• In the 1800s, acting was mostly unrealistic
because the plays were unrealistic
(stereotypes, only happy endings, etc.)
• Characters had no
• Actors did a lot of
formal posing and
• began in the 19th century (1800s)
• reaction against Romanticism
• influenced by current events: Karl Marx,
mid-1800s (class struggle, communism);
Darwin, late 1800s (survival of the fittest);
Freud, 1900 (psychoanalysis,
• dealt with real life, usually middle and
lower class individuals
• multi-dimensional, realistic characters
• often dealt with social problems
• often did not have happy endings
• did not try to provide escape for audience:
wanted to inspire discussion and change
• more natural language and style
• started focusing on inner psychology of
characters; characters are individuals, not
stereotypes/stock characters
• actors began using the fourth wall (staying in
the scene, not talking to the audience)
• initially met with very unhappy audiences who
wanted Romanticism; eventually became
popular--basically what we are used to today
Henrik Ibsen
• Norway
• “father of realism”
• several of his plays were scandalous
for the time – examined the truth
behind people’s masks
• A Doll’s House; Hedda Gabler
• “Look into any man’s heart you
please, and you will always find, in
every one, at least one black spot
which he has to keep concealed.”
George Bernard Shaw
• Ireland
• a Socialist – angered by
exploitation of working class
• Pygmalion; Major Barbara;
Man and Superman
• “An American has no sense
of privacy. He does not know
what it means. There is no
such thing in the country.”
August Strindberg
• Sweden
• focused on effects of heredity and
environment on his characters
• Miss Julie
• “I loathe people who keep dogs.
They are cowards who haven’t got
the guts to bite people
Anton Chekhov
• Russia
• main occupation was a doctor
• praised for his short stories
• stated that the role of the artist is to
ask questions, not to answer them
• The Seagull; The Cherry Orchard
• “Man is what he believes.”
Constantin Stanislavski
(Konstantin Stanislavsky)
• Russian actor and director; worked
with Anton Chekhov
• author of An Actor Prepares
(and other books about acting)
• father of the “System”
• “Love the art in yourself, not
yourself in the art.”
The “System”
• these new playwrights were writing plays
that demanded a different style of acting
• Stanislavski wanted to create a “believable
truth” onstage
• watched good actors and developed a
“system” of analysis and exercises to
inspire actors in rehearsals
The “System”
An actor analyzes the character’s
• subtext (meaning beneath the lines)
• objectives (goals)
• given circumstances (info about the
character’s background, appearance, etc.)
“System” exercises
“Magic If” =
“If I were in this situation,
how would I behave?”
“System” exercises
emotional memory =
recreating past experiences to arouse emotions
in rehearsal of a scene
And then a few
years later in
American Playwrights
• Eugene O’Neill
– first to introduce realistic theatre
into America
– plays usually tragic and
pessimistic –people who
struggle to reach their dreams
and fail
– Desire under the Elms;
The Iceman Cometh;
Long Day’s Journey into Night
American Playwrights
• Tennessee Williams
– southern writer; southern
settings and characters
– tortured characters (often
women)– tragic!
– Glass Menagerie;
A Streetcar Named Desire;
Cat on a Hot Tin Roof
American Playwrights
• Arthur Miller
– married to Marilyn Monroe
– accused of being a
– Death of a Salesman;
The Crucible; All My Sons
Lee Strasberg
• actor and director
• became artistic
director of the Actors
Studio in NYC in
• trained actors in the
Method (his version
of the “system”)
Famous Students of
Marilyn Monroe
Marlon Brando
James Dean
James Earl Jones
Dustin Hoffman
Robert DeNiro
Al Pacino
Paul Newman
Jack Nicholson
Many Method actors
try to
“live the part.”
Daniel Day-Lewis
• In My Left Foot he
played a severely
paralyzed artist, so he
insisted on staying in
a wheelchair for
weeks and learned to
paint with his toes.
• For Last of the
Mohicans, he lived off
the land, did weight
training, carried an old
rifle at all times, and
learned to skin animals.
• To prepare for The Boxer, he trained with a world
boxing champion for two years.
• To play an Irish
prisoner in In the
Name of the Father,
he lost weight, spent
hours each day in a
prison cell, and had
crew members throw
water in his face and
verbally abuse him.
• As Bill the Butcher in
Gangs of New York, he
learned knife-throwing, was
an apprentice butcher, and
talked in a New York
accent even off the set.
(He supposedly listened to
Eminem in order to get into
an angry, self-righteous
mindset before filming.)
• He spent a year getting
ready to play Abraham
Lincoln, reading over 100
books on Lincoln and
visiting several historical
sites, including Lincoln’s
birthplace. He requested
to be left alone in these
rooms so that he could
touch Lincoln’s