Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Theme Thursday: History

The University of Vermont where I went to school was not known (and still isn't known) as a theater school but hey, I'm working in my field so I can't complain. Theater majors had to take several History of Theater classes with Dr. Bryan (or Dr. B. as we called him). He was a tough professor who expected a lot from his students. He assigned a paper in all his classes but he would not tell us how long the paper should be: "Cover the subject," He would say. Students regularly turned in papers that were 50-100 pages in length. I only took one class from him (because I minored in theater) and wrote a paper on Women in Theater in the Middle Ages. There weren't many women in theater in the Middle Ages so my paper was only 7 pages long (got an A though!) Anyway, in honor of Dr. B. who passed away years ago but is someone I will always remember, I give you:

Tasty Tidbits from Theater History

La Comedie-Francaise, (known as the House of Moliere) was actually established 7 years after the death of Moliere by Louis XIV. His decree merged the two theater companies in Paris at that time: Hotel Guenegaud and Hotel de Bourgogne.

In 1673, Moliere died shortly after the 4th performance of his final play, Le malade imaginaire in which he played Argan. The chair he used during the performances is on display in the lobby of La Comedie-Francaise.

From 500 A.D. to 800 A.D., theater was all but extinct in the Roman Empires because Christians were opposed to it. Ironically, in 900 A.D. the Catholic Church began adding dramatic performances to its Easter services. Theater was re-born by the very institution that shut it down.

The earliest extant drama (complete with stage directions) dates from about circa 925 is Quem Quaeritis, a 4 line dramatization of the resurrection:
Whom seek ye in the sepulchre, O Christians?
Jesus of Nazareth, who was crucified O Angel
He is not here. He is arisen. As He foretold
Go, announce that He is arisen from the grave.
It is considered bad luck to whistle in a theater. Before walkie-talkies or headsets, flying cues (to fly scenery in or out sight) were signaled in a performance by whistling. Whistling in a theater therefore, could cause a cue to be set in motion too early and lead to all sorts of disasters.

There are 2 hypothesis for the "curse of MacBeth." No one in theater actually uses the name of Shakespeare's play, calling it instead "The Scottish Play." In the 1600s, many believed the witches incantations in the play were real and therefore the cause for many coincidental catastrophes. The other theory states that failing theaters often produced "The Scottish Play" in order to boost revenue from the box office. The play then became associated with failing theaters.

The position of Director in theater is a relatively new phenomenon, first appearing in the late 1800s. The position rose to prominence in the early 1900s with the appearance of several strong personalities such as Stanislavsky. Prior to the 1900s, plays were coordinated by the writer or an actor-manager.

The position of Stage Manager (well, you knew that was coming) descends directly from the Actor-Manager of pre-1900s theater. The actor-manager would be responsible for finances and coordinating all aspects of a production. With the rise of visionary directors and the use of increasingly elaborate sets in the 1900s, a separate position was needed to coordinate the non-artistic aspects of the production.

And, to close, this isn't theater history but it's interesting to think about. I heard this at a seminar once and I'm paraphrasing:

Theater started when someone stood up around a campfire and told a
story. Drama started with words. The first movies were silent.
Film started with images.


  1. Cool. I'm a sucker for trivia. Particularly interesting to me is the bit about directors, since I always found it odd that in theatre, unlike in film, directors are subservient to the writer (I know you know this... I'm just being expository).

    But that explained everything!

  2. what is so cool about your take on the theme is that it is those moments by the boys have really begun to enjoy the stories of our history even more than the books we read. happy tt!

  3. Lots of fascinating information there. And your picture of the Globe theatre reminds me that a brewery was eventually built on the site of it. And then they knocked the brewery down and built a replica of the theatre.

  4. Kate, I thought I left a comment for your great post last night. So, if this is a bizarre re-comment, I apologize.

    I too love the trivia. I always knew it was bad luck to whistle in a theater but I did not know why. Now I can't wait for the opportunity to be a smarty pants know it all and tell some one else.

    Happy TT

  5. Interesting stuff. My husband started out as a theater guy. Love it!

  6. Imagine! To Die After Writing Le malade imaginaire ! ummmm.......

  7. Interesting stuff. Love trivia, and my daughter will love this, she is a drama queen. In a good way! :)

  8. Ooh, I really like that last paraphrase and the stuff about MacBeth "The Scottish Play" so very interesting!! I considered being a theatre major too but I knew I was a good at design so stuck with that.

    nice job on the TT post.

  9. Very theatrical post!~ I love that Scottish Play too. Had to study it years ago in school about the time Roman Polanski released his film. Awesome.

  10. i never really enjoyed theatre until my wife started directing the high school plays when hired on. All the background workings are fascinating, and the end product is great entertainment.

  11. I never knew the position of director was so new. And it's so ironic that before then, plays were organized by the writer. Nowadays writers are thanked for their manuscript and shown the door!

    Great post on the theme.

  12. Wow, this brings back memories for me...When we visited England, we did a combination bus and walking tour of Stratford-Upon-Avon and also saw a replica of the Globe, along with many other sights, which I seem to have neglected mentioning in my post...

    Happy TT!

  13. I think Dr. B would love this post! :)

  14. ah, this brought me back to my college theater days. I also was a stage manager for several years but decided to pursue a directing career. I know one day I'll go back to the theater. I miss it.

    much love

  15. this is really interesting! I had no idea about "the scottish play."
    thanks so much for stopping by my blog and commenting. You've got some good stuff here, I'll be back. :)