Lecture: Realistic movement: Narrator: Listen to part of a lecture in a theater class. Professor: So, last class we talked about the realistic movement in theater history. Today, we'll be talking about an offshoot of realism, but first let's review what we've said about realism. Katy? Katy: Realism. Well, it started around the late 1800s. These playwrights wanted to present the world as it really was, not idealized. So realist plays were generally about ordinary, everyday people in their lives, not like clear-cut heroes and villains. Professor: Good. Now, the movement we're looking at today, naturalism, took these ideas further to make plays even more true to life. One thing that set it apart was that naturalist authors were influenced by scientific methods in their goal of achieving greater accuracy. They tried to be objective about their character like a scientist observing a species under a microscope. And rather than given the characters the conventional traits of a hero or villain or presenting them as victims of fate, naturalists create a character with more complex traits and motives and who are influenced by only the forces of heredity and environment. The greatest representative of realism was the French writer Emile Zola. Zola wrote some influential naturalist novels but he also proposed a theory of naturalist theater. He was greatly influenced by a science book that appeared in 1865. This book emphasized the importance of experimentation to scientific progress; in particular, the importance to scientific research in understanding the effects of the environment on the human body. These ideas made an impression. In 1881, Zola wrote an essay, An Experimental Novel, in which he said the task of a writer was similar to that of a scientist or a doctor. A writer should be objective like a scientist and design novels like well, experiments in that the characters are put in especially designed environments so the writer can record what happens when characters interact with their environment and each other. And just as a doctor might look at the patient's environment to help find a cure for a medical problem, Zola saw the role of the writer as exposing the problems of society in order to find a cure for social ills. Student: But his essay was about novels. Did Zola think his ideas applied to plays, too? Professor: Yes. And he translated his ideas into theater. He was critical of theatrical conventions of his day; for example, an almost formulaic development of plot where the story moves from conflict to crisis to resolution. Zola argued that real life doesn't obey such clear cut storylines. It isn't a neatly packaged story. Rather it's an accumulation of haphazard events. Zola believed instead of telling a conventional story with clearly defined beginning, middle, and conclusion, a play should present something more faithful to real experience. Student: Sounds like what you do with nonfiction. You know, like with the newspaper article or a documentary film. Professor: It does, doesn't it? And no surprise really, for a movement growing out of realism. Zola had a name for it, slice of life theater. Ordinary, believable characters placed in real life situation who interact in a plausible manner. By advocating this approach, Zola wanted to provide a new kind of theater, theater that explores socially relevant issues and educate audience rather than merely entertaining them. And since life is often not rosy, it follows that these plays rarely ended happily, which is another feature naturalism, this darker, gloomier view of life. The problem arose when Zola tried to put his principles into practice. When he turned one of his own novels into a play, the result was well, not very successful. Since he compressed the entire plot of a lengthy novel to fit about two hours performance time, Zola had to cut out so many details and accelerate the pace of the story to the point that it seems exaggerated, full of unbelievable coincidences. So while Zola successfully created a realistic environment and characters, the play itself didn't live up to his naturalist principles. Student: Did his other plays have more success? Professor: Not really. They all contained the same problem. Kind of ironic, isn't it? That the preeminent naturalist novelist couldn't produce a single successful play of that genre. Student: Were any naturalist plays successful? Professor: Yes, but there's another irony. The most successful naturlist play, by successful I mean plays that captured what the naturalist movement is about, they were written by a playwright who didn't even consider himself a naturalist, Henry Becque. Becque's play, The Vultures, captures many of Zola's ideas. It's the story of an average family that suffered a crisis for which there's no forewarning. There's no real hero. There's no neat conclusion at the end and the overall effect is pessimistic.