Realism: 20 Helpful Theatre Resources for Students

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. Characters in realistic plays were more middle class than those in most naturalistic dramas and the subject matter was less sordid. Norwegian playwright Henrik Ibsen (A Doll’s HouseHedda Gabler) is often considered the father of modern realism. – Justin Cash


Realism Theatre Resources

Excellent overview of the introduction of the movement on the European stage in the mid-1900s.

An excellent article focuses on various aspects of the realist and naturalist movements in the theatre including definitions, major works, playwrights and other practitioners.

Brief summary of 20th century “American realism” from Oxford Research Encyclopedia.

A brief history of realism in the theatre, with examples. useful for students.

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
Realism: Academic Theatre Resources
Marlon Brando and Vivien Leigh in A Streetcar Named Desire

Brief Wikipedia entry on realism in the theatre as a dramatic form.

This a very handy article on realism in literature and its various conventions that can easily be translated to playwrighting and the stage.

The realists observed man and his environment primarily through the five senses. Playwrights consciously set out to abandon antiquated techniques such as formula plays, surface characterization, romantic subject matter, and scenic splendour in favour of duplication of contemporary life …. Characters were based on real-life, three-dimensional human beings. Plots were concerned with the problems of daily life – the environmental and social forces that encroached on man. Scenery mirrored contemporary environment in an attempt to express external realism… All action was motivated to achieve truth and believability in character portrayal.
Jerry L. Crawford
Acting: In Person and in Style

An easy-to-understand student project on the emergence of this movement in the theatre.

Wikipedia entry detailing the emergence of this 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.

Much of Ibsen’s work contributed to the development of realism. In the prose dramas, he refined Scribe’s “well-made play formula” and made it more fitting to the realistic style. Ibsen discarded asides, soliloquies and other nonrealistic devices …. All scenes are causally related and lead naturally to the denouement. Dialogue, settings, costumes and business are selected for their ability to reveal character … Internal psychological motivations are given greater emphasis than external visual detail. In these ways, Ibsen provided a model for writers of the realistic school.
Oscar G Brocket (on Henrik Ibsen’s contribution to realism)
History of Theatre

Overview of the genre including the emergence of the movement and key playwrights.

A Raisin in The Sun

A useful summary of the key conventions of this style at a glance.

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