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Ibsen on Theatre and the Art of Acting

Friday, October 17, 2014 -
2:15pm to 5:00pm
Radcliffe Humanities, Radcliffe Observatory Quarter, Woodstock Road, Oxford
Seminar Room

Speakers: Julie Holledge and Frode Helland


When Ibsen first made his appearance within the public sphere in Norway, he did so not only through the early attempts at writing dramas, but above all as critic and theorist. Looking at his early writings in newspapers and journals it is astonishing to see the almost exclusively focus on theatre and dramatic literature. 

In the first half of our presentation, we will consider Ibsen’s writings on different dramatic genres as expressed within contemporary performances.  The focus will be on Ibsen’s early views on theatre and the practical aspects of production, but our emphasis will be on the links between these writings and the on-going debates about nationalism, a national theatre, political relevance, and realism within the theatre.

In the second half of our presentation we will pull together fragments from Ibsen’s letters, speeches, and prefaces to build up a picture of his views on acting. One of his most quoted statements comes from a letter about the rehearsal of Ghosts in which Ibsen advises August Lindberg that ‘the play’s effect is dependent to a large degree that the audience members think they sit and listen to and watch something which is happening out there in real life’. But how did actors achieve an effect of ‘real life’ on the stages of the large state theatres in late nineteenth century Europe?  The Royal Theatre of Copenhagen, where A Doll’s House premiered, has an auditorium with four balconies and a total of 1,600 seats. To reach the audience at the back of the stalls, Ibsen’s actors had to convey the illusion of real life in the Helmer household over a distance of one and half cricket pitches.  Using A Doll’s House as a case study, we will argue that Ibsen solved the technical difficulties faced by his actors by writing into his play a score of interactive gestures, movements, and tableaux.  When these separate elements are viewed as a single physical text, a highly complex structure emerges which reveals Ibsen’s skills, not only as a dramatist, but also as a choreographer conveying meaning subliminally through the body.

Contact name: 
Kirsten Shepherd-Barr
Open to all