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Robert Edmond Jones Theatre and Motion Pictures, Bridging Reality and Dreams Anthony Hostetter and Elisabeth Hostetter Scholars credit Robert Edmond Jones with starting a revolution in American theatre on January 27, 1915, with his integrated design work on The Man Who Married a Dumb Wife. Jones defined the “New Stagecraft” of the United States by seamlessly uniting the visual components of set, light, and costume design to underscore the director ’s concept and highlight the actor on stage. He later articulated his motivations, creative process, and visions for theatre in public lectures and published articles. In 1941, he published the collected essays in The Dramatic Imagination, a book often considered required reading for students of the theatre. The Dramatic Imagination advocates a unified style that Brooks Atkinson refers to as “poetic idealism.” In an article commemorating the release of Jones’s book, subtitled “Notes on the Case of Robert Edmond Jones, the Scene Designer Who Keeps His Own Faith through the Years,” Atkinson wrote of Jones: “Like a true New Englander, his is of the Emersonian faith and believes in the over-soul. Beyond the literal detail that the eye sees he believes in vast resources of beauty that we can absorb through our senses, and he has always striven to catch fragments of it in his many works for the stage.”1 Jones’s essays and lectures speak of the value of poetic idealism, but he also articulates goals and the potential that he sees for the future of American theatre. He started to philosophically contemplate the ideal and potential of dramatic presentation early in his career and attempted to practically stage his vision for the theatre of the future in his 1921 production of Macbeth. Ultimately, after going into psychotherapy with Carl Jung, Jones came to more fully understand the practical mechanics of how to stage poetic idealism, and Robert Edmond Jones 27 he published those theoretical findings in The Dramatic Imagination. In order to decode and understand his vision as accurately as possible, it is important to read this seminal work within the context of Jones’s practical stage work, his other writing, and his significant outside influences. A 1952 audio recording of Jones transcribed and published by Delbert Unruh in 1992 called “The Theatre of the Future” is of primary interest in this paper. In his lecture circuit, Jones elaborated on a comment printed in The Dramatic Imagination in which he blamed blandly realistic design on society’s fascination with photography. He claimed that fixation on naturalism would ultimately cause audiences to abandon theatre for motion pictures. Nevertheless, he firmly believed theatre would reawaken when it eventually integrated some of the advantages of motion pictures: “The new drama will display not only action but the thoughts which prompts the action—not only the deed but the emotion behind the deed. . . . Objective experience will be interpreted by flesh-andblood actors appearing on a stage which will resemble, more or less closely, the realistic stage we are familiar with today. But above and behind, and around this stage a motion picture screen will be erected. And on it are thrown the shadow selves of the characters of the drama—living and moving as our thoughts and emotion live and move.”2 This study explores Jones’s frustration with realism and his efforts to more clearly realize, articulate, and actualize his vision of the theatre of the future. While Jones spoke and wrote about the practical application of poetic idealism, he ultimately came to view it as a therapeutic way to dramatize a psychological concept that he felt drove and united all of humanity. Psychologist Carl Jung’s notion of the power of the collective unconscious and his belief in the potential of art to present and decode symbols as a means to unite our conscious and subconscious minds strongly informed Jones’s vision for the arts. After intensive, prolonged psychotherapy, Jones eventually came to believe that theatre’s larger purpose was to help humanity come to terms with the power of the collective unconscious. We argue that Jones viewed the materiality of the human body on stage as a metaphor for the conscious mind and the fluid potential...

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Additional Information

ISSN
2166-9937
Print ISSN
1065-4917
Pages
pp. 26-40
Launched on MUSE
2012-07-11
Open Access
No
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