Among those traits required to move humanity toward a sustainable community will be those divergent thinkers who have the courage to be innovators. Harley Granville-Barker (1877-1946) was such a person in the world of the theatre. That art form was transformed by his intuitive insights into what would make what happened on stage more realistic.
He began his career as an actor on the London Stage and soon became a playwright and director as well. “He invented the idea of the modern director who shapes every aspect of the production.” He then went on to change the style of acting from the stilted, melodramatic delivery of the lines to a more natural manner of both speaking and movement. “Instead of declaiming and posing, he adopted a naturalistic style.”
Next, he focused on the overall quality of play production. “Granville-Barker did away with the ‘star’ system of acting and instead concentrated on excellence in the entire ensemble.” Then he turned to what we would today call artistic direction and the overall staging of the play. “[He] steered clear of elaborate, historically correct scenery and opted instead for curtains, symbolic patterns and shapes on stage. He extended the stage of the Savoy over the footlights and onto the first few rows of the stalls; thus, his actors could play on the open stage and connect more closely with the audience.”
“As a playwright Granville-Barker experimented with form, dialogue and ideas.” Without going into detail here it becomes obvious that this one man transformed the world of English and in turn Western drama. Along with Shaw and Ibsen, his contemporaries in the theatre, his influence was profound. He was, single handedly able to produce a paradigm shift in the art of the theatre and provided all of us today with a model for what is required to make profound changes in human behavior. Who will be the next divergent thinker in the world of the theatre?
References and notes are available for this essay.
Find a much more in-depth discussion on this blog and in printed books by Roy Charles Henry.