XVI. The Theatre in Europe and the U.S. Between the Wars
Between 1915 and 1940, concepts such as dadaism and surrealism played on the belief that nothing in the world makes sense. Expressionism--a related concept--can be defined as a distortion of line, shape, and color as if we are seeing things through the protagonist's consciousness. A play which shows the aspects of expressionism was August Strindberg's The Dream Play. Another play which exhibits expressionism's hard-to-define characteristics is Spring Awakenings by Frank Wedekind.
In Germany Ernst Toller was well-known for plays like Man in the Masses. Another writer was Georg Kaiser, who wrote Morn to Midnight, and Gas I and Gas II. One of the period's most popular designers was Leopold Jessner, internationally famous for his invention of the Jessnertreppen Steps. His imaginative steps used different flights of stairs and platforms and formed a major composition element in his productions.
In the United States, major advances were made in playwrighting, with Eugene O'Neill leading the pack as the first internationally known American playwright. His 25 full-length plays--including A Long Day's Journey into Night, The Hairy Ape, and Desire Under the Elms--had compelling characters, proved to be a challenge for their actors, and cemented O'Neill's well-respected theatrical status. Another American playwright who rivaled O'Neill was Elmer Rice, noteworthy for The Adding Machine.
France's Antonin Artaud wrote The Theatre and Its Double, which discussed oriental theatre techniques and the theatre of cruelty, a style of theatre that aggressively forced the audience to confront themselves.
The first theatrically produced publication, Detroit's Theatre Arts Magazine, premiered in 1916. The magazine encouraged interest in international theatre techniques as well as serving as the principal voice of new theatre ideas until 1948.
The Federal Theater Project, headed by Hallie Flannagan-Davis, was created to combat depression-era unemployment between World Wars I and II. The project's members produced about a thousand productions, 65 percent of which were free. The Theater Project is primarily remembered for creating The Living Newspaper, productions which dramatized current stories from newspapers, integrating factual data with dramatic methods.
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