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Theaters in the Eighteenth and Nineteenth Centuries

The development of a middle-class audience in 18th-century France and England created a desire for more realistic settings and acting. Although some attempts were made in the 18th cent. (notably by David Garrick in England and Adrienne Lecouvreur in France) to combat the artificial, rhetorical style of acting then popular, it was not until the late 19th cent. that a more natural style of acting gained wide acceptance. Of great importance in the development of realistic acting was Constantin Stanislavsky, cofounder of the Moscow Art Theater, who stressed the actors' absolute identification with the characters they portray.

Similarly, realism in scenery and costumes was not popular until well into the 19th cent. The creation of realistic effects was facilitated by the introduction of gas lights in the early 19th cent. and of electricity later in the century. Electric lighting was, however, also used for antirealistic effects by such scene designers as Adolphe Appia and Edward Gordon Craig. The introduction of gas lighting made it possible to dim the auditorium lights, a practice that tended to make the audience more separate from the stage. Richard Wagner, in his opera theater at Bayreuth, attempted further to isolate the audience by means of a gap of darkness between a double proscenium arch. While most commercial theaters today still use the proscenium arch stage, there has been much experimental work to restore a vital relationship between audience and stage.

By the late 19th cent., theater was dominated by commercial playhouses in large cities, particularly in England and the United States. However, in the late 19th cent. several independent theaters, more interested in art than in making money, came into being, including the Théâtre Libre in Paris (1887), the Freie Bühne in Berlin (1889), the Independent Theatre Society in London (1891), and the Moscow Art Theatre in Russia (1891).

The Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia, 6th ed. Copyright © 2012, Columbia University Press. All rights reserved.

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