About this Programme

The early twentieth century was a period of radical reinvention and modernisation for the theatre. The Swedish writer August Strindberg spoke for many when he declared that “theatre, like religion, is about to be discarded as a dying form of art”, and needed to be saved from obsolescence. Newspapers printed heated opinions about what form this revitalisation might take, while playwrights and directors staged plays that tried to capture the essence of modern living.

Using interviews, recordings, and documentary material, Staging Modernity will explore the role of sound (and silence) in this self-conscious modernisation. Theatre is usually thought of as a visual medium, but the music and noises of the turn of the century stage were vital to their conception and execution. The twentieth century theatre was awash with sound — as well as the actors’ voices, audiences would have heard music newly composed to accompany the dramas, and various sound effects that exploited new technologies such as the telephone, phonograph, and microphone. Both the audible and inaudible tell illuminating stories about the anxieties of early twentieth century society, both shaping and reflecting a rapidly changing world. This programme offers a glimpse into this hidden theatrical world; a world that created the sounds of modernity.

This programme is authored by Leah Broad, a doctoral researcher in Musicology, University of Oxford and co-produced with The Arts & Culture Unit.

It will be broadcast as part of the second series of Modulations: Broadcasting Research in the Arts, Humanities and Social Sciences, on Resonance 104.4fm.