Not quite half a year after Edison's introduction of projected motion pictures to the American public in 1896, North American Review writer George Parsons Lathrop wondered whether the stage would be revolutionized by filmed scenery. Theatrical entrepreneurs and effects inventors quickly explored the multimedia potential of the new medium, enlarging the scenic scope of the stage and bringing to the theatre a spatial freedom that in some cases transcended the limits of traditional stagecraft, for instance by simulating movement in depth. Prominent Broadway producers featured filmed scenery effects in popular productions for several decades. As projection technology has improved—most recently with digital techniques—designers repeatedly have envisioned a stagecraft of screens and moving images, but practitioners and historians are largely unaware of the origins of this perpetually innovative scenic approach. In this article, Gwendolyn Waltz examines the early history of filmed scenery.
Purporting to depict an entire four-act stage play, Why Girls Leave Home, a six-minute Edison film made in America for the British market, dates either from 1909 or 1912. This film parodies the clichés of the Melville brothers' "bad-girl" melodrama, thus inviting study of Melvillian melodrama as a pervasive, if lurid, English theatrical genre, and similarly inviting investigation of the tactics of theatrical parody. The action of Why Girls Leave Home is described. The terms "girl" and "home" are analyzed in the contexts of turn-of-the-century Britain, where these words attained significance in relating to recently emancipated women, to work, to marital choices, and, adversely, to the inevitable consternation and social backlash that female independence brought. Melvillian melodrama is seen as a significant part of this widespread backlash. "Bad-girl melodrama" is also contrasted with "girl" musical comedy, especially girl-musicals presented at London's Gaiety Theatre that toured widely throughout Britain, the Empire, and North America. The Melvilles, theatrically successful, placed some of their stage dramas on early film. Parody, explicit in Why Girls Leave Home, creates a simulacrum of Melvillian drama in order to ridicule melodramatic plotting, inept and heartless gesticulatory stage acting, excessive reliance on stage machinery for sensational effects, and the propensity of such machinery to malfunction at critical moments of performance.
During the first decade of the twentieth century, "up-to-date magic" was a theatrical and cinematic phenomenon that entertained audiences around the world. This article traces an integrated history of stage and screen that connects the styles of magic performed in turn-of-the-century vaudeville and music-hall theatres to the modes of cinematic illusion seen in contemporaneous trick films. Attention is paid to the work of Georges Méliès and Gaston Velle—French magicians who became prolific early filmmakers—to exhibition contexts where live illusions were seen alongside trick films, and to the divide that opened between conjuring and cinema as a result of differing attitudes toward the importance of mystery and secrecy.
In this article, Julia Walker challenges the current critical consensus among film scholars that the expressionist style of the German silent-film classic The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari bears no relation to its seemingly conventional romantic narrative. She begins by offering an allegorical reading of the film, showing how the well-established Freudian model of self that is figured in the Caligari / Cesare dyad is set in conflict with an older, moral-philosophical model of self represented by the trio of friends, Francis, Jane, and Alan. In Walker's reading, the narrative conflict between these two models of self encodes a fear of Freudian "depth psychology" that is figured visually in the shallow, painted perspective of the film's expressionist design. But what is more, Walker argues, the expressionist acting also functions to encode this narrative conflict insofar as it draws upon the Delsarte method that, itself, was based upon a moral-philosophical model of self that is strained to its limits. As she shows, the recurring motif of grasping hands stylistically figures the narrative quest for self-possession—a quest that the Freudian model holds to be impossible.
"Tramping" is a performative style indebted to the techniques of camp and "trash," but is ultimately distinct from and irreducible to either practice. Like camp, tramping is a form of queer parody; and like self-conscious "trash," it complicates the idea of bad taste. Tramp performance articulates itself in the negotiation of three paradoxes: degraded elevation, constrained freedom, and deceitful truth-telling. This article analyzes the tramp sensibility as expressed in a few recent off-off-Broadway plays, most notably the comedy Showgirls. The Best Movie Ever Made. Ever! and suggests further areas of critical inquiry in the investigation of this complex aesthetic.
Jennifer Parker-Starbuck's essay develops the theoretical concept of "becoming-animate," a triangulation among concepts of human, animal, and technology, which has the potential to draw attention to possible affiliations among the three terms. Developing Haraway's cyborg, Parker-Starbuck's own cyborg theatre, and Deleuze and Guattari's "becoming-animal" through moments of pause and hiatus inspired by Giorgio Agamben's idea of the "anthropological machine," the "becoming-animate" emerges as a provocative site for new alliances, especially ones that re-situate contemporary issues of animality. Cathy Weis's multimedia piece "Painting and Stripping" provides a theatrical example of work that blurs the questions of the boundaries among the three elements to foreground the ethical space of performance as the necessary staging ground of this questioning.