Wednesday, 9 March 2016

Fragment Toward Bourgeois Theatre Number 1: Carlson on 'Minor Theatres and the End of Romanticism'

In his chapter on The Age of Romanticism, Marvin Carlson describes the architectural changes around the 'boulevard theatres'. These theatres were the poor relations of the state-supported institutions, usually populist and featuring long programmes that had a bit of everything on the bill. Connected to the carnival's informal performances, they struggled to capture the official approval that has made the national theatres the focus of critical attention.

After the revolution of 1789, Carlson observes that the surrounding area of the boulevard theatres had an atmosphere of 'the carnival', until Charles X got rid of the fair booths and 'rough paving was smoothed, wooden barriers were erected... marquees offered protection from the rain, the humble dwellings... had been replaced by elegant town houses and cafes' (pg 103). This set of improvements are recognisable in contemporary terms as gentrification, such as in the recent attempts in Glasgow to make The Merchant City a more upmarket destination.

Inside the theatres, the audience might have mixed and matched social classes, but the old 'pit' (audience members who stood on the ground floor and joined in with the performance) was increasingly replaced by the claque. While the pit tended to whistle if the actors weren't up to scratch, or laugh at bits that accidentally referenced contemporary events, the claque was employed by the theatre to big up the play. It's a bit like press nights at certain theatres in Scotland, when the critics are hemmed in by members of the cast's family.

Even in  the brief period of the Romantic blossoming in French theatre, the boulevard was putting on the dram, plays about bourgeois concerns with a level of 'realism' or 'naturalism'. Plots abour domestic life came into fashion and, when Antony Beraud became the director of one boulevard venue, the Ambigu, attention was paid to the accurate detail of the set. (pg 105).

Gautier comments: 'we bourgeois of 1840 have rather lazier

He was talking about the need for sumptuous sets, but given the move towards more familiar stories and situations, his complaint could be leveled at the bourgeois inability to empathise with themes and concerns from worlds other than their own.

Random on image (from Wikipedia): Plans of the Ambigu-Comique (left) and the Théâtre de Nicolet (Théâtre de la Gaîté (boulevard du Temple), right), on the boulevard du Temple.

The Ambigu-Comique and the Gaîté had a smaller number of boxes for privileged clientele than other Parisian theatres. These were separated by only half partitions that were more steeply angled toward the stage. 

The boxes usually found at the rear of a theatre were replaced with galleries of benches which seated more people. These arrangements provided more patrons with a better view of the stage, rather than a view of the other members of the audience.

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