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Transcript of Melodrama
What is Melodrama?
Melodrama is a style of theatre adopted from Romanticism. It highlights the power of emotion and nature, tying motion to emotion with strong, specific movements. Melodrama comes out of the movements of Romanticism, implying the theories that feelings are more important than thoughts, that true happiness is found at a spiritual level, and that dying cannot be compared to being true to oneself, and thus takes the idea of emotion, dramatic entrances and exits, music, and narrative tableaus all to heighten emotion and exaggeration of the plotline and characters during plays.
Principles of Melodramatic Acting
Since melodrama is so centered on the topic of emotion and over-exaggeration, the principles of melodramatic acting are all focused around huge gestures, movement, and expressions.
Conventions of Melodrama
Since melodrama is so fixated on the subject of exaggeration and making things obvious for the audience to comprehend, there are certain ways that emotion was conveyed during melodramatic performances.
When melodrama became popular in the 19th century, a set of "stock characters" was developed. The stock characters are very important to melodramatic acting, and are based off of certain places, traditions, and stories, then transformed to adhere to melodramatic acting and principles. They were very stereotypical characters who would appear in almost every melodramatic performance. In melodrama, the characters are distinctly simplified as either "good" or "evil", and each character has different posture, voices, movements, costumes, and expressions used to convey their identifiable character type.
Head down, rounded shoulders, hands cupping face, raising shoulders up and down with a sobbing noise.
The "damsel in distress", the Heroine is a beautiful, innocent young woman.
She is fearful, innocent, vulnerable, and weak, but she is strong internally and has a pluck of strength and courage.
Her voice is high pitched, she walks lightly across the stage, and has the s-shaped stance.
Grim, determined, and immensely evil, OR shifty, cowardly, comic, and weak.
The villain has not morals, is dishonest, and cruel.
He uses the teapot stance - often with a cape over the mouth - and wear black clothing, often with a moustache and top hat.
His movements are big and sneaky, often spider-like.
The Villain is often high class and wealthy with a sneery, deep voice, and is usually odd-looking.
The clown is the comic man of the story, usually the servant or sidekick or either the hero or the villain. He is typically unintelligent, lower class, and there for comic relief.
He has bent knees and is often weighted in the stomach.
The Clown often has many ideas to solve the problem at hand, does the dirty work for the villain, and often accidentally reveals the truth in the story.
The old couple/man/woman in the story symbolizes age, authority, government, social doctrine, politics, and mostly wisdom. They can also provide comic relief and although they are usually portrayed as "good", they can be "evil".
They are often important to the Heroine (e.g: her parents, grandparents, relatives, etc.).
They can either be slumped with a cane or can stand upright and move more elegantly.
19th century French:
, combining the Greek word for music or song (
) and the French word for drama (
Shoulders hunched, arm raised covering nose on down, eyes shifting around room, legs bent on cross of stage.
Chest up, hands with knuckles to both hips, legs slightly apart, balanced look.
Face turned to the right, right hand to mouth, fingers curled under touching top of palm.
One eyebrow up, a grimace on face, hands rubbing together or fingers twiddling.
Hands shoulder high, eyebrows pushed together, face tense with grimace, hands in tight fists.
Eyes wide, mouth open, both hands to cheeks with fingers extended.
Chest held high, head cocked to the side, opposite leg held out, foot pointed, hands under chin, fingers entwined and bend at the first and second knuckles, hands go out toward loved one, smiling.
Chin up, face looking up, one arm limp to the side, other hand open with palm towards the audience on top of forehead.
Body straight, chest up, hand to forehead, palm facing the audience and fingers curled slightly.
Chest held high, right hand crossing chest and resting over heart, then opening out to the right and towards loved one.
Melodrama and Victorian Society
Melodrama became a very popular form of theatre during the 19th century Victorian era. It was mostly performed in Europe - especially France and England, while often basing plays off of French and German literature - but it spread to America as well.
Melodrama contains both the words "music" and "drama" because the style consists of large amount of music and dance accompaniment and interludes used to intensify emotion and add to the drama throughout the plays, and because of the exaggerated acting and drama expressed during the theatrical performances.
The Hero is an always present character who is a handsome young gentleman. He is Manly, charming, courageous, strong, reliable, and often working class. He is devoted to the Heroine. Is honest, has morals, and knows the difference between right and wrong.
He symbolizes youth and action in the play.
The hero has the teapot stance with his chest farther out and uses broad, masculine movements and a manly voice.
There are two primary stances in melodrama: the "teapot" stance for men, and the "S-shape" stance for women.
The teapot stance is basic posture for men, with one hand on the hip (the arm forming a "handle"), and the other arm making large gestures to make the character's communication clearer to the audience (forming a "spout"). the stance includes the feet being slightly apart with knees bent to be able to move easily and with grace, and one foot at an angle with the other.
The S-shaped stance is basic posture for women, often with the arm pointed and wrist flexed, accompanied by a curves body and tilted head to express femininity and elegance in the female character.
Most melodrama actors were trained in dance/ballet and good posture, therefore the movements of each character were always with grace and elegance (especially for the Hero and Heroine).
The actors always moved in a half-moon curve, and their blocking was always in awareness of the audience (i.e: the actors were placed so the dialogue could take place facing forward without turning their back or profile to the audience, thus forming more of a connection and captivating the audience further.
Along with gesture, facial expression was also important in melodrama. each expression done by the actor was exaggerated and complied with their gesture, and was done as largely as possible.
Exits and Entrances were also exceedingly important in melodrama. Entrances were used as a revealing of the character to the audience and had to be very dramatic, often accompanied with much sound and movement produced by the actor. Exits were always in control, dramatic, and very obvious to the audience.
Complying to the idea of over-exaggerated emotion, the gestures performed by the actors in melodrama were very strong, large, and specific in order to be very clear to the audience, and each movement was done with specific meaning.
While speaking, in order to be as clear and exaggerated as possible towards the audience, the actors were required to amplify their voice and over-articulate and annunciate each work and syllable grandiloquently.
At the end of a show or act, a Narrative Tableau is showed to the audience in order to sum up what has happened so far and what the relationships between the characters are at that point in the play. It is a picture made by the actors standing frozen onstage while showing intense amounts of exaggerated emotion.
As stated before, music plays a very important role in melodrama. It is used to heighten and intensify emotions throughout the play and add to the powerful drama.
The main focus and theme of melodramatic plays is the struggle between good and evil, and the re-establishment of a morally correct and just society.
The basic and common plot of almost all melodramas involves the theme of love and good versus evil. Usually, it would involve the Heroine being captured or attacked by the Villain, then the Hero defeating the Villain and saving the Heroine.
Melodramas always end well, with good always defeating evil and establishing morals and honesty. It will usually end with the Villain dying or being defeated, and the hero and Heroine being reunited and together happily.
Melodramas often incorporated historical settings or exotic/picturesque and unusual settings to be more interesting for the audience, but during the interest in horror, melodramas were often set in urban or rural areas.
Melodrama was performed on a Proscenium Arch stage to provide more entertainment and illusion for the audience as well as a bigger theatre to make the performance more of a spectacle.
Not only were music and sound effects made during performances, but lighting also played a large roll in melodramatic theatre. Plays were originally lit with candles, but when the invention of gas lighting came to be, it enable the ability to brighten up the theatre as well as dim it to add to the dramatic atmosphere.
To create elaborate settings and effects, fly towers and counterweight systems were used to hide and reveal backdrops and scenery, and inventions such as the "Ghost Glide", "Wagon Stage", "Elevator Stage", and "Revolving Stage" were designed and developed for special effects purposes as well as set changes. Other effects used during performances included the use of floods, avalanches, fires, earthquakes, explosions, deaths, and murders to add realism to the plays, although these effects came with safety hazards that could easily harm an actor or member of the audience.
in order for special effects to occur, machinery was created and utilized during performances. Examples of machinery are those that move the stage, the use of treadmills, and the use of moving panorama.
Melodrama reflected Victorian society in multiple ways during performances. A main way was the difference in social classes portrayed during the piece, since the characters were often on different social levels (e.g: the hero was working class, the villain was higher class), and thus making the play relatable for the audience members of different social statuses. Not only was it relatable for the lower class, but melodramas also often reflected higher class society by respecting the styles of the upper class and reflecting on the interests of the upper class. For example, the upper class had an interest in exotic locations and thus melodramas began being performed with sets portraying unusual and picturesque locations to be interesting for the audience. Another example is the spark of interest in horror in the upper class, which then make melodramas based off of domestic horror stories and urban locations.
Melodramatic plays changed not only with the interests and attitudes of the audiences, but also with the new copyright laws created. Originally,there were no laws to protect stories and literature from being performed onstage without discretion, but towards the late 19th century, systems were made to protect authors and playwrights and the beginning of the 20th century is when more original plays were written and performed, and being a playwright became a more profitable profession.
Nowadays, although it's not as popular to perform melodrama onstage, melodramatic movements, expressions, and gestures are popularly used in TV and Film. Not only theatrical melodramatic performances still use traditional melodramatic conventions and principles focusing on action and emotion, but melodramatic conventions are commonly used today in modern TV and Film. For example, cartoons and soap operas have modern day usage of melodramatic gesture, stock characters, facial expressions, and movements in order to convey emotion easier and exaggeratedly to the audience, though the stances and speech are not as exaggerated and specific as traditional melodrama.
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"The Actor's Art in English Melodrama" Packet given to me.