“For a stage set to be original, striking, and authentic,” he wrote, “it should be built in accordance with something seen — whether a landscape or an interior.” Antoine often turned that “accordance” into actuality: he put real books in bookcases, put real flowers in stage gardens, and, for a scene set in a butcher shop, hung real sides of beef from hooks.
Antoine worked in the theater until around 1914, then switched to film. Others, like Zola and Strindberg, take credit for the innovations, but modern theater owes a great debt to Antoine: as a director and an advocate of realistic designs and acting.
“Naturalism” was a fairly short-lived literary movement, based in part on Darwin’s theories of evolution, that took an objective, scientific approach to art (in this sense, “naturalistic acting” is a misnomer). Stage realism, as championed by Andre Antoine, has held sway for over a hundred years. In fact, 20th Century theater engaged in an ongoing attempt to demolish what has become, in many eyes, an eroded practice. In his preface to The Glass Menagerie, Tennessee Williams wrote, “The straight realistic play with its genuine Frigidaire and authentic ice-cubes” had become “exhausted” and that the photographic approach to art had burdened the stage with deadening “realistic conventions.”
Williams made that complaint 61 years ago.