Goethe-Schiller Monument, Weimar, Germany
In the small town of Weimar in 1798, Johann von Goethe and Friedrich Schiller formed a famous partnership to create a new kind of theatre. Schiller became the theatre's leading playwright, writing Mary Stuart for the state theatre there in 1800, while Goethe assumed the position of Artistic Dictator/Director, taking complete charge of the actors and production. Both men wanted to create a theatre that would function as a moral institution, furthering the perfection of human culture. Goethe developed a series of rules for actor movement, which were written down and assembled by two of his actors. They were intended to effect a graceful series of elevated stage pictures, which the audience could contemplate at a distance from behind the proscenium arch. Since Goethe attended to Mary Stuart's first production I was eager to see what the Master had prescribed. Here's an example from Goethe's long list of rules:
#35 First of all, the player must consider that he should not only imitate nature but also portray it ideally, thereby, in his presentation, uniting the true with the beautiful.
To this end we have engaged a beautiful cast, capable of acting truthfully. You'll see. Here's another rule:
#41. It is an important point that when two are acting together, the speaker should always move upstage, while the one who has stopped speaking should move slightly downstage. If this advantageous shifting is carried out with skill--and through practice it can be done with great ease--then the best effect is achieved for the eye as well as for the intelligibility of the declamation. An actor who masters this will produce a very beautiful effect when acting with others who are equally trained.
In fact, though we are playing in a thrust rather than a proscenium space, there is a lot of diagonal movement in our production, and we have found that indeed this produces "a beautiful effect."
#45 To be avoided: the newfangled fashion of hiding one's hand behind the lapel of the coat.
We have corrected this new fangled fashion altogether.
#48. The two middle fingers should always stay together; the thumb, the index and little finger should be somewhat bent. In this manner the hand is in its proper position and ready for movement.
We're still working on this one.
#67. The actor, especially the one who has to play lovers and light parts, should keep a pair of slippers on stage in which to rehearse, and he will soon notice the good results.
All our lovers wear slippers now. The results are wonderful.
#82. The stage and the auditorium, the actors and the spectators, together represent the theatrical entity.
So it is, and especially in our wonderfully intimate space, where actors and audiences really are in the room together--and in our staging, both actors and audiences are really in the same room, the same prison.
#83. The stage is to be regarded as a figureless tableau for which the actor supplies the figure.
We aren't working behind a picture frame, so tableaus are less frequent on our stage. But Russell Parkman's beautiful bare floor and austere set do serve as the space for actors to supply the figures, and what figures they are too!
I'm not sure Goethe would entirely endorse our production of Mary Stuart, which offers a rougher, less idealized version of play than was staged in Weimar. But slippers and index fingers aside, it's worth noting that some of Goethe's aesthetic survives in our production, mounted two hundred years later and in another country.