BONUS MATERIALS: The Ladies of the Camellias
Welcome to the Bonus Materials section for the Colony's latest
production, The Ladies of the Camellias!
To help you enjoy the rich
background of the play, the Colony has compiled some historical
information and trivia. Enjoy!
Bernhardt and Duse,
Black and White
Political Climate of the Play
La Dame aux Camélia and
Bernhardt and Duse,
Black and White
Many of the characters in The Ladies
of the Camellias had real-life counterparts, but none as
noteworthy as the title characters, Sarah Bernhardt and Eleonora Duse.
Superstars before the aid of television or even radio, these two
actresses were known worldwide by both their legendary talents, and
Though they shared similar fame and stature, in many ways they could
not have been more different. Bernhardt's well-known quirks, including
keeping exotic pets and sleeping in a coffin, were widely reported by
the newspapers of the day. Her publicity tactics extended into her
work, as she took her traveling company on world-wide tours to locales
as exotic as South America and Africa. Duse, on the other hand,
reportedly abhorred the media, though she is also rumored to have
solicited critics privately with personal correspondence.
The two actresses also differed in their approaches to performance.
As the last great 19th century actress, Bernhardt's style was much more
lyrical, often focusing on specific poses and her beautiful voice. She
was a clear example of a focused, dedicated performer of the time
period. In contrast to this, Duse was much more matter-of-fact. She
used empathy for her characters and a naturalistic manner which
foreshadowed the modern style of acting that would become prevalent in
the 20th century. In fact, the renowned 20th century acting teacher
Konstantin Stanislavski was said to have often evoked Duse's style as
something his students should strive for.
Regardless of the differences between Bernhardt and Duse, both
represent a legendary time in the history of the theatre. The Ladies of
the Camellias brings a little bit of that time back to audiences, to
enjoy and rediscover in modern times.
For more information on Sarah Bernhardt, look at her Wikipedia
Encyclopedia entry (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sarah_Bernhardt) For
more information on Eleonora Duse, look at
her GLBTQ Encyclopedia entry (http://www.glbtq.com/arts/duse_e.html).
Political Climate of
Anarchism, a political ideology which plays a part in The Ladies of the Camellias, is a
philosophy which calls for the elimination of the state, thereby
freeing the people from all controls. As a fashionable political
philosophy, anarchism lasted from the mid 19th century until about the
1920's. Its followers were often painted as bomb-throwing militants,
but more often advocated non-violent resistance as a means to overthrow
During the late 19th century, the political unrest in France was
still raging, and anarchism was arguably at its highest point. The
effects of both the Revolution of 1848 and the Franco-Prussian War
(1870-71) were still being felt by many aspects of France, political
and otherwise. Members of the anarchist movement were very active
throughout Europe during this period, most often working toward what
they saw as the benefit of the working class. While there were many
instances of anarchists trying to provoke change through political
violence such as bombings and assassinations, many of their peers
considered such acts to be counter-productive to their cause. The
increased number of these types of violent acts in the last twenty
years of the 19th century worried many leaders, but ultimately, being
anarchists, they were too disorganized to cause any type of revolution.
La Dame aux
Camélias and Related Works
The titular play within The Ladies
of the Camellias is actually a real play, and the character of
Alexandre Dumas, fils was indeed a real author. Dumas' 1848 novel, La Dame aux Camélias (in
English, The Lady of the Camellias), is the story of a Paris courtesan
who falls in love with a young man, leaves him so his ambitions are not
affected by her reputation, and eventually, near death, learns that he
still loves her. While Dumas was inspired by themes of other literature
of the time, he also based the story on his own experiences with Marie
Duplessis, a well-known Paris courtesan of the time. It was adapted to
the stage by the author in 1852, and quickly became an audience
favorite. In the late 1800's, both Bernhardt and Duse became famous for
the title role, hence the clever wordplay of the title: The Ladies of
Of course, this is not the only story related to The Lady of the Camellias. Dumas
himself was influenced greatly by the themes present in La Boheme, the
famous story/play/opera. Dumas' novel was not only adapted to the
stage, but also to the opera as La
Traviata. La Dame aux Camélias was re-titled Camille in
America and adapted to the screen in 1936, featuring Greta Garbo in one
of her most celebrated roles. In recent times, both the musical Rent
and the motion picture Moulin Rouge
have appropriated the themes of the
story, to great critical success.
Duse and Bernhardt have also had additional dramatic pieces created
about their relationship. Duet, by Otho Eskin, imagines a meeting
between Bernhardt, already deceased, and Duse, one month prior to her
death. For 2005, DreamWorks Pictures is planning a film titled The
Rivals, which focuses on the rivalry between the two actresses.
The Ladies of the Camellias contains
numerous references to theatre history and superstitions that help to
create the rich atmosphere of the production. Here are some relevant
facts that you might not have known.
- A long held theatre superstition is that uttering the name "Macbeth"
inside the theatre will bring about incredibly bad luck. Instead, the
generally used replacement is "The Scottish Play."
- George Bernard Shaw (in the play, "that
frightful Irishman"), was
known to prefer Duse's work over Bernhardt's. He even wrote a review
comparing them when both actresses played a specific role at the same
time in London. The review was much more favorable to Duse's production.
- The original actress to play the title role of The Lady of the
Camellias was an actress named Eugenie Doche, and was described
bringing a very realistic performance to the role.
- The concept of the theatrical director had not come about until the
late 19th century. Until that time, plays were generally staged by
either the lead actor or the playwright. Among the first directors were
the Duke of Saxe-Meiningen in Germany, Charles Kean in England, Andre
Antoine in France, and Konstantin Stanislavski in Russia. This also
helped shift the focus from one star to the ensemble, something
Stanislavski in particular encouraged.
- Benoit Constant Coquelin was a great star of the French stage, almost
as famous as Bernhardt and Duse. The role of Cyrano de Bergerac was
originally written for him, and he played it for nearly a thousand
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