Theatrical realism was a general movement in 19th-century theatre from the time period of 1870-1960 that developed a set of dramatic and theatrical conventions with the aim of bringing a greater fidelity of real life to texts and performances. Part of a broader artistic movement, it shared many stylistic choices with naturalism, including a focus on everyday (middle-class) drama, ordinary speech, and ordinary settings. Realism and naturalism diverge chiefly on the degree of choice that characters have: while naturalism believes in the overall strength of external forces over internal decisions, realism asserts the power of the individual to choose (see A Doll's House).
Russia's first professional playwright, Aleksey Pisemsky, and Leo Tolstoy (The Power of Darkness (1886)), began a tradition of psychological realism in Russia which differed from the use of Naturalism later establishment by the Moscow Art Theatre and it's founders, Constantin Stanislavski and Vladimir Nemirovich-Danchenko. The main difference being that in the Realism of writers like Ibsen, is that something happens, it follows the rules of The Well-Made Play, while Naturalism is simply characters living on stage which is most present in Chekhov's Uncle Vanya and The Cherry Orchard, where the characters could attempt to save the orchard, but instead they do nothing. The Moscow Art Theatre's ground-breaking productions of these plays by Anton Chekhov in turn influenced Maxim Gorky and Mikhail Bulgakov. Stanislavski went on to develop his 'system', a form of actor training that is particularly suited to psychological realism.
19th-century realism is closely connected to the development of modern drama, which, as Martin Harrison explains, "is usually said to have begun in the early 1870s" with the "middle-period" work of the Norwegian dramatist Henrik Ibsen. Ibsen's realistic drama in prose has been "enormously influential."
In opera, verismo refers to a post-Romantic Italian tradition that sought to incorporate the naturalism of Émile Zola and Henrik Ibsen. It included realistic – sometimes sordid or violent – depictions of contemporary everyday life, especially the life of the lower classes.
- Brockett and Hildy (2003, 370, 372) and Benedetti (2005, 100) and (1999, 14-17).
- Harrison (1998, 160).
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- ---. 2005. The Art of the Actor: The Essential History of Acting, From Classical Times to the Present Day. London: Methuen. ISBN 0-413-77336-1.
- Brockett, Oscar G. and Franklin J. Hildy. 2003. History of the Theatre. Ninth edition, International edition. Boston: Allyn and Bacon. ISBN 0-205-41050-2.
- Harrison, Martin. 1998. The Language of Theatre. London: Routledge. ISBN 0-87830-087-2.