Gordon Craig


by Pericles Lewis

The English actor and set designer Gordon Craig (1872-1966), along with the Swiss theorist Adolphe Appia, created methods for implementing Richard Wagner’s vision of the “total work of art” in the theater. Craig introduced some of the stylization typical of Appia into the English-speaking world in the first decade of the twentieth century. Some of his most interesting theories concerned the status of the actor in theatrical productions. Like the anti-theatricalists, Craig was highly suspicious of actors, but his objection was the opposite of that later voiced by Bertolt Brecht. Whereas Brecht would fear that actors created too successful an illusion, Craig complained that, by virtue of their being human, actors constantly undermined the illusion of theatrical art. He wanted to replace actors with Übermarionetten, super-puppets, who would form part of the abstract composition of the theatrical piece. He wrote, “Do away with the actor and you do away with the means by which a debased stage-realism is produced and flourishes. No longer would there be a living figure to confuse us into connecting actuality and art; no longer a living figure in which the weaknesses and tremors of the flesh were perceptible.”[1] Partly under the influence of Wagner and Craig, the later nineteenth century saw the rise of the director, who replaced the earlier model of an actor-manager, and who was given power over every aspect of production. Not limited to “theatricalism,” the rise of the director affected all forms of modern drama, including the naturalistic theater (Stanislavsky) and the epic theater (Brecht).[2]

  1. ↑ “The Actor and the Über-Marionette,” (1908), in Gordon Craig, On Movement and Dance, ed. Arnold Rood (London: Dance Books, 1978), p. 50.
  2. ↑ This page has been adapted from Pericles Lewis’s Cambridge Introduction to Modernism (Cambridge UP, 2007), p. 196.