“To save the theatre, the theatre must be destroyed, the actors and actresses must all die of the plague. They poison the air, they make art impossible. It is not drama that they play, but pieces for the theatre. We should return to the Greeks, play in the open air; the drama dies of stalls and boxes and evening dress, and people who come to digest their dinner.” Elenora Duse

Elenora Duse  was an Italian actress in the late 19th century and early 20th. This is an interesting quote in that it might be something someone would thought had been said recently of the theatre instead of a hundred years ago. How interesting too to divide between “drama” and “pieces.”Her dislike of the later is, quite clear.

Also, I don’t agree. I don’t think the Greeks were the be all and the end all. They were necessary and they were the formation of theatre as we know it. But I like the way theatre has evolved. I like the human nature of theatre. The intimate act between what’s happening on stage and how it effects an audience. The open air is not intimate. I’m not big on theme over character and that is what the Greeks, in general, were all about.

What do you think?

About the author

Lindsay Price

1 Comment

  • What I took from this quote was a call back to a more visceral theatrical experience. For all of their theme over character, the Greek theatre experience was one of simple staging, no technical magic, and the sheer power of the text as delivered by an actor and the chorus. The grandeur of the open sky and the experience of sitting in an amphitheater carved out of the side of a hill overlooking the sea must have must have added to the magesty and magic of the experience, connecting the audience to the grand characters and themes that were being staged before them. In modern theatre we have reconnected with that in a different way, by trapping the raw emotion of the characters in an enclosed space, drawing the audience into the lives of the characters onstage. But in the 19th century, this was not the case. Theatre was a social event that had very little to do with the dramatic experience and had more to do with being seen (hence box seats and fancy dress). The plays were very light on character AND theme, so I can see where this actor is coming from.

    For us today, this quote serves to remind us of the power of theatre and the incredible effect that it can have on an audience. It challenges us to remember that we must draw our audience in and allow them to live with our characters for a short time and to viscerally experience their joys and heartaches. For without this, theatre is in fact nothing more than a shallow and inconsequential exercise that becomes more about being seen than seeing and taking part in.