Thursday, May 2, 2013

6 Things You Maybe Didn’t Know About Theatre

So far, Jenni’s prompts are WAY harder than I thought they would be. I’m probably putting a lot of pressure on myself to say meaningful things. But, like the true university-addict that I am, I am loving the blogging homework. So here we go, day two of Blog Every Day in May…
Today we are supposed to “educate our readers on something we know a lot about or are good at.” I don’t know why it suddenly feels like I’m not good at anything.

My PhD (that I will hopefully finish by next May) is in theatre, specifically theatre history, literature, and criticism. You still awake? I thought I’d share a few of my favorite random pieces of theatre history with you. They make great party trivia…if you go to parties at my house, anyway. Here’s some fun factoids to geek out to:

1. Theatre comes from a Greek word, theatron, and it means “the seeing place.”

2. Musicals are principally an American invention. The first musical was rumored to be an accident during which a ballet company’s performance venue burned down and so they were asked to add their dance routines into a melodrama called, The Black Crook, in 1866. The combined effort was so popular with audiences that it was soon repeated and copied. You’re welcome, Spiderman: Turn Off the Dark. I’m sure this is exactly what the 19th century had in mind.


3. The words theatre and theater are sometimes used interchangeably but they mean different things. We generally use the British spelling, theatre, to refer to the art form or practice. When we are talking about the building or specific performance venue, we spell it, theater (also when we talk about the movie theater). We don’t mean to be snobby freaks; it just comes naturally.

4. A light gets left on in theaters when no one is in them. It’s called a ghost light. There are lots of stories about why it’s called that. A lot of people say the light is left on for the ghosts to find their way. (On a more practical level, ghost lights help people walk around safely inside the theater on dark days – days when there isn’t a show playing).

The ghost light on one of the stages at school.

5. One of my favorite artists ever, Augusto Boal, started something called Forum Theatre. In Forum Theatre, the audience could interact with the actors and change the ending of the play. They could even step in and take over an actor’s role. Boal’s hope was that this new performance style would help people find solutions for problems and help empower the oppressed to change their communities.

6. Celebrity-following is not a new thing. In 1850, one of the most popular American actors, Edwin Forrest (he was really famous for taking his shirt off in, like, all of his performances) had a much publicized divorce from his wife Catherine Sinclair. The press got involved, their fans followed the case closely, there were repeated reports of adultery and love letters from an actress named Josephine Clifton (read: Angelina Jolie) and public horse-whippings of alleged lovers. Fans brought signs showing their support for either Edwin or Catherine into the theater. In the end, the court sided with Catherine. If you are interested in the story, you can read the entire official divorce case document online here. It’s pretty juicy.

Edwin Catherine
                 Photo credit                                                                   Photo credit
Aaaaaand that’s it. Your life is forever altered. I know. What weird theatre thing would you share? 
Have a weird piece of theatre or performance trivia to share? Do you have a theatre/performance question? Comment below!

Can’t wait to read other people’s posts today…

love, elizabeth


Aleshea said...

Well, you sure did teach me something. That was the point... Thanks girl. I love learning new things.

SaraBeth said...

Boal is my favourite practitioner too! I love his concept of Invisible Theatre.

My theatre trivia would be that it is bad luck to whistle in a theatre because in the days before radio headsets fly floors were operated by sailors who communicated by a series of whistles. If you were to inadvertently whistle a fly command you could get a set piece on your (or someone else's )head.

Good luck in your PHD.

Life of an Agnostic Sunday School Teacher

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