The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 21.0047 Saturday, 30 January 2010
Date: January 21, 2010 3:50:18 PM EST
Subject: 21.0008 Help Wanted - A Tiro's Questions
Comment: Re: SHK 21.0008 Help Wanted - A Tiro's Questions
Brian Bixley asks "When did a director, distinct from a member of the cast, become a regular contributor to theatrical performances?" and some suggested that it was the 19th century. However, while the word comes from the 19th century, the practice of stage directing, organized by someone apart from the actors, comes from the late 18th century, if not earlier.
The most notable 18th century director is Goethe, who was in charge of the Weimar Court Theatre from 1791-1817 (Goethe did apparently act in some limited fashion in a few cases . . . most notably there is a print of him with Corona Schroter in his own IPHIGENIE AUF TAURIS). But for the most part Goethe worked as a director who stood apart from the productions. From the beginning, he used many of the practices that we now associate with directing: ensemble rehearsals, actor training (in 1803 he published a set of 91 rules for actors), requiring individualized characterization for roles, educating the audience, developing a varied and international repertoire for his theatre, developing a particular style for his theatre, and casting even leading actors occasionally in supporting roles.
Goethe, although he synthesized these elements of directing as we now know it, invented none of them: they were borrowed from the actor-managers F. L. Schroter, August Wilhelm Iffland, Conrad Ekhof, and Caroline Neuber, among others, whose work as actor-managers extended into the early 18th century. Also, German theatres since the early 18th century have had a position known as the Intendant (still an extant position, and not precisely translatable into English). The Intendant is sort of a cross between the Artistic Director and Executive Director of a theatre: selecting plays, running the finances, hiring company members, overseeing cutting of the plays (Dahlberg, Intendant of the Mannheim theatre in the late 18th C., required Schiller to make massive changes to his original version of THE ROBBERS, for example), etc.
Goethe also influenced a variety of German directors in the early 18th century, who took his ideas on directing further. For both Goethe and his followers, see Marvin Carlson, GOETHE AND THE WEIMAR THEATRE (1978) and THE GERMAN STAGE IN THE NINETEENTH CENTURY (1972).
It would be possible to go back further, as well. Medieval mystery plays, while often performed by amateurs, were often organized by a visiting professional who would organize logistics, spectacular effects, and presumably some aspects of rehearsals and staging, as well -- sounds a bit like an itinerant theatre director!
This is a complicated issue, however, for which a cut-and-dry point of origin is pretty impossible to locate. But I'd say Goethe is a far better choice than Meningen/Chronegk (a half-century later) or Stanislavski (a full century later).
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