Blowing open the door to a level of real life that could never be shut again, the impact of Realism in theater was total: it simply changed the way plays were made. Assaulting the last shreds of illusion and propriety that... [more]
Blowing open the door to a level of real life that could never be shut again, the impact of Realism in theater was total: it simply changed the way plays were made. Assaulting the last shreds of illusion and propriety that Victorian audiences clung to so dearly, the Realistic tornado roared through the filigree of Romantic sentiment and abstraction, trailing clouds of the Modern theater that could now come into being.
Realistic drama was delivered into the world, fully formed, with Henrik Ibsen's poignant masterpiece, "A Doll's House" (1879). Dealing with unhappy marriages, venereal disease, the sexual double standard, religious hypocrisy, and other taboo subjects, Realists writers wanted audiences to experience stage life in a way they had never known: as virtually no different from everyday reality. They believed in a catalyzing theater, whose highest calling was to instigate social change by spotlighting gross social inequities. Instead of entertaining the masses with stock caricatures and flowery speeches, Realist writers crafted complex, three-dimensional characters that were shaped by their family and heritage, and that talked like the next-door neighbor.
Plagued by censors and hateful critics, Realists struggled to produce their work. "Ghosts" (1881), another Ibsen classic, was ripped apart at its London premier in 1891: 'An open drain, a dirty act done publicly . . .as foul and filthy a concoction as has ever been allowed to disgrace the boards of an English theater.' This movement was so controversial that in some countries, Realists playwrights could not get their work staged. Dedicating itself to the production and artistry of a Realist theater, the Moscow Art Theater's illustrious reputation as the most prominent theater in the world was well earned. The theater was co-founded by the immeasurably influential actor, director, and theorist Konstantin Stanislavski, who revolutionized modern acting by showing actors how to 'live' onstage -- and who was also the first successful director of Anton Chekhov's complex, indirect tragicomedies.
Realism continued to gather steam and heat until the twentieth century rounded the bend, as Realist nightmares became everyday life, and once-radical Realist techniques moved to the workaday sceneshops of mainstream theater. [show less]