Portal:Theatre/Selected biography

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Selected biographies list[edit]

Portal:Theatre/Selected biography/1

Anton Chekhov. Painting by Osip Braz

Anton Chekhov was a Russian physician, short story writer, and playwright. His brief playwriting career produced four classics of the repertoire, while his best short stories are held in high esteem by writers and critics. Chekhov practised as a doctor throughout his literary career: "Medicine is my lawful wife," he once said, "and literature is my mistress". Chekhov renounced the theatre after the disastrous reception of The Seagull in 1896; but the play was revived to acclaim by Konstantin Stanislavski's Moscow Art Theatre, which subsequently also produced Uncle Vanya and premiered Chekhov’s last two plays, The Three Sisters and The Cherry Orchard. These four works present a special challenge to an acting ensemble, and they also challenge audiences, because in place of conventional action Chekhov offers a "theatre of mood" and a "submerged life in the text". Not everyone appreciated that challenge: Leo Tolstoy reportedly told Chekhov, "You know, I cannot abide Shakespeare, but your plays are even worse". Tolstoy did, however, admire Chekhov's short stories. Chekhov had at first written stories only for the money, but as his artistic ambition grew, he made formal innovations which have influenced the evolution of the modern short story. His originality consists in an early use of the stream-of-consciousness technique, later exploited by Virginia Woolf and other modernists, combined with a disavowal of the moral finality of traditional story structure.

...Archive/Nominations

Portal:Theatre/Selected biography/2

Colley Cibber

Colley Cibber was an English actor-manager, playwright, and Poet Laureate. His colorful Apology for the Life of Colley Cibber (1740) started a British tradition of personal, anecdotal, and even rambling autobiography. He wrote some plays for performance by his own company at the Theatre Royal, Drury Lane, and adapted many more from various sources, receiving frequent criticism for "miserable mutilation" of dramatists like Shakespeare and Molière. He regarded himself as first and foremost an actor and had great popular success in comical fop parts. Cibber's brash, extroverted personality did not sit well with his contemporaries, and he was frequently accused of tasteless theatrical productions, social and political opportunism, and shady business methods. He rose to herostratic fame when he became the chief target, the head Dunce, of Alexander Pope's satirical poem The Dunciad. Cibber's importance in British theatre history rests on his being the first in a long line of actor-managers, and on the value of his autobiography as a source for our knowledge of the 18th-century London stage.

...Archive/Nominations

Portal:Theatre/Selected biography/3

John Millington Synge

John Millington Synge was an Irish dramatist, poet, prose writer, and collector of folklore. He was a key figure in the Irish Literary Revival and was one of the cofounders of the Abbey Theatre. He is best known for the play The Playboy of the Western World, which caused riots in Dublin during its opening run at the Abbey. Although he came from a middle-class Protestant background, Synge's writings are mainly concerned with the world of the Roman Catholic peasants of rural Ireland and with what he saw as the essential paganism of their world view. Synge suffered from Hodgkin's disease, a form of cancer that was untreatable at the time. He died just weeks short of his 38th birthday and was at the time trying to complete his last play Deirdre of the Sorrows.

...Archive/Nominations

Portal:Theatre/Selected biography/4

W. S. Gilbert

W. S. Gilbert was an English dramatist, librettist and illustrator best known for his fourteen comic operas produced in collaboration with the composer Sir Arthur Sullivan. Gilbert's most popular collaborations with Sullivan, including H.M.S. Pinafore, The Pirates of Penzance, and The Mikado (one of the most frequently performed works in the history of musical theatre) and most of their other Savoy operas continue to be performed regularly today throughout the English-speaking world and beyond by opera companies, repertory companies, schools and community theatre groups. Lines from these works have permanently entered the English language, including "short, sharp shock", "What never? Well, hardly ever!", and "let the punishment fit the crime". Gilbert also wrote the Bab Ballads, an extensive collection of light verse accompanied by his own comical drawings. His creative output included over 75 plays and libretti, numerous stories, poems, lyrics and various other comic and serious pieces. His plays and realistic style of stage direction inspired other dramatists, including Oscar Wilde and George Bernard Shaw.

...Archive/Nominations

Portal:Theatre/Selected biography/5

Augusta, Lady Gregory

Isabella Augusta, Lady Gregory (1852 - 1932), née Isabella Augusta Persse, was an Irish dramatist and folklorist. With William Butler Yeats and others, she co-founded the Irish Literary Theatre and the Abbey Theatre, and wrote numerous short works for both companies. Lady Gregory produced a number of books of retellings of stories taken from Irish mythology. Born into a class that identified closely with British rule, her conversion to cultural nationalism, as evidenced by her writings, was emblematic of many of the changes to occur in Ireland during her lifetime. Lady Gregory is mainly remembered for her work behind Irish Literary Revival. Her home at Coole Park, County Galway served as an important meeting place for leading Revival figures, and her early work as a member of the board of the Abbey was at least as important for the theatre's development as her creative writings. Lady Gregory's motto was taken from Aristotle: "To think like a wise man, but to express oneself like the common people."

...Archive/Nominations

Portal:Theatre/Selected biography/6

John Vanbrugh in Godfrey Kneller's Kit-cat portrait

Sir John Vanbrugh was an English architect and dramatist, best known as the designer of Blenheim Palace. He wrote two argumentative and outspoken Restoration comedies, The Relapse (1696) and The Provoked Wife (1697), which have become enduring stage favourites but originally occasioned much controversy. Vanbrugh was in many senses a radical throughout his life. As a young man and a committed Whig, he was part of the scheme to overthrow James II, put William III on the throne and protect English parliamentary democracy, dangerous undertakings which landed him in the dreaded Bastille of Paris as a political prisoner. In his career as a playwright, he offended many sections of Restoration and 18th-century society, not only by the sexual explicitness of his plays, but by their messages in defence of women's rights in marriage. His architectural work was as bold and daring as his early political activism and his marriage-themed plays, and jarred conservative opinions on the subject.

...Archive/Nominations

Portal:Theatre/Selected biography/7

Tomb of Beckett at Cimetière de Montparnasse

Samuel Barclay Beckett (1906 - 1989) was an Irish writer, dramatist and poet. Beckett's work is stark and fundamentally minimalist. As a student, assistant, and friend of James Joyce, Beckett is considered by many one of the last modernists; as an inspiration to many later writers, he is sometimes considered one of the first postmodernists. He is also considered one of the key writers in what Martin Esslin called "Theatre of the Absurd". He was awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1969 "for his writing, which—in new forms for the novel and drama—in the destitution of modern man acquires its elevation". Beckett was elected Saoi of Aosdána in 1984. He died in Paris of respiratory problems.

...Archive/Nominations

Portal:Theatre/Selected biography/8

The Chandos portrait of William Shakespeare

William Shakespeare was an English poet and playwright, now widely regarded as the greatest writer of the English language and the world's pre-eminent dramatist. He is often called England's national poet and the "Bard of Avon". His surviving works consist of 38 plays, 154 sonnets, two long narrative poems, and several other poems. His plays have been translated into every major living language and are performed more often than those of any other playwright. Shakespeare produced most of his known work between 1590 and 1613. His early plays were mainly comedies and histories, genres he raised to the peak of sophistication and artistry by the end of the sixteenth century. Next he wrote mainly tragedies until 1608, producing plays, such as Hamlet, King Lear, and Macbeth, considered some of the finest in the English language. In his last phase, he wrote tragicomedies and collaborated with other playwrights. Many of his plays were published in editions of varying quality and accuracy during his lifetime; and in 1623, two of his former theatrical colleagues published the First Folio, a collected edition of his dramatic works that included all but two of the plays now recognised as Shakespeare's. Shakespeare was a respected poet and playwright in his own day; but his reputation would not rise to its present heights until the nineteenth century.

...Archive/Nominations

Portal:Theatre/Selected biography/9

Vivien Leigh

Vivien Leigh was an English theatre and film actress. Although her film appearances were relatively few, she won two Academy Awards playing "Southern belles", Scarlett O'Hara in Gone with the Wind and Blanche DuBois in A Streetcar Named Desire, a role she had also played in London's West End. She was a prolific stage performer, frequently in collaboration with her husband, Laurence Olivier, who directed her in several of her roles. During her thirty-year stage career, she played parts that ranged from the heroines of Noël Coward and George Bernard Shaw comedies to classic Shakespearean characters such as Ophelia, Cleopatra, Juliet and Lady Macbeth. Lauded for her beauty, Leigh felt that it sometimes prevented her from being taken seriously as an actress, but ill health proved to be her greatest obstacle. Affected by bipolar disorder for most of her adult life, she gained a reputation for being difficult, and her career went through periods of decline. She was further weakened by recurrent bouts of tuberculosis, which was first diagnosed in the mid-1940s. She and Olivier divorced in 1960, and Leigh worked sporadically in film and theatre until her death from tuberculosis.

...Archive/Nominations

Portal:Theatre/Selected biography/10

Cillian Murphy in October 2005

Cillian Murphy is an Irish film and theatre actor active since 1996. He is often noted by critics for chameleonic performances in diverse roles, as well as for his distinctive blue eyes. A native of Cork, Murphy began his performing career as a rock musician. After turning down a record deal, he made his professional acting debut in the play Disco Pigs. He went on to star in a number of Irish and UK film and stage productions throughout the late 1990s and early 2000s, first coming to international attention in 2003 as the hero in the post-apocalyptic film 28 Days Later. Murphy's best known roles are as villains in two 2005 blockbusters: the Scarecrow in superhero film Batman Begins, and Jackson Rippner in the thriller Red Eye. Next came two contrasting, widely acclaimed starring roles: his Golden Globe Award-nominated performance as transgender outcast "Kitten" in 2005's Breakfast on Pluto and a turn as a 1920s Irish revolutionary in 2006 Palme d'Or winner The Wind That Shakes the Barley. 2007 saw Murphy on the London stage in Love Song and onscreen in science fiction film Sunshine. Uncomfortable on the celebrity circuit, he customarily gives interviews about his work, but does not appear on television talk shows or discuss details of his private life with the press.

...Archive/Nominations

Portal:Theatre/Selected biography/11

William Butler Yeats

William Butler Yeats was an Irish poet, dramatist, mystic and public figure. Yeats was one of the driving forces behind the Irish Literary Revival and was co-founder of the Abbey Theatre. His early work tended towards a romantic lushness and dreamlike quality best described by the title of his 1893 collection The Celtic Twilight, but in his forties, inspired by his relationships with modernist poets such as Ezra Pound and his active involvement in Irish nationalism, he moved towards a harder, more modern style. As well as his role as member of the board of the Abbey, Yeats served as an Irish Senator. He took his role as a public figure seriously and was a reasonably hard-working member of the Seanad. He was awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1923 for what the Nobel Committee described as "his always inspired poetry, which in a highly artistic form gives expression to the spirit of a whole nation".

...Archive/Nominations

Portal:Theatre/Selected biography/12
Bette Davis was a two-time Academy Award-winning American actress of film, television and theatre. Noted for her willingness to play unsympathetic characters, she was highly regarded for her performances in a range of film genres, from contemporary crime melodramas to historical and period films and occasional comedies, though her greatest successes were romantic dramas. Until the late 1940s, she was one of American cinema's most celebrated leading actresses, known for her forceful and intense style. Her forthright manner, clipped vocal style and ubiquitous cigarette contributed to a public persona which has often been imitated and satirized. Davis was the co-founder of the Hollywood Canteen, and was the first female president of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences. Her career went through several periods of decline, and she admitted that her success had often been at the expense of her personal relationships. Married four times, she was once widowed and thrice divorced, and raised her children as a single parent. Her final years were marred by a long period of ill health, however she continued acting until shortly before her death from breast cancer, with more than a hundred film, television and theater roles to her credit. In 1999, Davis was placed second, behind Katharine Hepburn, on the American Film Institute's list of the greatest female stars of all time.

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Portal:Theatre/Selected biography/13

Judy Garland

Judy Garland (1922–1969) was an American actress and singer. Through a career that spanned 45 of her 47 years, Garland attained international stardom as an actress in both musical and dramatic roles, as a recording artist and on the concert stage. Respected for her versatility, she won an Academy Award and a Golden Globe for her work in films, Grammy Awards and a Tony Award. After appearing in vaudeville with her sisters, Garland was signed to Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer as a teenager. There she made more than two dozen films, including nine with Mickey Rooney, and the film with which she would be most identified, The Wizard of Oz (1939). After 15 years, Garland was released from the studio but gained renewed success through record-breaking concert appearances, including a critically acclaimed Carnegie Hall concert, a well-regarded but short-lived television series and a return to film acting beginning with A Star Is Born (1954). Despite her professional triumphs, Garland battled personal problems throughout her life, and attempted suicide on a number of occasions. Garland died of an accidental drug overdose at the age of forty-seven, leaving children Liza Minnelli, Lorna Luft and Joey Luft. In 1999, the American Film Institute placed her among the ten greatest female stars in the history of American cinema.

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Portal:Theatre/Selected biography/14
Dmitri Shostakovich was a Russian composer of the Soviet period. He is best known for his satirical opera The Nose, (based on the story by Gogol) and his cycles of symphonies and string quartets, 15 of each. Since his death in 1975, reports about his true personal opinions about life in the USSR have been controversial. While he outwardly conformed with the state and was a public face for state-crafted propaganda, it is now widely known that he deeply disliked the Soviet regime —a view confirmed by his family, by private letters to Isaak Glikman, and the satirical cantata "Anti-formalist Rayok", which ridiculed the "anti-formalism" campaign in Soviet arts and was known only to his closest friends until after his death.

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