Realism as a theatre movement emerged in Europe in the latter part of the 19th century. As a genuine theatre style, realism was a reaction against romanticism and the sensationalism of melodrama which dominated the stages of Europe and America for much of the 1800s. Audiences soon began to seek more believable plots, characters, sets and costumes on the stage. However, realism should not to be confused with naturalism, a similar theatre style that demanded slice-of-life authenticity in its construction and performance. Characters in realistic plays were more middle class than those in most naturalistic dramas and the subject matter was less sordid. Although often slightly heightened, generally speaking dialogue in realistic plays was that of everyday speech. The plots of realistic plays were typically psychologically driven with a cause and effect relationship between scenes. Norwegian playwright Henrik Ibsen (A Doll’s House, Hedda Gabler) is often considered the father of modern realism. Ibsen’s realistic social dramas were known as or problem plays, and it was in these dramas that Ibsen perfected the well-made play formula. Unlike naturalism, the realistic movement continues to influence theatre to this day. – Justin Cash
Realism Theatre Resources
Easy-to-understand overview of the characteristics and conventions of realsim and the distinct differences between it and naturalism.
Excellent overview of the introduction of the realist movement on European stage in the mid-1900s.
“The realistic impulse, the desire to reproduce on the stage a piece of life faithfully, has been persistent over the last hundred years, even when realism as a technique has varied constantly in purpose and kind.“— J.L. Styan | Modern Drama in Theory and Practice 1
Brief summary of 20th century “American realism” from Oxford Research Encyclopedia.
Wikipedia entry detailing the emergence of the realistic theatre movement in Russia and the United States.
Explanation of the well-made play formula adhered to by many realist playwrights, first developed around 1825 by French dramatist Eugene Scribe.
“Theatre is a concentrate of life as normal. Theatre is a purified version of real life, an extraction, an essence of human behaviour that is stranger and more tragic and more perfect than everything that is ordinary about me and you“— Eleanor Catton | Screenwriter
Overview of the realism including the emegence of the movement and key playwrights.
Useful summary of the key conventions of theatrical realism at a glance.