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Tennessee Williams: 20th Century Realism

Tennessee Williams' influence on the emergence of New Realism in 20th Century theatre in the United States

Rick Nelson

on 6 March 2017

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Transcript of Tennessee Williams: 20th Century Realism

20th Century Realism + T. Williams
The roots of New Realist movement
Rooted in works of the late 18th Century
Exotic and faraway locales
The 19th Century
Realism became an artistic movement; manifested in visual art, literature, and theatre
19th Century Realist Theatre was influenced by new, more liberal social and political ideas
19th Century Realism bled into theatre through literature; through playwriting
Turn of the Century
Social Landscape
Charles Darwin
Sigmund Freud
Scientific Method + Human Problem Solving
Idolization of Lower and Middle Class people in Literature
Naturalism vs. Realism
Naturalism an extreme form of realism
20th Century Realism began to consider more elements of the production; contrubution to "overall" naturalism
Tennessee Williams
Raised and educated in the St. Louis area
Born and spent early childhood in Mississippi
Studied journalism in the University of Missouri's prestigious writing program
Found classes boring; immersed himself in his writing, entered contests frequently
His mother recalled: "Tom would go to his room with black coffee and cigarettes and I would hear the typewriter clicking away at night in the silent house. Some mornings when I walked in to wake him for work, I would find him sprawled fully dressed across the bed, too tired to remove his clothes."
He bounced odd from one job to another, unhappily; he dealt with frequent bouts of depression
Worked to support himself under the Works Progress Program
The Glass Menagerie
First production opened in Chicago, to high praise
It was "something new"
Moved to New York, where it was wildly successful
Elia Kazan said: "Everything in his life is in his plays, and everything in his plays is in his life."
A Streetcar Named Desire
These two major successes sealed his reputation as one of the great playwrights of the era
Feared the loss of his reputation
Consistent boughts of depression + consistent abuse of narcotics and amphetamines
Clung to his work; as a result, he was highly prolific:
Camino Real
Cat on a Hot Tin Roof
Clothes for a Summer Hotel
Fugitive Kind
A House Not Meant to Stand
In the Bar of a Tokyo Hotel
The Milk Train Doesn't Stop Here Anymore
The Night of the Iguana
Orpheus Descending
Out Cry
Period of Adjustment
The Red Devil Battery Sign
The Rose Tattoo
Suddenly, Last Summer
Summer Smoke
Sweet Bird of Youth
Williams' Influence
Many of his relationships failed, and his
psychological state led, in many ways, to his undoing
By 1959 he had earned two Pulitzer Prizes, three New York Drama Critics' Circle Awards, three Donaldson Awards, and a Tony Award.
However, his public persona suffered as a result of
his addictions and illness; died at the age of 71
"Plastic/Structural Theatre"
"...Expressionism and all other unconventional techniques in drama have only one valid aim, and that is a closer approach to truth. When a play employs unconventional techniques, it is not, or certainly shouldn't be, trying to escape its responsibility of dealing with reality...Everyone should know nowadays the unimportance of the photographic in art: that truth, life, or reality is an organic thing which the poetic imagination can represent or suggest, in essence, only through transformation, through changing into other forms than those which were merely present in appearance."
Attempted to distinguish this new brand of technique from 19th Century realism
According to Richard Kramer, Tennessee Williams biographer, "...his plays are very theatrical: his language is lyrical and poetic; his settings, "painterly" and "sculptural"; and his dramaturgy, cinematic"
This new perspective formed the beginnings of 20th Century Realist Theatre
A diversity of contemporary playwrights such as Suzan-Lori Parks, Tony Kushner, and David Mamet cite him as a major influence
Today, his plays are still among the most produced worldwide
Full transcript