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Title: Une étude générique du metteur en scène au théâtre : son émergence et son rôle moderne et contemporain
Author: Alix, Christophe
ISNI:       0000 0004 2711 3902
Awarding Body: Aston University
Current Institution: Aston University
Date of Award: 2008
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The theatre director (metteur en scene in French) is a relatively new figure in theatre practice. It was not until the I820s that the term 'mise en scene' gained currency. The term 'director' was not in general use until the I880s. The emergence and the role of the director has been considered from a variety of perspectives, either through the history of theatre (Allevy, Jomaron, Sarrazac, Viala, Biet and Triau); the history of directing (Chinoy and Cole, Boll, Veinstein, Roubine); semiotic approaches to directing (Whitmore, Miller, Pavis); the semiotics of performance (De Marinis); generic approaches to the mise en scene (Thomasseau, Banu); post-dramatic approaches to theatre (Lehmann); approaches to performance process and the specifics of rehearsal methodology (Bradby and Williams, Giannachi and Luckhurst, Picon-Vallin, Styan). What the scholarly literature has not done so far is to map the parameters necessarily involved in the directing process, and to incorporate an analysis of the emergence of the theatre director during the modem period and consider its impact on contemporary performance practice. Directing relates primarily to the making of the performance guided by a director, a single figure charged with the authority to make binding artistic decisions. Each director may have her/his own personal approaches to the process of preparation prior to a show. This is exemplified, for example, by the variety of terms now used to describe the role and function of directing, from producer, to facilitator or outside eye. However, it is essential at the outset to make two observations, each of which contributes to a justification for a generic analysis (as opposed to a genetic approach). Firstly, a director does not work alone, and cooperation with others is involved at all stages of the process. Secondly, beyond individual variation, the role of the director remains twofold. The first is to guide the actors (meneur de jeu, directeur d'acteurs, coach); the second is to make a visual representation in the performance space (set designer, stage designer, costume designer, lighting designer, scenographe). The increasing place of scenography has brought contemporary theatre directors such as Wilson, Castellucci, Fabre to produce performances where the performance space becomes a semiotic dimension that displaces the primacy of the text. The play is not, therefore, the sole artistic vehicle for directing. This definition of directing obviously calls for a definition of what the making of the performance might be. The thesis defines the making of the performance as the activity of bringing a social event, by at least one performer, providing visual and/or textual meaning in a performance space. This definition enables us to evaluate four consistent parameters throughout theatre history: first, the social aspect associated to the performance event; second, the devising process which may be based on visual and/or textual elements; third, the presence of at least one performer in the show; fourth, the performance space (which is not simply related to the theatre stage). Although the thesis focuses primarily on theatre practice, such definition blurs the boundaries between theatre and other collaborative artistic disciplines (cinema, opera, music and dance). These parameters illustrate the possibility to undertake a generic analysis of directing, and resonate with the historical, political and artistic dimensions considered. Such a generic perspective on the role of the director addresses three significant questions: an historical question: how/why has the director emerged?; a sociopolitical question: how/why was the director a catalyst for the politicisation of theatre, and subsequently contributed to the rise of State-funded theatre policy?; and an artistic one: how/why the director has changed theatre practice and theory in the twentieth-century? Directing for the theatre as an artistic activity is a historically situated phenomenon. It would seem only natural from a contemporary perspective to associate the activity of directing to the function of the director. This is relativised, however, by the question of how the performance was produced before the modern period. The thesis demonstrates that the rise of the director is a progressive and historical phenomenon (Dort) rather than a mere invention (Viala, Sarrazac). A chronological analysis of the making of the performance throughout theatre history is the most useful way to open the study. In order to understand the emergence of the director, the research methodology assesses the interconnection of the four parameters above throughout four main periods of theatre history: the beginning of the Renaissance (meneur de jeu), the classical age (actor-manager and stage designer-manager), the modern period (director) and the contemporary period (director-facilitator, performer). This allows us properly to appraise the progressive emergence of the director, as well as to make an analysis of her/his modern and contemporary role. The first chapter argues that the physical separation between the performance space and its audience, which appeared in the early fifteenth-century, has been a crucial feature in the scenographic, aesthetic, political and social organisation of the performance. At the end of the Middle Ages, French farces which raised socio-political issues (see Bakhtin) made a clear division on a single outdoor stage (treteau) between the actors and the spectators, while religious plays (drame fiturgique, mystere) were mostly performed on various outdoor and opened multispaces. As long as the performance was liturgical or religious, and therefore confined within an acceptable framework, it was allowed. At the time, the French ecclesiastical and civil authorities tried, on several occasions, to prohibit staged performances. As a result, practitioners developed non-official indoor spaces, the Theatre de fa Trinite (1398) being the first French indoor theatre recognized by scholars. This self-exclusion from the open public space involved breaking the accepted rules by practitioners (e.g. Les Confreres de fa Passion), in terms of themes but also through individual input into a secular performance rather than the repetition of commonly known religious canvases. These developments heralded the authorised theatres that began to emerge from the mid-sixteenth century, which in some cases were subsidised in their construction. The construction of authorised indoor theatres associated with the development of printing led to a considerable increase in the production of dramatic texts for the stage. Profoundly affecting the reception of the dramatic text by the audience, the distance between the stage and the auditorium accompanied the changing relationship between practitioners and spectators. This distance gave rise to a major development of the role of the actor and of the stage designer. The second chapter looks at the significance of both the actor and set designer in the devising process of the performance from the sixteenth-century to the end of the nineteenth-century. The actor underwent an important shift in function in this period from the delivery of an unwritten text that is learned in the medieval oral tradition to a structured improvisation produced by the commedia dell 'arte. In this new form of theatre, a chef de troupe or an experienced actor shaped the story, but the text existed only through the improvisation of the actors. The preparation of those performances was, moreover, centred on acting technique and the individual skills of the actor. From this point, there is clear evidence that acting began to be the subject of a number of studies in the mid-sixteenth-century, and more significantly in the seventeenth-century, in Italy and France. This is revealed through the implementation of a system of notes written by the playwright to the actors (stage directions) in a range of plays (Gerard de Vivier, Comedie de la Fidelite Nuptiale, 1577). The thesis also focuses on Leoni de' Sommi (Quatro dialoghi, 1556 or 1565) who wrote about actors' techniques and introduced the meneur de jeu in Italy. The actor-manager (meneur de jeu), a professional actor, who scholars have compared to the director (see Strihan), trained the actors. Nothing, however, indicates that the actor-manager was directing the visual representation of the text in the performance space.
Supervisor: Not available Sponsor: Not available
Qualification Name: Thesis (Ph.D.) Qualification Level: Doctoral
Keywords: French studies