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Contrasting Lee Breuer and Stanislavski productions

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Compare and contrast the work of Lee Breuer with that of Konstantin Stanislavski At the end of the 19th century, Konstantin Stanislavski (1863-1938) laid the foundations of realism in theatre. His innovative approach shattered the melodramatic stage conventions in his contemporary Russia and across Europe. After more than a century of radical change, both within the theatre and outside of it, Stanislavski's naturalistic ideals, and his faithfulness to the original text, continue to influence directors across the world. However, wherever there is a prevalent style there will be those who disavow it in favour of a more progressive, avant-garde approach. Lee Breuer, director of the Mabou Mines company based in New York, is one such artist. Breuer's radical productions have earned critical acclaim for their fundamental deconstruction of classic plays like King Lear (where he gender reversed the lead role), using the original text as a stimulus from which a blend of styles emerge and extracting another element of meaning from famous plays which are often reproduced without much innovative artistic merit. His production of Dollhouse, an adaptation of Ibsen's revolutionary social drama, illuminates acutely the comparison between Stanislavski, the conservative realist, and Breuer, the avant-garde "auteur". So, in comparing the work of these two artists, what can we hope to discover? Though separated by a hundred years of theatrical innovation, is there a common element fundamental to their different styles? How exactly do they differ, and what ideologies and justifications lie behind each interpretative choice they make? Stanislavski's Moscow Art Theatre was originally housed in the Hermitage theatre, a shallow proscenium arch stage with a curtain raising to unveil the onstage action. ...read more.


Another director Bergman inspired Breuer in his use of monologues performed to camera/audience. Breuer's other productions have been just as radical in their deconstruction of famous texts. In 1982, he reworked a play by the classical writer Sophocles, renaming it Gospel At Colonus, complete with an African American gospel choir. In Lear, in1989, he gender reversed the roles, casting Ruth Maleczech as the lead, an aging matriarch of a family in 1950s Georgia. Stanislavski's productions, while evolving in style across the decades of his life, remained largely true to his ideal of psychological realism. In particular, his productions of Chekhov's plays, The Seagull, for example, were exercises in acute naturalism, and a nuanced expression of complex subtext beneath little surface action. As he aged, he increasingly recognised the need not to merely approximate and replicate life in all its trivial details, but to distil them into an essence. This was the goal of realism, as opposed to naturalism. While avoiding the overtly political, he shared with Russian writer Gogol the belief that theatre had a moral responsibility to the masses, and that it should have a social conscience. Stanislavski's Moscow Art Theatre was set up with this as its aim: "to ennoble the mind and uplift the spirit". Breuer would of course recognise the importance of theatre as more than a frivolous entertainment, but as both an art form and a "pulpit" from which a message is preached, and society civilised. A curious parallel to be drawn between the Mabou Mines company and the Moscow Art Theatre is the conflict between director and dramaturg. With Dollhouse, Breuer believed that the story should be seen from Torvald's perspective, whereas his literary adviser (and lead actress) ...read more.


Not a single cricket." It can be argued that Stanislavski's zealous quest to create a world offstage undermined the power of Chekhov's subtle symbolic use of sound contained in the text. Breuers use of music is vastly opposed to the style Stanislavski supported. The piano gives the movement a romantic, melodramatic feel, heightening emotion and creating an almost silent-movie effect. The last act is, for a large portion, carried out in opera style, the dramatics only ending to illustrate the empty, mute desolation that Nora's act of empowerment leaves with Torvald. Music becomes another vehicle for Breuer's literal expression of the subtext, when Krogstadt's ascending violin reflects his sexual climax in an onstage moment with Mrs Linde. The same conflict of values (realism versus symbolism/the avant garde) in the use of lighting and costume. Stanislavski favoured directional lighting, used to set the action into context, whereas Breuer uses lighting symbolically. For example, Krogstadt, played at first as an archetypal villain, is swathed in green fresnel at his entrance, and strobe is used during Nora's dance scene to symbolise the disintegration of her fragile world. Similarly, Stanislavski's costumes were meticulously researched (he travelled to Paris for his production of Othello) in order to achieve authenticity. For Dollhouse, Breuer used period costumes but utilised colour as a vehicle for symbolism. In conclusion, while Stanislavski and Breuer are radically different in almost every aspect of their style and approach, the latter is, in a way, carrying on the tradition of the former. By this I mean to say that Breuer is innovating on the stage today just as Stanislavski broke free of theatrical convention more than one hundred years ago. Visionary figures like these two directors are vital to the evolution of theatre as a vehicle for meaning, and as a living art. Bryn Davies. ...read more.

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