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  • Print publication year: 2013
  • Online publication date: April 2013

Chapter 2 - The rise of the modern director


Towards the end of the nineteenth century, theatrical conditions fostered the emergence of the modern director. Already foreshadowed by the Intendant system, established in Germany almost exactly a hundred years earlier, the earliest came out of that system: Georg II, Duke of Saxe-Meiningen (1826–1914). He was followed by a group of near contemporaries: André Antoine (1858–1943), working with Zola (1840–1902), Konstantin Stanislavsky (1863–1938), Adolphe Appia (1862–1928) and Gordon Craig (1872–1966). The first who qualify as modern directors, they created and represent the major lines of stylistic development at the beginning of the twentieth century. Each contributes different elements; but as we shall see, all share certain standards in dealing with dramatic material as well as common approaches to staging, and each combines theatre practice and theory: either developing theory from the work, or basing work on theory. Two – Antoine and Stanislavsky – continued to act major parts in the plays they directed, while Craig gave up an acting career specifically to reform the stage. One other influence needs to be noted: as a composer, Richard Wagner (1813–1883) conducted his own operas, and, in adding the function of commissioning settings and costumes as well as orchestrating the singers’ moves, offered a model of the theatrical auteur that was to be picked up by Appia and Craig, working on principles of design.

The Meiningen Players and the conditions for naturalism

As the owner of his own court theatre, and taking over the position of Intendant himself, the Duke of Saxe-Meiningen had complete freedom to experiment. In contrast to the English-speaking theatre’s focus on stars, in the form of the actor-manager, the Intendant system encouraged ensemble acting. And unity of expression on the stage, as well as ensemble work, was epitomized by his Meiningen Players.

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Further reading
Beacham, Richard. Adolphe Appia: Theatre Artist (Directors in Perspective), Cambridge University Press, 1987
Benedetti, Jean. Stanislavsky: His Life and Art, A Biography, London: Methuen, 1999
Carnegy, Patrick. Wagner and the Art of the Theatre, New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 2006
Carnicke, Sharon Marie. Stanislavsky in Focus: An Acting Master for the Twenty-First Century, London and New York: Routledge, 2009
Chothia, Jean. André Antoine (Directors in Perspective), Cambridge University Press, 1991
Innes, Christopher. Edward Gordon Craig: A Vision of Theatre, Amsterdam: Harwood Academic Publishers, 1988
Knapp, Bettina. The Reign of the Theatrical Director: French Theatre, 1887–1924, Troy, NY: Whitston, 1988
Koller, Anne Marie. The Theater Duke: Georg II of Saxe-Meiningen and the German Stage, Stanford University Press, 1984
Merlin, Bella. Stanislavsky, London and New York: Routledge, 2003
Stanislavsky, Konstantin. An Actor’s Work, trans. Benedetti, Jean, London and New York: Routledge, 2008
Stanislavsky, Konstantin. My Life in Art, trans. Benedetti, Jean, London and New York: Routledge, 2008
Worral, Nick. The Moscow Art Theatre, London and New York: Routledge, 1996