Robert Edmond Jones Kenneth Macgowan.

Continental stagecraft online

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*- .This book covers the general field
of the new stagecraft. In text and
pictures it provides a comprehensive
view of the new movement in the the-
atre as it has developed abroad in the
past ten years, and goes on to a pres-
entation of the most recent, most
radical, and most interesting stage re-
forms of Central Europe. It dis-
cusses and pictures the revolt against
illusion as well as realism and the re-
turn to the theatrical in production.
Besides an account of the latest tech-
nical devices, it provides an intimate
picture of new types of actors
abroad, "expressionist" dramas such
as Masse-Mensch, the "circus thea-
tre" of Max Reinhardt in Berlin, the
playhouse created in the ballroom
of Maria Theresa's palace in Vienna,
and most of the significant work done
in Europe in the past few years. The
authors visited last spring over sixty
productions, some specially arranged
for them, in France, Sweden, Ger-
many, Czechoslovakia, and Austria.
Mr. Jones's illustrations show exactly
what they saw and are a criticism in

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Certain of the chapters
and illustrations of Conti-
nental Stagecraft have ap-
peared in Vanity Fair, The
Century Magazine, Arts
and Decoration, The
Bookman, The Theatre
Magazine, Harfer*s Bo-
zar. The Theatre Arts
Magazine, The Freeman,
and Shadowland.

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This book is a record of impressions gained from ten weeks
of travel through the theaters of France, Sweden, Germany,
Czecho-Slovakia, and Austria during April, May, and June,
1922. These impressions are partly reinforced, partly orien-
tated, through previous visits to Paris and London, and through
a long sojourn of Mr. Jones in Germany just before the war.

For the purposes of this book, the journey excluded Eng-
land, because observation and reliable report showed little there
that was not a faint echo of what was to be found on the
Continent. Russia was regretfully excluded for reasons of time
and the difficulties of travel; but fortunately we were able to
see in Stockholm a performance by the touring company of the
Moscow Art Theater. Though the most interesting evenings
of our trip were spent in the Redoutensaal in Vienna, and in
the Vieux-Colombier and the Cirque Medrano in Paris, the
larger part of our time was passed in Germany, and the greaten
number of illustrations come from productions seen there. In'
Berlin, in particular, there were things to be seen which had
been much discussed by American visitors — Masse-Mensch y
the Grosses Schauspielhaus, and the work of Leopold Jessner, —


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and these, we felt, demanded lengthy study and analysis.

In our ten weeks Mr. Jones and I saw close to sixty perform-
ances. We had expected to find it difficult, if not impossible,
to see in this time as much as we should have liked of the really
significant new work of the Continental theater. But, as it
happened, good fortune and the great courtesy shown us every-
where enabled us to see almost everything that we wished.
Through special performances arranged by the managements
of the Royal Swedish Opera and the Berlin Volksbiihne, and
by Jacques Copeau, director of the Vieux-Colombier, we saw
half a dozen most important productions which we might other-
wise have missed. Luck and the repertory system found us at
various German theaters in time to witness the most character-
istic and significant work of the past few years. Finally, we
were fortunate enough to come upon two theaters — one ac-
complished, the other potential — of extraordinary interest
and importance, which had not as yet been seen or discussed
by American visitors, the Redoutensaal in Vienna and the
Cirque Medrano in Paris. Continental Stagecraft cannot
pretend to be so exhaustive a study as a year's visit would have
made possible, but, in view of the exceptional circumstances, I
think that it is more than proportionately representative.

With the exception of one sketch of a supposititious produc-
tion in the Cirque Medrano, the illustrations show exactly what
we saw and nothing else. Mr. Jones's drawings are in them-


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selves a kind of criticism which the modern theater stands much
in need of. They give the actual visual quality of the best pro-
ductions on the Continental stage far better than could photo-
graphs of settings and actors, which are usually flashlights
innocent of the atmosphere produced by the stage lighting, or
the designs of the scenic artists, which are sometimes imper-
fectly realized and sometimes bettered in actual production.
Mr. Jones made his drawings as soon as might be after the
performance, working from many rough notes made during
the progress of the play. They are, I believe, uncommonly
true to the impression gained by the audience. My only reser-
vation would be that they catch the scene and the lighting al-
ways at the best moment, and, through the quality of the draw-
ing, they sometimes add a beauty that is perhaps a little flatter-
ing to the original.

The text is a collaboration in ideas, though not, with the
exception of the captions under the pictures, in writing. It is a
compilation of our impressions, reactions, and conclusions. Be-
cause the words are my own, I have taken the liberty of the
personal pronoun "I" when cc we" would be editorially pompous
or inexact.

The book began as an attempt to supplement the Interna-
tional Theater Exhibition held in Amsterdam and London
during the first half of 1 922. This large, varied, and arresting
collection of sketches and models showed the art of the theater


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largely as it existed in the imaginations of the stage designers.
Many of these sketches were for productions never made, some
had been greatly altered for better or for worse in the course of
production. It was our feeling that we might be able to add
something to the knowledge which this important exhibition
was spreading abroad if we could make some record, however
incomplete, of the actual accomplishment of the artists upon
the stage, and particularly of the directors and actors, who,
after all, have the major share in the art of the theater.

We have seen so much that is interesting, so much that is sig-
nificant, and a few things so stimulating and inspiriting, that
we have been tempted often to push our report of impressions
into an anticipation of future progress. We have, I fear, sub-
stituted our own imaginations in many places for those of the
artists of the International Exhibition.

Kenneth Macgowan.
Pelham Manor, N. Y.,
1 August, 1922.

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Prefatory Note vii


I. Beyond Realism 3

Some dull definitions. Realism of the flesh vs. Realism of the
spirit. In The Cherry Orchard TchehofF and the Moscow Art
Theater reach reality. A mystic picture of life beyond our

II. The Living Stage 17

The art that lies closest to life. Because its materials are living
men and women, it should not seek the illusion of reality. Its
object is to achieve the Form of life.

III. The Path of the Play 27

From Realism through Expressionism. The attempts of Ibsen,
TchehofF, Wedekind, and Strindberg to reflect the Form of life.

The expressionist movement in the German theater; its vio-
lence, morbidity and failure. Its arresting significance. Some
examples of its vitality. Expressionism and the unconscious
Through Form to beauty.

IV. Black Curtains 40

The place of Germany in the theater. Its pioneering past and

its natural virtues and failings. A beaten and bruised people
that still makes a fine audience. Berlin becomes Broadway-ized
and morbid. Economy breeds simplicity. A new day dawns on
a black-curtained stage.


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V. The Twilight of thb Machines 54

Relics of the past which was once the future. The abdication
of the designers, Stern and Roller. Reinhardt seeks a new
way out. Linnebach, apostle of the machine, turns apostate.
"Einfach" and "Podium" the catch-words. Stage machinery
sinks into its place. The designer replaces the mechanician.

VI. Light as Setting 68

From Appia's theories of the 'nineties to the day of projected
scenery. Lamps of six thousand candle-power. Color comes
under control. The dome no longer a sky; a neutral boundary
in Jessner's Othello, a void in Masse-Mensch, a wall to be
painted with light in a Stockholm ballet. Settings projected by
Linnebach and Hasait. Light as a dramatic motif.

VII. The German Actor 81

The effect of the war on the German players. The break-up
of Reinhardt's exceptional company under the pressure of war
and the motion picture. The Festsfiel brings them together
again. Ensemble persists in Vienna and Munich. The S. S.
Tenacity as played at the Burgtheater in Vienna and at the
Vieux-Colombier. The players of the Munich State theaters.
Teutonic vitality and intensity which often become violence.

VIII. New Acting for Old 91

Four styles of acting: Impersonation by wigs and spirit, as
practiced by the Moscow Art Theater. Impersonation by type-
casting. The exploitation of personality by great actors.
Presentational acting, and the expository performances of the

IX. The Reinhardt Tradition 106

In the search for the director who can fuse the new acting
and the new play we come first upon Max Reinhardt. His past
and his present. His virtues and his faults. Powerful theatri-
calism in the best sense possible in the old theater. His in-
fluence and his followers. His future.


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X. The Artist as Director 118

The advent of the artist in the theater, a functionary unknown
to Molicre or Shakespeare. The designer as an originator of
directional ideas. The inevitable union of director and artist,
in the scenery-less theater of the future.

XL A New Adventure in Direction 130

The methods of the director of the State Theater in Berlin.
The steps and levels upon which he moves his players in three-
dimensional compositions. How he creates effective pictures
and significant groupings in Richard III, Othello and Nafo-
leon. Distortion of natural action to make points. The
motionless actor. Arbitrary lighting. A. B. C. conceptions
and limited vision.

XII. Masse-Mensch — Mob-Man 144

Jiirgen Fehling of the Volksbuhne adds understanding to Jess-
ner's freedom and vigor. A drama of industrial revolution
produced in abstract terms and made immensely moving.
Scenery almost disappears and a workmen's hall becomes a
flight of steps surrounded by blackness. Arbitrary light and a
chorus that speaks as one. Audience, players and play pass
through the black purgatory of revolutionary Germany.

XIII. "The Theater of the Five Thousand" . .157
Reinhardt's Grosses Schauspielhaus, the gigantic compromise be-
tween the Greek Theater, the circus and the realistic stage,

in which he made his last effort towards a new type of pro-
duction. The failures of the building' architecturally. Its
virtues and its possibilities, which the withdrawal of Reinhardt
has left unrealized.

XIV. The Theater of the Three Hundred .171
Jacques Copeau's Theatre du Vieux-Colombier in Paris. The
naked stone stage with permanent setting which Copeau and


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Jouvct created in their search for a playhouse that should
give the actor full freedom. Three productions: Les Freres
Karamazov, Le Paquebot Tenacity , Twelfth Night. The
quality of writer or expositor in Copeau's performances. The
future of this theater.

XV. The Redoutensaal — A Playhouse of Permanence 184

The Redoutensaal of Marie Theresa converted by the Austrian
government into a theater without proscenium, machinery or
scenery. Audience and actors lit by crystal chandeliers and
surrounded by Gobelins and a permanent setting of baroque
architecture. Mozart and Reinhardt bring to it an old and a
new theatricalism. The principle applied to the stage and the
plays of to-day.

XVI. The Cirque Medrano 198

The little circus on Montmartre as a presage of a theater in
which the audience will surround the players and gain a new
relationship with the play. The attempts of Reinhardt and
Gemier at the circus-theater. Hamlet or Masse-Mensch in the

XVII. The Old Spirit— The New Theater .213

Seeking both the new theater and the old spirit, Reinhardt in-
vades the church. The Cuckoo Theater. Religion in the
terms of the theater a thing of vital and creative spirit in Greek
times and in the Middle Ages. Can the artist of the theater
bring it out of our material age?


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The Redoutensaal in Vienna




He Who Gets Slapped — A Pitoeff Production

Die Meistersinger — Setting by Roller ....

Faust — A Reinhardt Production Designed by Stern

Samson and Delilah — Setting by Griinewald .

Richard III — A Jessner Production Designed by Pirchan

Masse-Mensch — A Fehling Production Designed by Strohbach

The Redoutensaal in Vienna — Scene from The Marriage of Figaro


The Cherry Orchard — A Stanislavsky Production 10

Morder, Hoffnung der Frauen — Setting by Sievert .... 32

Der Traum, ein Leben — Setting by Strohbach 44

Macbeth: — An Andre Production 54

Der Schatzgraber — Setting by Pirchan 60

Das Rheingold — Setting by Linnebach and Pasetti .... 64

Das Rheingold: Valhalla 76

Maria Stuart: Westminster — A Weichert Production Designed by Sievert 112

Maria Stuart: Fotheringay 114

Samson and Delilah — Setting by Griinewald 122

Uncle Vanya — A Pitoeff Produtction 124

Napoleon — A Jessner Production Designed by Klein .126


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Othello: Before Brabantio's House — a Jessner Production Designed by

Pirchan 128

Othello: The Handkerchief 130

Othello: Cyprus, the Castle 132

Othello: Roderigo Is Wounded 134

Richard III — A Jessner Production Designed by Pirchan . .136

Richard III: Richard and His Shadow 138

Richard III: Richmond and His Army 142

Richard III: Richard's Soliloquy 144

Richard III: Richmond's Soliloquy 146

Masse-Mensch: Dream-picture, a Courtyard — A Fehling Production

Designed by Strohbach 148

Masse-Mensch: The Re volutionists' Meeting 150

Masse-Mensch: The Rallying 152

Masse-Mensch: The Machine Guns 154

The Grosses Schauspielhaus: An Impression 164

Judith — At the Grosses Schauspielhaus x 168

Les Frires Karamazov — A Copeau Production Designed by Jouvet 174
Le Carrosse du Saint-Sacrament — A Copeau Production Designed by

Jouvet 180

The Redoutensaal: A Scene from The Barber of Seville .190

The Cirque Medrano: An Impression 206

The Cirque Medrano: A Supposition 208


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IT is a pity to begin a book by being dull. But a time of
change is upon us in the theater, and a time of change is a
time for definitions.
We have passed through such times before, and we have
come out after some years — a century or so — with categories
neatly fixed. We can look back along the history of English
literature and place a judicial finger there and there and there
and say Middle English, Classicism, Romanticism. All this is
pretty well set. Then we come to Realism and its quagmires
— quagmires of balked creation and quagmires of discussion
— and we wallow about gesticulating and shouting and splash-
ing the mud into our immortal eyes. What is this bog we
have been so busy in? And what is the fitful and rather
blinding storm of illumination which plays about the horizon
and calls itself Expressionism?

Of course these things are just what we care to make them.
Various parties to the argument choose various definitions —


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the kinds that suit their themes. I claim no more for mine
than that they will make clear what I am talking about, and
save a certain amount of futile dispute.

There are plenty of sources of confusion in discussions about
art. To begin with, it is not an easy thing to limit a dynamic
organism by definition. Creative efforts in drama, fiction or
painting run out of one category and into another with dis-
tressing ease. More than that, there are apt to be many parts
to a whole, many divisions to a category j and the parts or
the divisions can be extraordinarily different. Finally, fanatics
and tea-table gossips are equally unscrupulous when it comes
to "proving" a point. They make the definitions of friends
and foes mean what they like. They take the part for the
whole, the division for the category. They pin down a lively
and meandering work of art at just the place where they
want it. Two disputants, bent on exhibiting the more in-
decent side of human intelligence, can make the twilight of
discussion into a pit of black confusion.

Let us bring the thing down to the present quarrel in the
theater: the quarrel with Realism, which has moments of
clarity j the quarrel with Expressionism, which is murky as

What are we going to mean when we talk about Realism ?
So far as this book goes, the word Realism means a way of
looking at life which came into vogue about fifty years ago.


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It sees truth as representation. It demands a more or less literal
picture of people and happenings. It insists that human beings
upon the stage shall say or do only those things that are reason-
ably plausible in life. Resemblance is not always its end, but
resemblance is a test that must be satisfied before any other
quality may be admitted. Realism is not, of course, a matter
of trousers, silk hats, and machinery. The realistic attitude
can invade the sixteenth century, as it does in Hauptmann's
Florian Geyer. Trousers, silk hats, and machinery can be the
properties of a non-realistic play like O'Neill's The Hairy ^
Ape. The test of Realism, as the term is here employed, is
the test of plausibility: Would men and women talk in this
fashion in real life under the conditions of time, place, and
action supplied by the playwright? It is the business of the
realistic playwright to draw as much as possible of inner truth
to the surface without distorting the resemblance to actuality.

There should not be a great deal to quarrel about in such a
definition of Realism, though its adherents may deny hotly
the natural assertion that the method of Realism is barren
either in whole or in part. At any rate, people generally under-
stand what the row is about, and the disputants can kick up only
about so much dust on this battle-field. Non-realism is another

That the thing is the opposite of Realism is obvious in just
one respect : It does not admit the test of resemblance. It denies


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in the theater, as furiously as do the works of Cezanne or Picasso
in the picture gallery, the validity of representation. But what
will it substitute for the technique of Realism and what will it
call the substitute? It will go back to romantic periods for a
free technique, but it will look forward for its materials along
paths which psychological research has lately opened to men
and women outside the ranks of true poetic genius. By this it
may arrive at the inner truth of Shelley and Goethe, Shake-
speare and -£Eschylus, while it sacrifices the outer truth of Ibsen
and Bataille, Pinero and Galsworthy. The question is both of
technique and of materials, for an inner truth is to be found in
a study of the unconscious mind which will not brook the ob-
structions of actuality and resemblance. Inner truth is so
much more important than actuality that the new type of
drama will not bother itself to achieve both, and if one must
infringe on the other — which must happen in almost every
case — then it chooses quickly and fearlessly the inner truth.

To give this anti-Realism a name involves confusions dear
to the heart of the controversialist. To give it the name Ex-
pressionism multiplies these confusions. Yet it is hard to see
any alternative at the moment. We must embrace the name —
and the confusions.

The chief confusion is due to the fact that there are two
kinds of Expressionism, as there are doubtless two kinds of
Realism. There is the larger and there is the smaller. Real-*


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ism can be a mere technique — resemblance j and it can also be
a resemblance through which you catch a vision of the soul.
Expressionism can be seen by the friends of Realism only as
the narrow, neurotic, violent, and formless art which displays

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Online LibraryRobert Edmond Jones Kenneth MacgowanContinental stagecraft → online text (page 1 of 15)