XV. The Beginnings of Modern Theatre, 1875-1915
Richard Wagner was an innovator who injected theatre with the contemporary trend toward realism, calling for many changes to take place in the theatre world. Wagner is probably best known for his concept of a new type of theatre structure--the festival theatre. He designed the structure to fulfill his ambition of a classless theatre. Famous throughout the world, the architectural design of the festival was fan-shaped, making all seats equal in sight lines, as well as equally priced.
The theatrical evolution during this period included the emergence of the modern director. Germany's Georg II, Duke of Saxe-Meiningen was one of the most famous early modern directors. He produced plays that were the most historically accurate of the 19th century. He designed all the costumes, scenery, and properties used by his troupe. Georg also adopted the practice of long rehearsal schedules and the idea of ensemble acting. He created carefully blocked crowd scenes and family groups, which made a small number of actors seem like a large gathering.
The United States' Belasco was another famous director known for creating realist plays and sets. He was also a noteworthy designer for his creation of the most modern lighting instruments of the time. Other designers were Craig who prominently featured drapery in his designs, and Appia, a Swiss designer who used three-dimensional scenery and used the stage floor as a part of his set.
The prolific and controversial playwright Heinrich Ibsen wrote 25 plays during the late 19th century, two of which are the oft-produced A Doll's House and Hedda Gabler. Ibsen is known as the father of modern realism. His greatest talent was giving the audience background on people and situations, without making the exposition boring or obvious. His plays were very symbolic, and some of his subject matters were thought scandalous for their time. Four other plays by Ibsen are Ghosts, Peergynt, The Wild Duck, and The Master Builder. Another well-known playwright of the time was Russian comedy writer Anton Chekhov , who wrote The Seagull and The Cherry Orchard. German playwrights included Gerhart Hauptmann who wrote The Weavers, the first play with a group protagonist. An associate of Hauptmann, Maxim Gorky, wrote The Lower Depths, which also had a working class hero.
France also had a wealth of modern playwright talent, such as Alexandre Dumas who wrote The Demi-Monde and The Lady of the Camellias, now usually referred to as Camille, a realistic story about a "prostitute with a heart of gold." Considering himself a realist, Dumas wrote about contemporary social problems. Other noteworthy French writers included Emile Augier, who wrote Olympe's Marriage and Madame Poirier's Son-in-Law; and Eugene Scribe. Scribe developed what's known as the well-made play. His plays, including A Glass of Water and Marriage for Money, had five full acts, clear exposition of situation, and logical resolutions. French theorist Emile Zola railed against Scribe's concept of the well-made play. Zola wrote on two types of subjects, scientific findings and things recorded about natural life. He became famous for his novels, The Experimental Novel and Naturalism in the Theatre.
English playwrights of the time included Arthur Pinero who wrote The Notorious Mrs. Ebbsmith and William Butler Yeats who wrote Purgatory. The brilliant satirist George Bernard Shaw was one of the most prominent writers of late 19th and early 20th century England. Shaw, a vocal writer on social problems, wrote satiric plays such as Pygmalion and Arms and the Man.
This period also witnessed the beginnings of the independent theatre movement. A few of the theatres involved in this movement were the Independent Theatre in England, the Moscow Art Theatre in Russia, and Theatre du Vieux Colombier in France.
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