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Get Real With Chekhov: The Distinctions Between Realism & Naturalism

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James McKinnon

on 18 March 2013

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Transcript of Get Real With Chekhov: The Distinctions Between Realism & Naturalism

Realistic Realism Naturalism Naturalism and realism create an illusion of reality (i.e. "verisimilitude")... empirical verisimilitude (things on stage look like -- or are -- the real things they represent) psychological verisimilitude: characters behave like "real" people cause & effect logic "Realistic" melodrama makes fantasies look real. "Culturally affirmative": celebrates the status quo. "Realistic" = aesthetic technical skill & innovation to reproduce normative values and fantasies. Realism... Represents reality in order to expose & critique conventional morality. more interested in representing psychological than material forces Blames crime, poverty, disease on material & social factors. Shows how society acts as a prison or limits individual expression Naturalism (in theatre) is critical, not affirmative. Naturalism is totally committed to replicating the surface appearance of reality. Their characters are often "stock characters with subtext," i.e., ideal types. Zola would call this an "idealist" aesthetic: it uses illusion to glamorize conventional ideals. Maxim Gorky, The Lower Depths Verisimilitude: dinosaur almost life-like Hero in peril inflames emotions Conventional moral lesson E.g.:
"Science run amok will destroy us"
"individual heroism will save us"
"Police are infallible, clever, morally incorruptible, and heroic"
"people who stray from (sexual, moral, aesthetic) norms die horribly" Conventionally attractive hero(ish) Unambiguous moral framework + E.g. "Criminals / dinosaurs = bad." Verisimilitude: David Caruso almost life-like Realistic setting Glamourous/sensational
settings, characters, plots ? Anton Chekhov, The Cherry Orchard Real decor & furniture Actors are same age & gender as characters On stage space used to create an environment, not mere scenery Naturalism investigates material & social causes of behaviour. Loss of countenance Critiques the status quo. and shows less sensational action Social Realism More moral complexity than typical "cop drama"
Does not glorify legal system
Depicts "criminals" as trapped by environment, circumstance, heredity
Depicts police as motivated by vanity, careerism...
... and police work as boring & bureaucratic
Most characters are working class
Based on meticulous observation of locale (Baltimore) & dialect
Avoids "celebrity casting" & often casts locals in minor roles
Scathing critique of (legal, ethical, political) status quo Non-celebrity & amateurs in cast (w/ celeb cameos)
Deals with "real" issues in adolescent life
Criticized as sensational & unrealistic...
... but censored because of its realism.
Is its emphasis on sex, drugs, death honest or sensational? A "hybrid" of realism & naturalism Has the critical outlook of naturalism, without the determinism. Refers to a representational style in drama, film, or the novel

Attempts to reveal the characters' psychological complexity & motivation

First developed in the novel

Pioneered as an acting style by Constantin Stanislavsky

Attempts to totally suppress the actor (how does this work with celebrity?) Psychological realism supports naturalism by revealing "hidden" forces shaping the characters' actions It is also the central objective of realism in general Psychological realism reinforces the illusion of reality and creates empathy with characters (and a legitimizing pretext for physical attraction to and between them). Decor, clothing, hair set action in "real" time & place.

Gesture & body language signify "real" behaviour. "I care about this robot because it seems to have human feelings." "I care for Megan Fox's character, so it seems perfectly natural for her cleavage to be the central feature of every shot." Where do these shows fit? Skins The Wire Psychological Realism 1. What features distinguish "realism" from "naturalism"? Answering this question will
help you analyze modern drama and its motives and strategies. Answering this question will illuminate how artistic form is determined by social and historical forces. "Realistic" (adj.) refers to the extent to which fiction mimics the appearance of reality ("looks real").

"Realism" (n.) mimics reality to critique the effects of material & social circumstances on individuals.

"Naturalism" (n.) pushes realism to aesthetic and ideological extremes. It often suggests that environment and heredity determine individual choices. The Basics: So: a realist or naturalist drama must look realistic, but not everything that looks realistic is realism. For example: (as opposed to the idealist verisimilitude of classic drama) Get real with Chekhov How did naturalism die out -- yet go mainstream at the same time? ...but use it to challenge normative ideals, not reinforce them... Realistic.. but not realism ...unless you think Tolkein wanted us to focus on the ways in which our happiness is thwarted by trolls. 2. How did "emergent" naturalism transform into "dominant" realism? Escapist melodrama is realistic, but not realism. Realistic/Realism/Naturalism The Tarentino Zone? "For some people the violence, or the rudeness of the language, is a mountain they can't climb. That's OK. It's not their cup of tea. But I am affecting them. I wanted that scene to be disturbing." Meryl Streep as Miss Julie Analogies to Explain Williams' "Dominant/Emergent/Residual" Model If culture is... Then "dominant" is... ... and "residual" is... ...and "emergent" is... Television,
ca. 1998 Pop Music,
ca. 1996 Naturalist Drinking Game or
Inexperienced Playwright Drinking Game? Character simulates mundane/domestic action Convention of Naturalism Sign of Inexperience Unmotivated exposition Reference to social problem or vice Character alone on stage Dialogue mimics real conversation
(pauses, unfinished sentences, etc.) Dialogue refers to facts characters already know
Gratuitous references to environment, heredity, etc. Working/Middle-class characters References to heredity, environment, pseudo-science (e.g., degeneracy, hysteria) Domestic interior/4th wall Crude/coarse language Theatre, ca. 1900 Melodrama Neoclassical Drama Naturalism, Symbolism Limitation of analogy: Mass culture is arguably ALL "dominant." Bad acting
"What do I do with my hands?"
"How do I play the subtext?"
"Where should I look?" Review from Week Two Jurassic Park: "realistic," but not realism... TV Crime Dramas: Realistic but not Realism "Why not realism?" Naturalism shows what usually happens offstage... "Nobodies" going about daily life
Domestic work
Trivial arguments & time-killing
Characters air their "dirty laundry"
Choices are either trivial or all bad ... to suggest that environment & heredity make moral action difficult or impossible for most people. "In realism, a character might say, 'I feel like throwing up.' In naturalism, that character will actually throw up."

Bronwyn Tweddle focuses on "ordinary" people & actions (more middle-class than naturalism) uses symbols and metaphor to represent subjective truth is culturally critical (but less oppositional than Naturalism) reveals how human action is limited by social and material causes represents speech, behaviour, and settings as we perceive them in reality more interested in character development than plot Like Naturalism Not like Naturalism Can the Venn diagram explain overlapping zones? Constantin Stanislavsky Summary ...and realism is more aesthetically and ideologically flexible. Bring your textbook on Friday!
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