20th Century Developments



I just want to briefly re-cap on where we’ve been so far this semester before I give you an indication of where we’re going. You need to be aware that theatre developments are a part of a continuum—new forms and styles grow out of or rebel against the old.

When we started talking about Modern Drama we began by focusing on Romanticism.

Romanticism provided theatrical forms for the masses—the ‘popular’ theatre. This included theatrical forms such as

  • Melodrama
  • Circus
  • Opera
  • Vaudeville
  • farce


Then we turned our attention to early Modernism which manifested itself in two styles with some writers experimenting with both. Modernism was an elitist art form—it held little attraction for the masses:

  1. Realism/Naturalism

The theatre practitioners who were aligned with this style included:

  1. Neo-romanticism

The theatre practitioners who were aligned with this style included:


So where do we go from here? è Anti-realism. è Modern Drama B will address many of the twentieth century styles of theatre which were reactions against realism. These were considered to be avante-garde:

Each of these "isms" is directly bound up with politics and they discuss social issues. Many of them are concerned with the rise of communism. Think about the major world events of the first half of the twentieth century. Two World Wars created incredible social upheavals in western societies and these political and social concerns could not help but be manifested in drama.


  The ‘Avant-garde’



DADA  (1915-1920):


Cabaret Voltaire



François Sarcey:

"When I understand a few phrases here and there, I tell myself: this is a Decadent poet. When I understand practically nothing, I say to myself: this must be a symbolist"


® Naturalists’ language ‘copies’ the world.


the everyday the dreamscape
vernacular dialogue poetic language
social polemic fairy tales (love/death)


Some Common Symbols:





1. SWAN:

® has a beautiful singing voice

® when it can no longer sing it is symbolic of sterility


® is the swan’s counterpart

® but it lacks the swan’s sleekness and purity.


sur: ® French word meaning ‘on’/’above’

® ABOVE reality

® HEIGHTENED reality

® creates a sense of being "over-the-top"

® eg. they cut other people’s poems up and pulled words randomly out of a hat

® Chance plays a major role.

® they attempted to dissect reality.

® they tried to make people look at things in a new way.

® they wanted to undercut expectations.

® different things happening at once.

® creates a collage effect.

® things continually change.

® it provides a link between artist and spectator

® an attempt to make the audience see things differently and most importantly to get a reaction.


• bigness

• grotesque or violent encounters

• the visual (visual images)

• puppets, native rituals (such as Punch and Judy)

• the use of language to achieve an end

• the destruction of language

• concerned with dreams


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