About Modern Theatre In Context

Modern Theatre in Context: A Critical Chronology

Charles A. Carpenter and Christopher Innes


These two interlinked timelines supply a distinctive kind of reference source for students of drama and theatre: an authoritative chronology tracing and describing the development of modern dramatic literature and theory in Great Britain, Ireland, and the United States, beginning in 1865; and a parallel chronology presenting information on theatre in Canada. Its parts can be readily downloaded and printed out. It is a project in process, and will be supplemented and modified regularly. Suggestions for additions and emendations will be strongly welcomed, and it is hoped that the material will initiate commentary and discussion.

Tracking relationships between the dramatic works and theories in the three most influential English-speaking countries makes it possible to explore the effects of cross-fertilization in each theatrical center — and this record of major events provides context for Canadian developments. The chronology also lists noteworthy European plays when they were first performed or published, and gives news headlines for each decade, as well as offering more in-depth contextual material.

>Many statements by playwrights are included, and a few by critics and other literary figures. Ranging from theoretical pronouncements on modern drama (often focusing on their own work) to their opinions of other dramatists, plays, theatre groups, and the theatrical climate, these should prove illuminating for anyone tracing relationships from year to year or examining individual playwrights in the context of their time.

The U.K.-Irish-U.S. timeline focuses on dramatic literature rather than popular theatre, and is primarily concerned with what has been defined as “the new drama“: modern realistic drama, the theatre of ideas, or the drama of social significance being other terms that are sometimes used to refer to specific types of the new drama. Except in special cases (such as the Provincetown Players’ first bill at the Wharf Theater in Provincetown, which included O’Neill’s Bound East for Cardiff), first performances of plays are rarely noted if they were not held in London, Dublin, and New York. Even so, the wealth of material is such that it has been recorded on a month-to-month basis (although some designations of month are necessarily close approximations), not just the year as in most chronologies. Within each month, entries are listed roughly in order of significance or “seniority,” the latter depending on the stage of competing dramatists’ careers.

The Canadian timeline is intended to complement the Canadian Theatre Record, to which the whole Chronology is linked. It therefore presents more overview material, and is organized more thematically, with entries that may cover a whole movement or the career of a playwright or performer. These are recorded in the year where they had most significance, or when the major work was performed. (Thus a public initiative such as the Canada Council, is listed in the year of its founding, while the protest theatre of the 1930s is listed under the year when Eight Men Speak was staged.) It also runs from 1865, although particularly in the period before the 1960s the most important events in the development of theatre in Canada were generally not associated with “the new drama“, and its focus is therefore less literary. It is also intended that this timeline will be available in French as well as English.

This asymmetrical treatment is designed to mirror the essential differences between the development of theatre in a bi-lingual, geographically extended and relatively new nation like Canada, and way it developed in metropolitan theatrical centers. Even so, the ability to make comparisons between the two timelines should be illuminating from both perspectives.

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