Previously discussed in the second part of the evolution of theatre series, Torres talked about the playhouses built and the influence they had on drama. Ending this series, Pedro J Torres will tackle the writers of the 17th and 18th century.
Sturm und Drang (1771-1782)
Friedrich Klinger set the tone for the future drama and plays at the beginning of the 17th century and into the 18th century. His phrase Sturm und Drang means Storm and Stress and that is what young writers in Germany based their own writings off of. The first successful play with this new style of storm and stress was Goethe when he wrote Götz von Berlichingen mit der eisernen Hand (Götz von Berlichingen with the iron hand). Friedrich Schiller, which we will discuss later, also engaged in the theme and wrote a play called The Robbers or Die Räuber. As the century continued though, the mood seemed to shift.
A light comedy caught the eye of many in 1775 whenever the energetic characters from Le Barbier de Séville, The Barber of Seville, came to stage thanks to the French writer Pierre-Augustin Caron de Beaumarchais. Along with being a writer, he was also a watchmaker, a secret agent for the French government and a risky businessman. As his life continued on, his writing seemed to move to the backburner until 1775 whenever he was known as the most popular French dramatist due to his comedies featuring the star character Figaro. Beaumarchais had the fortune to be able to have his two comedies Le Barbier de Séville and Le Nozze di Figaro (The Marriage of Figaro) to be made into operas by Mozart and Rossini.
The French Revolution was the main event in 1797 but that is also the time that Goethe was trying his hardest to convince Schiller to return to the theater. Schiller started with seven plays that took place over several years. The first few plays that were performed as a trilogy about a character named Wallenstein. The character that was extraordinary was going through the ups and downs of the Thirty Years’ War. Schiller’s plays were so well liked that four of them were made into operas. Goethe and Schiller made quite a team because although Goethe got Schiller back into the theater, Schiller also influenced Goethe to return in 1797.
In part one of this three-part series, the beginnings of the theater were discussed. The Roman theater takes first prize for setting the stage for what theater looked during the 16th century.
Roman theater started the 16th century off with a strong start. The plays that were performed on the courts royalty were elaborate– they had highly structured stages, filled with music and dancing and intricate costumes. Along with precise settings, the performances were also very detailed. The term intermezzi means “intermediate pieces.” These pieces were stories that had a more complicated storyline. As the century continued on, the future was being created. The intermezzi performances and the details of the behind the scenes set the stage for opera.
Italy was where opera got its beginning, but Europe had a more popular genre of theater– commedia dell’arte. Commedia dell’arte is translated as comedy of the trade, which means professional actors are used. These actors would come to an area, set up their stage and perform to those passing by. This type of acting was more complicated because this meant the actors needed to know how to improvise and read the audience. While Roman and Europe were conquering the performances, London was focused on something more structured.
The theaters created before the 16th century in London were extremely notable in history but the man who got them started might be more notable. James Burbage created and named the first playhouse and he named it Theatre, rightfully so. He then created more– the Curtain and the Rose, the Swan After he passed, his sons tore down the original Theatre, used the lumber to create a new one called the Globe. With this magnificent structure of these playhouses, the English drama was influenced.
The famous writer himself started as an actor in the playhouses in London. He acted in several plays, Henry VI being one of the more popular ones, and he also wrote several plays of multiple genres. Many of Shakespeare’s plays were first seen at the Globe. At the young age of 18, he married his wife Anne Hathaway and then had his three children. Shakespeare was known for his writing skills for romance like Romeo and Juliet and his comedies such as Midsummer Night’s Dream but with the turn of the century and perhaps a shift in perspective, Shakespeare began to write some of the best tragedies such as Hamlet, Othello and King Lear. Shakespeare then passed in 1616.
The final part of this series will focus on the characters of the 17th and 18th century.
Theater is an art form that is steeped in tradition and rich in history. From the early beginnings to the Great White Way, theater has gone through many transformations in its time.
The followers of Dionysus, the god of fertility and wine, would throw lavish cult ceremonies in ancient Greece. They would dance and sing, in choral form, the stories of Greek myth. In the 6th century BC a priest of Dionysus, Thespis, began to introduce a new element into the storytelling that has widely become accepted as the birth of theater. He would engage in dialogue with the chorus. In essence, Thespis became the first actor. Hence the term “thespian.” Around the 3rd century BC, theatrical contests would become a regular part of the annual festival held in honor of Dionysus. Tragedies were the main form of theater in its early years. Towards the beginning of the 5th century BC, comedies started to make their way into the Greek theater tradition in form of The Frogs, The Wasps, and Lysistrata.
Theater began to make its way from Greece to Rome as being a part of the Roman games that were held every September. The Roman games took place between the Palatine and Aventine hills in Rome. This area would become known as Circus Maximus. The games originated as a harvest festival with main events being chariot races or boxing matches. Clowns began to appear in these festivals as a side show and midway through the 2nd century BC, plays became a part of the Roman games. In addition to the sporting events, clowns, and plays, gladiator matches also became a part of Rome’s entertainment.
Toward the late 10th century, Christian churches began to introduce dramatic effects into their Easter liturgy to help visualize the theme of resurrection. This was first introduced depicting the story of Mary Magdalene and two other women visiting the tomb of Jesus whereupon they would find it empty. From these initial storytelling methods, the medieval Christian drama was born. More scenes began to be enacted during church services as well.
In part two of this series, pre-Shakespeare theater and Shakespeare will be explored as a light is continued to be cast upon the history of theater.
About Pedro J Torres
The Brooklyn Academy of Music has had a long and illustrious history long before Pedro J. Torres arrived on the scene a few years ago. Beginning in 1861, the inaugural performance included Mozart and Verdi on the program. First Lady Mary Todd Lincoln attended a performance during their opening week.
One of Pedro J. Torres favorite things about BAM are their incredible and historical venues, like the opera house in Fort Green on Lafayette Avenue. The Howard Gilman Opera House is known for its ornate tall ceilings. Known for its Beaux arts style and start of the art sound system, the venue is frequently sought after for major stars, orchestras, and events.
With Pedro J. Torres immense business experience in Venezuela, he is able to offer his guidance and expertise in BAM’s different business areas. BAM turned their former ballroom into a café to offer dinner to patrons before live events. This café even has an event series of free concerts for the public to enjoy.
The café began in 1999, and the performances are currently curated by Darrell McNeill. The café has a helped many artists launch their careers and has also served as a home for intimate performances by established artists. Artists include Licorice, Early Grehound, Sekou Sundiate, Daniel Bernard Roumain (DBR), Haale, ETHEL, Travis Sullivan’s Bjorkestra, Eisa Davis, Morley, Carl Hancock Rux, and Stew.
Established artists include TV on the Radio’s Kyp Malone, Jeffrey Gaines, Joe Bataan, Corey Glover, Marc Ribot, Don Byron, Gary Luca, Fishbone’s Angelo Moore aka Dr. Madd Vibe, Grady Tate, Vernon Reid, and Marshall Crenshaw.
BAM offers a professional development program that Pedro J. Torres is excited about contributing to. The 14 month long program, which is located at the new BAM Fisher facility offers professional development and deeply discounted theater and rehearsal studio rentals to a group of Brooklyn non-profits and organizations. The program is a collaboration with DeVos Institute of Arts Management at the Kennedy Center. Every year they focus on a new discipline to help their participates have long term success.
Pedro J Torres is excited to be a part of this legendary institution.