Festivals & Events

Message from Steven Schipper, Artistic Director of Royal MTC

By now, you all know that Henrik Ibsen was the father of modern drama. But what was so modern about his drama? At a time when commercial theatre tended towards the frivolous, Ibsen wrote serious plays about ideas. At a time when women had few rights, he allowed his heroines to take shocking liberties to escape their social and domestic confines. At a time when sexuality was not discussed in polite company, he wrote so frankly about syphilis that Winnipeg critics condemned the play as obscene. (Our forefathers immediately snapped up tickets for Ghosts, only to be disappointed by the preponderance of clothing in the production.)

But perhaps Ibsen’s greatest innovation was the realistic style of his plays. He wrote about people he knew, scouring their psyches for motivation and dramatic momentum, and he never let them forget that no one can live outside of society. (Ibsen did try, though, leaving Norway for Sorrento, Italy, where he lived for 27 years.) He wanted to dramatize the truth, and to present it with a natural rather than theatrical style of acting.

His revolutionary quest for honesty on stage inspired Stanislavski, who inspired Stella Adler, who inspired Marlon Brando, another iconoclast. You may think the two men look nothing alike: Ibsen with his wire-rimmed glasses and runaway sideburns, and Brando with that pouty lower lip and tight, white t-shirt. Look closer at photographs of the two men, though, and you’ll see a startling similarity. Their eyes could set the world on fire. And maybe that is what ushers in each new incarnation of the modern: an incendiary mind sparking a world that has become tinder-dry, and ready for rebirth.