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Theatre Revolution I: Modernism (and other isms)

THEA 2012 201.02

James McKinnon

on 25 July 2013

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Transcript of Theatre Revolution I: Modernism (and other isms)

What other cultural/art forms were initially sensational and then became common or even dull?
Has this happened before or since?
Act I Scene I (Chimene, Elvire)

Is the report you bring me now sincere?
Are you editing my father’s words, Elvire?

All my thoughts are still enchanted by them:
He esteems Rodrigue, as you love him,
Reading his soul, if I am free from error,
He’ll wish you to take him as your lover.

I beg you then, tell me a second time
Why he must approve this choice of mine;
Tell me once more what hopes I may enjoy;
Ever such sweet speech may you employ;
Promise our love’s flame, that flares so bright,
The freedom to display itself outright.
What did he say regarding the intrigue,
Involving you, Don Sanche, and Don Rodrigue?
Did you reveal that inequality
Between the two lovers, that so sways me?
NORA. Hide the Christmas tree carefully, Helen. Be sure the children do not see it till this evening, when it is dressed. [To the Porter, taking out her purse.] How much?
POR. Sixpence.
NORA. There is a shilling. No, keep the change. [The Porter, thanks her and goes out. Nora shuts the door. She is laughing to herself as she takes off her hat and coat. She takes a packet of macaroons from her pocket and eats one or two, then goes cautiously to her husband’s door and listens.] Yes, he is in. [Still humming, she goes to the table on the right.]
HEL. [calls out from his room]. Is that my little lark twittering out there?
NORA [busy opening some of the parcels]. Yes, it is!
HEL. Is it my little squirrel bustling about?
NORA. Yes!
HEL. When did my squirrel come home?
NORA. Just now. [Puts the bag of macaroons into her pocket and wipes her mouth.] Come in here, Torvald, and see what I have bought.
Neo-Classical Drama
Realist/Naturalist Drama
1. Modern character or quality of thought, expression, or technique.

2. A style or movement in the arts that aims to break with classical and traditional forms.
"Modern" in this case refers to ca. 1850-1950
NOT in the casual sense of "contemporary"
NOT in the historical sense of "since around 1500"
But what are those classical/traditional forms?

After Mondrian, "Composition II, in Red, Blue, and Yellow." (1930)
Before Modernism
Modern Drama
"Make it new!"

-- Ezra Pound, 1934
Verse dialogue
Mythic/legendary characters, settings
Rigid rules governing form, composition, plot, time, place, etc.
Only two genres, never to be mixed.
Choices governed by IDEAL morality
High decorum, emphasis on poetry over action
Louis XIII

From Act 1 of A Doll House, by Henrik Ibsen
Non-realist Drama
EYEBROW: We're going to the races today.
MOUTH: Let’s not forget the camera.
EYE: Well hello.
EAR: The mechanical battalion of the wrists of shriveled hand-shakes.
Mouth exits.
NOSE (shouts) : Clytemnestra is winning!
EAR: What do you mean you didn't know that Clytemnestra was a race horse?
EYE: Amourous jostlings lead everywhere. But the season is propitious. Take care, dear friends, the season is satisfactory. It chews up words. It distends silences in accordions. Snakes line up everywhere in their polished eyeglasses. And what do you do with the bells of eyes, asked the entrepreneur.
EAR: "Seekers and curious people," answered Ear. She finishes the nerves of others in the white porcelain shell. She inflates.
NOSE: Fan having a seizure of wood,
light body with enormous laugh.
The Gas Heart, by Tristan Tzara
No more verse
Dialogue emulates actual speech
Middle-class characters
Real-life, contemporary situations
Choices governed by environment, social pressure
(We'll get there...)
Vera Komissarzhevskaya as Nora in MXAT production ca. 1905
The Gas Heart @ Theatre Michel, Paris ca. 1923
Before Modernism
After Modernism
Melodrama & "Well-made play"
Prose dialogue
Contemporary plots & settings
Conventional stock characters
Sensational situations & action
Increasingly realistic scenic design
Late point of attack, exciting climax
Conventional, ideal morality governs behaviour & action: good will prevail!
The villain is usually the protagonist
Plot follows mechanical formula of revelation & reversals
This form is still the basis for one-hour TV drama, esp. crime & detective series
"Please! No more CSI!"
Drama before Modernism:

Upholds normative
moral values
aesthetic standards
political models
Represents IDEAL thought, action
Drama after Modernism:

Challenges normative
moral values
aesthetic standards
political models
Naturalist/realist drama represents REAL thought, action
Let there be lighting!
Gas & electric lighting allow:
Illusion of natural light
Separation of audience and stage
Control of mood, atmosphere
Evening performances for bourgeoisie
Creates possibility of, demand for, perfect reproductions of reality.
Photos material over non-material.
Mass reproduction of images
Which ultimately devalues the image & changes its relationship to the object.
Industrial production enables advanced stagecraft and the staging of "realistic" spectacles, such as
horse races
railroad catastrophes
nautical battles
Replaceable parts & machinery enable the construction of box sets that look like domestic interiors.
Box set for a scene from Ours by Thomas William Robertson, performed at the Prince of Wales Theatre, 1866
Scene from Comedie-Francaise ca. 1800s
Phonography & Telephony
Sound recording & playback enables:
synchronized playback of "natural" sounds in artificial environment
mass reproduction of sounds
disembodied voices -- spurs interest in the occult
Speed: Steam, Electricity, Oil
Rapid transportation shrinks the world!
Art "reflects" material world, but photgraphy transcribes it.
Instant communication shrinks it more!
Optics & Metrics
Telescopes & microscopes make it possible to see and measure the material world far better than before.
(Also makes 2D scenery look awful.)
Artificial light enables the fourth wall effect ...
...and pacifies spectators.
Romanticism & antiquarianism create awareness of cultural & hisorical difference...
... fuelling a vogue for authenticity & local specificity.
Unified design
Scenery & Costume
Smaller theatres & artificial light make three dimensional settings & action possible
Coordination of complex spectacles requires a "3rd eye"
Attention to local details & bourgeois life means
prose dialogue
contemporary locations & situations
Attention to environment & psychology means
lots of stage directions
"Natural" acting in smaller theatres requires new style, careful coordination.
Georg II, Duke of Saxe-Meiningen
Shatters the divinely ordered world projected by absolute monarchy.

Liberalization & democratization put people in control of legal & judicial systems...

...prompting new inquiries into "truth."
Attacks idealism and rationalism:

"We should seek the truth in what is accessible to our senses: look around, not up!"

"Observable proof beats rational logic!"
"Material problems have material solutions!"
Louis Pasteur
(Not necessarily this kind of materialism.)
The Human Being ca 1750
The Human Being ca 1850
Made by God
Eternal soul is “fixed”
People are born bad or good
Morality is fixed, innate
Class reflects moral disparity
Illness, poverty, etc. is caused by
Innate badness
Everything is perfect!
Made by nature
Mind is plastic
People are born in bad or good places
Morality is arbitrary, learned
Class reflects economic disparity
Illness caused by germs
Poverty caused by society

Everything can/should change!
(Plural and global -- unlike earlier artistic movements.)
Before modernism, art is grounded in an appeal to IDEALS, e.g.:
Classical art reflects the
a perfectly ordered, mathematically balanced universe, guaranteed by God and King.
... liberty, mystery, the sublime and the grotesque, individual genius, subjectivity.
Though different, Classical & Romantic art are both fundamentally

before the 19th century, most people sought truth in universal, eternal ideals -- NOT the corrupt, imperfect, material world.
Romantic art reflects post-Revolutionary values and ideals, such as...
Rise of Materialism
Inquiry into
world destabilizes old
Astronomy: If the earth isn't the centre of the universe after all...
Geology: If the planet is millions of years old, not 6000...
Biology: If humans are really just another animal...
Chemistry: If the mysteries of the physical world can be explained...
Microbiology: If disease has an observable, material cause...
... then why should we believe in old ideals, if the answers we seek are in the material world?
What caused this explosion of formal innovation?
Modernism is a global artistic movement, ca. 1890 - 1940
It embraces/revolts against the rise of a new, materialist outlook
It influences & is influenced by revolutions in aesthetics, ideology, and technology
Modernist art rejects classical & romantic norms and forms:
1) What is modernism?
2) What is it revolting against?
3) What technological, aesthetic, and ideological developments coincided with modernist drama?

Next up:
1) Read Therese Raquin & Rebellato 6-16 by Monday.
2) First journal questions will be posted by Friday.
3) Enroll in seminar if you haven't yet.

Theatre Revolution 1
"It just hasn't been as good since Steve Carell left."
"Make it new!"
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