The Director and the Stage: From Naturalism to Grotowski

The Director and the Stage: From Naturalism to Grotowski

The Director and the Stage: From Naturalism to Grotowski

The Director and the Stage: From Naturalism to Grotowski

Excerpt

Ever since Aeschylus supervised the presentation of his tragedies at the Athenian festivals of the fifth century BC it is safe to assume that someone has had overall responsibility for the rehearsal of any play that has reached the stage. Sometimes, as in the case of Shakespeare or Racine, it would have been the dramatist; sometimes, an actor-playwright such as Molière; later it would have been the leading actor or some more humble functionary like the stage manager or the prompter. In the eighteenth century, when the star actor achieved unprecedented heights, little attention was paid to anything but his performance. However, there were some who became concerned with the overall impression of the performance; by the 1830's Charles Kemble, Charles Macready and Eliza Vestris in England and Conrad Ekhof, Friedrich Schroeder and Goethe in Germany had all demonstrated the value of lengthy rehearsals and close attention to the details of costume and setting. As the urge for spectacle took hold of the nineteenth century, actor-managers such as Charles Kean and Samuel Phelps mounted remarkable displays of scenic art, but there was hardly the coordination of expressive means based on an interpretation of the play-text that seems to me the fundamental requirement of theatre production as we have come to understand it. That crucial advance was achieved first at Meiningen, which will be the subject of my first chapter.

All the directors who follow are virtually self-selecting, though a comprehensive account would certainly include more: Copeau, Yeats, Tairov, Granville Barker, Tyrone Guthrie, to name only a few whose omission I regret. But the only comprehensive account of modern stagecraft (in Swedish by Gösta Bergman) runs to close on six-hundred pages and even then does not extend beyond 1925. So what follows is not intended as a complete survey; rather, it is an attempt to describe in some detail the key events that mark the emergence of the modern stage director in Europe, setting them in their context and examining the theories that they exemplify. I have not set out to recount the entire career of every director, but have concentrated on the areas of his work that seem best to convey his significance. Thus, there is little on the later work of Antoine, Lugné-Poe, Stanislavsky, Reinhardt and Piscator. With Brecht I have concentrated . . .

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