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.