in which an emotion allocates an action. Method actors use actions to control their emotions. This allows actors to “live” in silences or pauses in the dialogue of the script and not only in the words. They are able to remain in character. ○ Reacting is essentially emoting and includes allowing the body to outwardly express what the mind is inwardly experiencing.