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Transcript of Melodramatic Acting
What is Melodrama?
Melodrama is a type of acting that is characterized by exaggerated movements and emotions, making it very dramatic. The word Melodrama comes from Melo, meaning song in greek and drama which is to act (zaneeducation.com). This form of acting was mostly used during the mid and late 19th century in Europe but it still continues to exists in Asian TV shows and movies.
Melodrama in the 1800's was just starting, so it was at its very first stage. It would be short and simple recitations accompanied with some music. (wwnorton.com).
The image above is a drawing of a tableau, a tableau is a tableau that is created at the end of each play or act that summarizes the relations between the characters in the end. This one was an early play in the 1800's which is why it is still lit up by candles and lanterns.
As a style often relates to a particular historical period, movement, writer or performer, Melodrama relates to Romanticism. Romanticism was an artistic, intellectual and literary movement that originated in the 18th century. It was a reaction to the industrial revolution but also against the aristocratic social and political norms of that time. it was also a reaction to the scientific rationalization of nature which is why Melodrama advocates for the right of individual power of nature and emotion.
Feelings are more important than thoughts. A true hero is often forced to live outside to live his life passionately and fully like it should be lived. Often the hero should die in the final curtain from a world ruined by leaving nature and joining industrialism.
The Big Idea of Melodrama
By the end of the 19th century and the beginning 20th century, Melodrama was very popular and had changed a lot. For example the music during this time was more complex to describe better the emotions. The stages were better lit since electrical light was invented in the US.
A melodramatic play from the 19th century. As you can see there are few lights toward the ground but the dramatic gestures havent changed.
During the 21st century, a lot has changed in Europe and many things have happened. As Melodramatic acting faded away from Europe, it slowly appeared in American Westerns and Asian TV shows and movie.
Peppermint Candy (2000) is a good example of a Melodramatic Korean Movie because of its distinct Melodrama characteristics such as the accentuated gestures and emotions.
The Five Stock Characters
The Hero is almost everytime a young gentleman. He is characterized as being handsome and filled with action and risk-taking.They are devoted to the heroineThey would bring their chest out to make them seem bigger and more impressive. Their costume depends on their character, if he is a rich young man or a poor begger but usually their costume is completely different from the villain because they shouldn't be confused with the other. But poor or rich, they would always be strong and impressive. Their voice would be heroic, loud and sound manly. He would stand in the Teacup stance for agility and masculinity.
The Heroine is breathless, feminine, fearful, weak and wilting but she does have a pluck of courage. She stands in the S shape which accentuates her curves. This stance is not to make her look sexual but to bring out her femininity and to show that she is a woman since some heroine were played by young men with a high-pitched voice. She is a beautiful pure hearted girl. She usually had a very large dress that would add on to her (or his) curves. Since those dresses usually had pads under the waist, it was hard to get close to the heroine so the hero and heroine had to bend over to hug, kiss or have an intimate moment. Their movements would be slow and their voice would be high pitch and weak.
The villain can be portrayed a two different characters, either as the grim, determined and immensily evil villain or the shifty, cowardly and half-comic villain. He also poses as the teacup stance but with knees a bit more bent and the right hand holding a cape over the bottom half of the face. They would move sneakily and spider like but they would make it really big. Their costume would normally be black and long. They would have a cape and a large black hat or something of that kind. Most of them had black mustaches. They would look threatening and sneaky and they would do that with their spider movements and with their somber, low and dark voice.
The old and wise character (or characters), can be many different things in a melodramatic play. They can be the heroine or hero's father (or parents), a doctor, business owner, etc... But in any case, they look after the Hero and heroine. They represent age, social hierarchy, wisdom and they would often make fun of high class. They would often look weak but wise. They were hunched over to represent their age; the more they were hunched over, the older they were. Their voice would be slow and raspy to sound like an elderly and their movements would be exactly the same, slow and raspy. Since they, most of the time, representented higher class, they would, again most of the time, be wearing a suit or something of sort.
The clown, or comic man was the comic relief of the show. He would be a servant or a person of lower class than the hero and heroine. He is the comic relief because of his stupidity and lack of intelligence. He is weighted and has bent knees to represent the lower status. The clown will usually reveal the truth about something but he will reveal it without knowing it. This character can have a running gag (it can be another character but t is usually him), which is something comedic that comes up several times during the play, i.e.: a catchphrase or a funny movement. They appeared very low on the social scale. Their voice was very naive and what they said was not very intelligent. Their clothes would be very worn and ragged. Their movements would be quick and he would usually lead with his stomach to show that he was hungry (not necessarily for food but also for power or knowledge). He originally came from Commedia Del Arte and the Arlehino character.
Disney's perfect examples of comic reliefs.
The Preconceived Emotional Conventions
Emotions in Melodrama are all presented in the same way. This is why there are preconceived gestures specific for each specific emotions. Since the melodramatic theaters were very big, there was a lot of smoke in the room and everyone was making sound, it wouldve been hard for the audience to tell what emotions the characters were feeling if it wasnt for the big, over the top gestures that clearly demonstrated spicific emotions. Her are some of the most common emotions.
The emotion of grief would be represented with the head looking down, the shoulders are rounded and the hands are cupping the face as if to hide tears. You can raise your shoulders up and down and sob to make this effect even more over the top. To add emphasis you can go down on your knees.
Fear can easily been showned by the face turned to the right side with the right hand to the mouth and fingers curled under touching the top of the palm.
Since Love was a big part of every Dramatic Production, it had to be very clear where Love was. Love was shown by Male with the chest held highm right hand crosses the chest and rests on the upper left over the hart, then he would open out to the loved one. The female would aslo hold her chest high but she would have her head cocked a bit to the side, the opposite leg goes out with foot pointed, her hands are under her chin, fingers entwined and bent at first and second knuckles (almost as if she was praying) and her hands go toward her loved one. Of course they would both have smiles ontheir faces.
Evil Planning & Sneaking
The evil character has specific movements to show to the audience that he is tha bad guy. When this character plans his evil plan, he raises one eyebrow and lowers the other one and he also has a grimace on his face. His hands rubbing together and if its a really good plan, he might twiddle his fingers. When he moves around sneakily, he has his shoulders hunched over, hi arm is raised to cover the nose on down. His eyes free to shift around the room and his legs bent to cross around the stage.
There is always a moment where a charaters expresses Anger. This character will have both hands shoulder high in tight fists, eyebrows pushed together with a face tensed with a grimace.
The Narrative Tableau
At the end of every Melodrama act or play, the actors would come together back on stage and create a narrative tableau. This frozen picture would involve every character in a position that would represent their emotions or circumstance at the end. It was perfeclty organize to create something the audience could remember the play by.
The Basic Plot of a Melodrama Play
The basic plot and main focus of a Melodrama is the struggle between bad and evil. The Hero usually falls in love with th Heroine but something is keeping them apart, mot of the time, the villain is this obstale. In the end, the Hero has always won and lived happily ever after with the heroine while the villain is defeated.
Melodrama during the Victorian Era
Melodrama theatre and theatre in general was used as an escape from the less pleasant world. Only the upper class could could afford plays in modern theaters. But since some melodrama plays were more directed for the lower class to make fun of higher classes, actors would perform in bars, pubs and even factories. The locations in the play itself could be anything from a countryside farm to the busy city. Melodrama reflected and mirrored the Victorian Era in many ways. The Victorian Era started with the Industrial Revolution when their was a shift from rural to urban living. This is presented in many melodramatic plays since melodrama embraces nature and all that is not man-made. The society of the Victorian Era was very similar to what the society in Melodramas were. The contrast between the city and the countryside could be found in plays at that time.
At that time, the technologies found on stages were very limited. Of course many new discoveries were made during that time that contributed to theater but also to many other parts of life. For example, they upgraded from the candle-lit lantern to electrical spotlight. This was a huge discovery because it gave the ability to control this effect a bit more. By controlling the amount and color of the light, it could change the mood and emotions of the scene which was very important. It could also be used to show the audience what they should be focusing on. Also before, they had to act out any disasters or big events like earthquake or tornado. The actor's movements had to be big, over-the-top and specific for the audience to understand what was happening. With the special effects, they could use sound, light and other new technologies to help the audience understand that maybe there is an earthquake. Explosions were also a new technology that would add a lot of emphasis to a scene. Some advanced theaters also had moving scenery which helped to demonstrate movements. But to every advantage, there is a disadvantage. All of these technologies were very dangerous to work with. For example the women's fluffly dress could light up on fire very easily with the new lights. The moving scenery was difficult to handle backstage and caused a lot of injuries.
Entrances and Exits
The entrances and the exits of a melodrama play were very important. The entrances were known as "Pasagios". The entrances are the revealing of a character so they should be very big and very distinct for each character. The exit is also as important because they are always dramatic. To emphazise the exit, the actor often takes a step back before going on forward.
By Robin Boudard
F I N
The music was very important in Melodramas since they help convey the emotions or the mood of the scene. It was used to highten emotions. An angry scene might have a very loud and fierce music in the background while a romantic scene would have a slow very soft piece. Melodrama slowly evolved into silent films. Since speech wasnt possible then, people like Les Freres Lumieres, used music to help them.
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