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David Garrick
Online Exhibition

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Influence on Acting and the Theater

R. Evan Sly. Garrick and Hogarth, or the Artist Puzzled. Hand-colored lithograph, 1845.

Garrick revolutionized the acting style of a nation, manipulated audience expectation, and gave theatergoers energy, engagement, and exuberance in both comic and tragic roles.  Earlier styles of acting, emphasizing oration rather than movement, looked ponderous and anachronistic beside Garrick’s more natural and lively representation of human emotion. The young man who had to overcome the social stigma of being a “mere player” changed theater forever.

Burnim and Donohue both discuss Garrick as a forerunner of the Romantic movement because Garrick breathed life and complexity into his characters in ways that appeared startlingly new and more natural than anything that had come before. But his apparent spontaneity on stage was never spontaneous; rather, it was the product of lengthy and meticulous preparation. A student of his art, Garrick spent months preparing his roles, striving for individual interpretation in the smallest role, a quality he insisted on for himself and his fellow actors at Drury Lane. In readings and in rehearsal he showed his actors how to do a role, even women’s parts, but insisted they find their own interpretation.

Garrick’s innovations at Drury Lane were long lasting.  He banished preening audience members from the stage and restricted their admission to the green room, giving actors a degree of privacy.  He attempted to abolish the custom of half-price admission after the third act because of the disruption the latecomers often created.  After returning from Paris in 1765, he darkened the house and introduced new stage lighting, with further advances in 1771 under Philippe-Jacques de Loutherbourg (1740–1812).  Garrick’s career inspired a respect for acting and actors that was new to 18th-century theater.

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  Related Items

Paper toy: To see the paper toy shown here in action, go to Thirty Different Likenesses.


Acting style: jump directly to Acting Style in the online exhibition for more.


Garrick's innovations: jump directly to the Entrepreneur in the online exhibition for more.

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