From The Art and Popular Culture Encyclopedia
Realism in the theatre was a general movement in the later 19th century that steered theatrical texts and performances toward greater fidelity to real life. The realist movement rejected the complex and artificial plotting of the well-made play and instead present a theatrical verisimilitude that would more objectively portray life as recognizable to the audience.
This is accomplished through realistic settings and natural speech which give form to the general philosophy of naturalism (roughly, the view that man's life is shaped entirely by his social and physical environment). However, the style of realism soon came to distinguish itself from Naturalism as a style that was heightened reality. Realism maintained the strength of such elements of drama as tension and focus, while maintaining an audiences direct connection and relation to the situation and characters. They were a reflection of themselves.
Realism was a general movement in 19th-century theatre that steered theatrical texts and performances toward greater fidelity to real life, including Naturalism in France, Verismo in Italy, and similar movements.
Realism began earlier in the 19th century in Russia than elsewhere in Europe and took a more uncompromising form. Beginning with the plays of Ivan Turgenev (who used "domestic detail to reveal inner turmoil"), Aleksandr Ostrovsky, Aleksey Pisemsky (whose A Bitter Fate (1859) anticipated Naturalism), and Leo Tolstoy (whose The Power of Darkness (1886) is "one of the most effective of naturalistic plays"), a tradition of psychological realism in Russia culminated with the establishment of the Moscow Art Theatre by Constantin Stanislavski and Vladimir Nemirovich-Danchenko. Their ground-breaking productions of the plays of Anton Chekhov in turn influenced Maxim Gorky and Mikhail Bulgakov. Stanislavski went on to develop his 'system', a form of actor training that is particularly suited to psychological realism
19th-century realism is closely connected to the development of modern drama, which, as Martin Harrison explains, "is usually said to have begun in the early 1870s" with the "middle-period" work of the Norwegian dramatist Henrik Ibsen. Ibsen's realistic drama in prose has been "enormously influential."
Anton Chekhov and Maksim Gorky in Russia. Constantin Stanislavski and his Moscow Art Theatre. Together with Vladimir Nemirovich-Danchenko the two pioneered a break away from the highly stylised and unrealistic theatre styles (e.g. Melodrama) prevailing in the late 19th and early 20th centuries.
The realist dramatist Thomas William Robertson in Britain
Eugene O'Neill, in the United States of America