Acting in the Late Enlightenment (1740-1800)

4-6 December 2014

The Performing Premodernity research group held an international symposium 4-6 December 2015 entitled Acting in the Late Enlightenment (1740-1800). On 4 December scholars and practitioners gathered for a day of lectures and discussions about acting in the second half of the late 18th century, and about the revival of period acting principles on the modern stage.

1740-1800 was the period of the theatrical reforms that began with David Garrick, Dénis Diderot and others, and within the research group we are particularly interested in the relationship between these Enlightenment reforms and French and Italian opera. Traditionally, these reforms are said to have put greater emphasis on pantomimic gesture (as opposed to gesture as an extension of the word), on individualized characterization (as opposed to generic types) and on the identification of the audience with the characters (as opposed to the theatricality of the rhetorical mode of theatre). But do these distinctions hold water, and in what ways did these principles differ from e.g. those of 20th century naturalistic acting? And what challenges do this period pose for artistic practitioners who want to explore the theatrical aesthetics of this period?

A report from the second day of the symposium is now available online as Performing Premodernity Volume 2 here.


6th December 2014