Europe and the U.S. - Late 19th Century
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Origins of Theatre ] Theatre and Drama in Ancient Greece ] Roman and Byzantine Theatre and Drama ] European Drama in the Middle Ages ] Italian Theatre and Drama ] English Theatre Middle Ages to 1642 ] Spanish Theatre to 1700 ] Theatre in France--1500-1700 ] Theatre of the Orient ] English Theatre, 1642-1800 ] Italy and France - 18th Century ] Northern and Eastern Europe - 18th Century ] Europe & the U.S. - 19th Century ] [ Europe and the U.S. - Late 19th Century ] Modern Theatre, 1875-1915 ] Europe/ U.S. Between the Wars ] Europe and the U.S., 1940-68 ] Drama After 1968 ]

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XIV. Theatre and Drama in Europe and the U.S. During the Late 19th Century

During the end of the 19th century, theatre was making great strides toward what we recognize today. Large cities had longer runs of shows, but theatres cut down on the number of shows that they would do in a year. This caused a rise in the per-pay contract, and actors were paid for one year or until the run of the show ended. Repertory companies also became very popular. A company was composed of actors, designers, and directors who came together for one year. Each person would play one role. The repertory concept caused a surge in the popularity of European stars, who began touring with companies. In the U.S., a theatrical syndicate took control over the numerous tours. By the late 19th century, the audience was becoming more democratic and equal. The royalty system was developed in which a playwright was paid a fee for every performance of every play he wrote. Each company also developed a copyright system to protect playwrights by law. By 1900, the international copyright agreement was developed to keep track of plays and their writers. It wasn't until this time that playwrighting became a profitable profession.

One of the most popular plays of this time was Uncle Tom's Cabin, based on Harriet Beecher Stowe's novel and dramatized best by George L. Aken. Though it had two dimensional characters, its themes of slavery, religion, and love connected with audiences. During the 19th and especially later, historical accuracy in sets and costumes and dialects was stressed.

A new and exciting design introduced during this time was Baucicault's Ghost Glide, developed for the play The Corsican Brothers. This device allowed actors and actresses to appear like a ghost and rise from the stage floor in spirit-like fashion. There were also some changes in lighting that came with the invention of gas lighting in the late 19th century. The gas table enabled stage hands to dim and brighten one or all lights in the theatre. It was used as a tool to create certain moods or atmosphere, bringing audience members closer to the action. Later, with the invention of electricity, audiences demanded more detailed sets, and two-dimensional sets became less acceptable. This caused a push for a new stage design known as the box set. Auditoriums were now darkened during shows and curtains were closed for set changes. A few innovations used by designers and stage hands to quickly change sets were the Wagon Stage, the Elevator Stage, and the Revolving Stage, developed by the Japanese.

One form of theatre during the late 19th century was called burlesque theatre. It emphasized feminine charms and had collections of variety acts and musical numbers with beautiful women. Vaudeville theatre , on the other hand, was much more geared toward family audiences and was one of the most popular forms of theatrical entertainment. It was composed of variety acts, sketches, and short plays. Leading actors would often perform in vaudeville shows.

Links to Chapter 14

Uncle Tom's Cabin

Harriet Beecher Stowe

American Variety Stage (the Library of Congress's source for the story of vaudeville and popular entertainment in the United States between 1870-1920):

W.ild W.onderful W.orld of Theatre History

The purpose of this project is to show the highlights of different periods of theatre history, including plays, acting styles, staging convention, costuming, and playwrights. Web links have been provided so that students can find additional information on items of interest.

Origins of Theatre ] Theatre and Drama in Ancient Greece ] Roman and Byzantine Theatre and Drama ] European Drama in the Middle Ages ] Italian Theatre and Drama ] English Theatre Middle Ages to 1642 ] Spanish Theatre to 1700 ] Theatre in France--1500-1700 ] Theatre of the Orient ] English Theatre, 1642-1800 ] Italy and France - 18th Century ] Northern and Eastern Europe - 18th Century ] Europe & the U.S. - 19th Century ] Europe and the U.S. - Late 19th Century ] Modern Theatre, 1875-1915 ] Europe/ U.S. Between the Wars ] Europe and the U.S., 1940-68 ] Drama After 1968 ]

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