Theatrical Style and Form

Naturalism

Naturalism is a movement in European drama and theatre that developed in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. It refers to theatre that attempts to create a perfect illusion of reality through a range of dramatic and theatrical strategies: detailed, three-dimensional settings; everyday speech forms (prose over poetry); a secular world-view (no ghosts, spirits or gods intervening in the human action); an exclusive focus on subjects that are contemporary and indigenous (no exotic, otherworldly or fantastic locales, nor historical or mythic time-periods); an extension of the social range of characters portrayed (away from the aristocrats of classical drama, towards bourgeois and eventually working-class protagonists); and a style of acting that attempts to recreate the impression of reality (often by seeking complete identification with the role, understood in terms of its ‘given circumstances’, which, again, transcribe Darwinian motifs into performance, as advocated by Stanislavski).

Naturalistic writers were influenced by the theory of evolution of Charles Darwin. They believed that one’s heredity and social environment determine one’s character. Whereas realism seeks only to describe subjects as they really are, naturalism also attempts to determine “scientifically” the underlying forces (i.e. the environment or heredity) influencing the actions of its subjects. Naturalistic works are opposed to romanticism, in which subjects may receive highly symbolic, idealistic, or even supernatural treatment. They often include uncouth or sordid subject matter; for example, Émile Zola’s works had a frankness about sexuality along with a pervasive pessimism. Naturalistic works exposed the dark harshness of life, including poverty, racism, sex, prejudice, disease, prostitution, and filth. As a result, Naturalistic writers were frequently criticized for being too blunt.

Naturalism was criticized in the twentieth century by a whole host of theatre practitioners; Constantin Stanislavski, for example, argued for a puncturing of the illusion of the surface of reality in order to reach the real forces that determine it beneath its appearance; in place of the absorption within a fiction that Naturalistic performance promotes in its audience, he attempted to inculcate a more detached consideration of the realities and the issues behind them that the play confronts. His approach is a development, however, of the critical project initiated by Naturalism; it is a form of modernist realism.

Naturalistic performance is often unsuitable for the performance of other types of theatre—particularly older forms, but also many twentieth-century non-Naturalistic plays. Shakespearean verse, for example, demands a rigorous attention to its rhythmic sub-structure and often long and complex phrasings; naturalistic actors tend to cut these down to the far shorter speech patterns of modern drama, destroying the rhythmic support that assists the audience’s process of comprehension. In addition, Shakespearean drama assumed a natural, direct and often-renewed contact with the audience on the part of the performer; ‘fourth wall’ performances foreclose these complex layerings of theatrical and dramatic realities the game that are built into Shakespeare’s dramaturgy. A good example is the line spoken by Cleopatra in Antony and Cleopatra’s act five, when she contemplates her humiliation in Rome at the hands of Octavius Caesar, by means of mocking theatrical renditions of her fate: “And I shall see some squeaking Cleopatra boy my greatness in the posture of a whore”; that this was to be spoken by a boy in a dress in a theatre is an integral part of its dramatic meaning—a complexity unavailable to a purely naturalistic treatment.

Émile François Zola

(2 April 1840 – 29 September 1902) A French writer, the most important exemplar of the literary school of naturalism and an important contributor to the development of theatrical naturalism. Naturalism was first advocated explicitly by Émile Zola in his 1882 essay entitled Naturalism in the Theatre.

Naturalistic Plays

  • A Bitter Fate –  Aleksey Pisemsky (1859)
  • A Doll’s House – Henrik Ibsen (1879)
  • The Power of Darkness – Leo Tolstoy (1886)
  • The Father – August Strindberg (1887)
  • Miss Julie – August Strindberg (1888)
  • Creditors – August Strindberg (1889)
  • Drayman Henschel – Gerhart Hauptmann (1898)

Expressionism

Expressionism is a modernist movement in drama and theatre that developed in Europe (principally Germany) in the early decades of the 20th century and later in the United States.
Anti-realistic in seeing appearance as distorted and the truth lying within man. The outward appearance on stage can be distorted and unrealistic to portray an eternal truth. In Expressionist drama, the speech is heightened, whether expansive and rhapsodic, or clipped and telegraphic.

  • Playwrights (Germany)
    • Georg Kaiser
    • Ernst Toller

Theatre of the Absurd / Absurdity

Presents a perspective that all human attempts at significance are illogical. Ultimate truth is chaos with little certainty.

Modernism

A broad concept that sees art, including theatre, as detached from life in a pure way and able to reflect on life critically.

Postmodernism

There are multiple meanings, and meaning is what you create, not what is. This approach often uses other media and breaks accepted conventions and practices.

Classical

A type of theatre which relies upon imagination (and therefore limited props) to convey the setting and atmosphere of the play. Classical theatre usually contains lofty, grand prose or free verse dialogue. Good examples are the Elizabethan dramatists William Shakespeare.

Some material from Wikipedia

See also


AGITPROP
The original sense of agitprop was "agitation and propaganda on behalf of Communism", or "a government agency or department responsible for agitation and propaganda". The main current sense of the word is simply "propaganda, especially socially or politically motivated propaganda appearing in literary works, films, etc."; though the word often refers to political propaganda, it is not restricted to communist doctrine.
The word agitprop is first found in English sources in the mid 1930s.
From the Random House Word of the Day website.

BRECHT / BRECHTIAN*
TO BE DEFINED

END ON
Traditional audience seating layout where the audience is looking at the stage from the same direction. This seating layout is that of a Proscenium Arch theatre.
Also known as Proscenium Staging.
See also THRUST, IN THE ROUND, TRAVERSE.

EXPRESSIONISM
Theatre design and performance style which places greater value on emotion than realism. The trademark Expressionist effects were often achieved through distortion.

FARCE
Form of comedy play originated in France, using fast-paced physical action and visual comedy more than humour based on language.

FORUM THEATRE
Forum theatre is a type of theatre created by the influential practitioner Augusto Boal as part of what he calls his "Theatre of the Oppressed." While practicing earlier in his career, Boal would apply simultaneous dramaturgy. In this process the actors or audience members could stop a performance, often a short scene in which a character was being oppressed in some way. The audience would suggest different actions for the actors to carry out on-stage in an attempt to change the outcome of what they were seeing. This was an attempt to undo the traditional actor/audience divide and to bring audience members into the performance, to have an input into the dramatic action they were watching.

GRAND GUIGNOL
Shock theatre form originally from Le Grand Guignol theatre in Montmartre, Paris (opened in 1897). Specialised in portraying the macabre & gruesome to the delight and horror of the audience.

IN THE ROUND
Theatre in the Round is a form of audience seating layout where the acting area is surrounded on all sides by seating. There are often a number of entrances through the seating. Special consideration needs to be given to onstage furniture and scenery as audience sightlines can easily be blocked.
Stage managers and directors often use the idea of a clock face to describe actor positions on stage (e.g. the aisle nearest the technical point is described as the 12 O'clock position, with other aisles described as 3, 6 and 9 O'clock.)
See also THRUST, END ON, TRAVERSE.

INSTALLATION
1) An electrical system in a particular building (e.g. "the stage lighting installation was tested last year")
2) A piece of art designed to transform a particular room or building into something other than a room in an art gallery. Installations often use complex audio-visual equipment and can be intensely immersive experiences. (e.g. "In the studio space this week we have an installation by John Doe entitled 'Space'")

LEGITIMATE THEATRE
US term. TO BE DEFINED.

MELODRAMA
A Melodrama is a dramatic work that exaggerates plot and/or characters in order to appeal to the emotions. It is usually based around having the same character traits, (for example, a hero, who is fearless and who the audience is rooting for, the heroine, who is usually in peril of some kind, which the hero rescues her from; the villain (usually likes the heroine too) and villain's sidekick (typically gets in the way of or annoys the villain).
The term is also used in scholarly and historical musical contexts to refer to dramas of the 18th and 19th centuries in which orchestral music or song was used to accompany the action.

METATHEATRE
This term, coined by Lionel Abel, has entered into common critical usage; however, there is still much uncertainty over its proper definition and what dramatic techniques might be included in its scope. Abel described metatheatre as reflecting comedy and tragedy, at the same time, where the audience can laugh at the protagonist while feeling empathetic simultaneously.
Wikipedia entry

MIME
Form of performance with no spoken words. Plot, character etc. are conveyed to the audience by movement and gesture. From the Greek Mimos.
Marcel Marceau Foundation for the Advancement of the Art of Mime
Mummenschanz

MORALITY PLAY*
TO BE DEFINED

MUMMERS PLAY*
TO BE DEFINED

MUSIC HALL
A type of British theatrical entertainment popular between 1850 and 1960. It involved a mixture of popular song, comedy, speciality acts and variety entertainment. The term is derived from a type of theatre or venue in which such entertainment took place. British music hall was similar to American vaudeville, featuring rousing songs and comic acts, while in the United Kingdom the term vaudeville referred to more working-class types of entertainment that would have been termed burlesque in America.

MYSTERY PLAY*
TO BE DEFINED

NATURALISM*
1) When creating a lighting design, naturalism dictates that lanterns should be placed according to where the light would come from in nature. For example, a sunny day would be lit primarily from above the acting area, with fill lighting in from the sides as if from the cloud. A dark room would be lit by moonlight through a window, and the light level would increase when a door is opened from a lit corridor or when a light fitting is turned on.
2) Naturalism in performance: TO BE DEFINED.
3) Naturalism in scenic design: TO BE DEFINED.

OPERA
1) European terminology meaning Opera House - lavishly decorated proscenium theatre with orchestra pit. See TOSCA.
2) Musical form. Highly dramatic and stylised form where the text is completely sung.

PANTOMIME
1) A pantomime (often shortened to Panto) is a musical-comedy family-orientated theatrical production traditionally performed in United Kingdom, Australia, New Zealand, Canada, Zimbabwe, Jamaica, South Africa, India, Ireland, Gibraltar, and Malta, at Christmas-time. The panto often features slapstick or messy comedy routines, children dancing, recent songs, spectacular sets and colourful costumes, and is often themed around a fairy story or nursery rhymes.
Popular pantos include Cinderella, Aladdin, Jack and the Beanstalk, Mother Goose, Sleeping Beauty, Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, Dick Whittington and His Cat, Puss in Boots etc.
2) Pantomime is an ancient type of performance with no spoken words, often now shortened to 'Mime'. 
Puss in Boots, December 2013, Hackney Empire - Audio Slideshow (The Guardian)

PERFORMANCE ART
An interdisciplinary performance presented to an audience. The performance may be either scripted or unscripted, random or carefully orchestrated; spontaneous or otherwise carefully planned with or without audience participation. The performance can be live or via media; the performer can be present or absent. It can be any situation that involves four basic elements: time, space, the performer's body, or presence in a medium, and a relationship between performer and audience. Performance art can happen anywhere, in any venue or setting and for any length of time. The actions of an individual or a group at a particular place and in a particular time constitute the work.

PHYSICAL THEATRE
Physical theatre is a genre of performance which makes use of the body (as opposed to the spoken word) as the primary means of performance and communication with an audience. In using the body, the performer or actor will concentrate on:
The use of body shape and position
Facial expressions
Rhythmical movement, pace and the energy of the body
Gesture
Posture
Gait
Physical theatre can be distinquished from dance in that it tends to focus more on narrative, character and action. However, the boundaries between the two are rather blurred.
There are various styles and genre of physical theatre. These include:
Physical comedy - where the body is the primary means of comic creation
Mime
Stomp- where the body, with external objects, is used for its percussive potential
Some forms of puppetry
Circus
The most famous institution devoted to physical theatre is the Lecoq school in Paris. Students here follow the method of Jacques Lecoq, which developed out of his experience of mask work, commedia dell'Arte and his interest in the physicality of performance.
Definition from Wikipedia - click for more
Lecoq School

REVUE
A type of performance consisting of lighthearted songs and comic sketches - a variety show.

SITE-SPECIFIC THEATRE
A piece of performance which has been designed to work only in a particular non-theatre space. The space may have been adapted to fit into the themes or style of the production. A site-sensitive piece, on the other hand, will not adapt the space, but work with it's style and history to create a piece of performance. See also INSTALLATION.

THEATRE OF CRUELTY*
TO BE DEFINED

THEATRE OF THE ABSURD*
TO BE DEFINED

TRAGEDY
Tragedy is a form of drama based on human suffering that invokes in its audience an accompanying catharsis or pleasure in the viewing. While many cultures have developed forms that provoke this paradoxical response, the term tragedy often refers to a specific tradition of drama that has played a unique and important role historically in the self-definition of Western civilization.

TRAGI-COMEDY / TRAGICOMEDY
Tragicomedy is a literary genre that blends aspects of both tragic and comic forms. Most often seen in dramatic literature, the term can variously describe either a tragic play which contains enough comic elements to lighten the overall mood or a serious play with a happy ending.

TRAVERSE
Form of staging where the audience is on either side of the acting area.
Also known as ALLEY or AVENUE staging. 
See also IN THE ROUND, END ON, THRUST.

USITT
United States Institute of Theatre Technology.
USITT Website

VAUDEVILLE*
TO BE DEFINED

ZARZUELA
A Spanish lyric-dramatic genre that alternates between spoken and sung scenes, the latter incorporating operatic and popular song, as well as dance.