Theatre In Film Series: Cinema’s Love Affair with the Stage

Written by Ashleigh Gardner

August 1, 2018

From the theatrical sets of Viaje a la Luna (A Trip to the Moon) to the big-budget CGI effects in the Avengers series, the world has been obsessed with film. But film wouldn’t be where it is today without the efforts of playwrights, directors, actors, and designers from the stage — the origin of acting, drama, and storytelling for the masses.

I’m a theatre geek at heart, but my personal love affair with cinema began when I watched Charlie Kaufman’s Being John Malkovich for the first time. This love affair continued throughout my post-grad years when I studied contemporary character-centric cinema alongside Victorian literature and gender studies. My interests led me to the films of Wes Anderson, Orson Welles, Sofia Coppola, David Fincher, P.T. Anderson, Kubrick, Tarantino, Scorsese, Hitchcock, Lynch, and so many others. I love theatre; I adore film. And so “Theatre in Film” became a passion project that showcases a different movie every entry — movies that celebrate, document, and reveal the stories theatre artists experience behind the scenes. In each entry, I provide the director, the cast list, a synopsis, and a breakdown of the film’s theatrical, cultural, and symbolic meanings. These articles can be used in theatre or film classes or for extra credit assignments. There are roughly five films per unit, and each unit focuses on a different aspect of theatre, ranging from theme to character style to technical achievements. Take a look. I’m sure you’ll find something you identify with.

Ashleigh Gardner
Performer Stuff Editor

Part 1: Behind-the-Scenes Drama in Black and White

Classic Hollywood films that display theatre and the backstage and home lives of actors, directors, writers, and dancers who inhabit the stage. (Pictured above is Limelight from 1952.)

Part 2: Comedy and Drama in Full Color

The latter years of Classic Hollywood Cinema when Technicolor was new and movie musicals, filled with rich color and vibrant acting, lifted off the screen. With a transition into Part 3 with John Cassavetes’ film Opening Night. (Pictured above is The Producers from 1967.)

Part 3: The Struggle of the Theatre Artist

Private struggles of the theatre professional, from directors and choreographers to actors and dancers, informally introduced from John Cassavetes’ Opening Night from Part 2.  (Pictured above is A Chorus Line from 1985.)

Part 4: Backstage Drama in the Contemporary Theatre

Interpersonal relationships within theatre — the love, the complications, and the comedy that inevitably occur when actors, directors, playwrights, and technicians share the same space for extended periods of time. (Pictured above is Noises Off! from 1992.)

Part 5: Ethics, Gender, and Politics in Theatre

Cinema from 1995 to 1999 that feature social, moral, ethical, and political issues within the theatre.  (Pictured above is Cradle Will Rock from 1999.)

Part 6: Internal Conflict

Films from 2003 to 2008 that feature characters overcoming internal and very personal struggles to find their happiness in a life of theatre. (Pictured above is Me and Orson Welles from 2008.)

Part 7: The Gamut

Films with biting humor, fantastical plots, and theatre family values. (Pictured above is Don’t Think Twice from 2016.)

Part 8: Personal Struggles Meet Professional Obligations

Films that showcase the absurdity of a life in the theatre: backstage accidents, drama queens, and ridiculously comedic catastrophes. (Pictured above is Birdman from 2014.)

Ashleigh Gardner received her M.A. in Literary, Cultural, and Textual Studies (with concentrations in Contemporary Film, Psychoanalytic Theory, and Gender Studies) and her B.A. in English Literature (with concentrations in Early American Literature, Victorian & Gothic Literature, and Feminisms), both from the University of Central Florida. She is a playwright, a Shakespearean trained actor, a dramaturge, and a photographer.