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Tableaux Vivants

Tableau vivant (plural: tableaux vivants) is French for “living picture.” The term describes a striking group of suitably costumed actors or artist’s models, carefully posed and often theatrically lit. Throughout the duration of the display, the people shown do not speak or move. The phrase and the practice probably began in medieval liturgical dramas such as the Golden Mass, where on special occasions a Mass was punctuated by short dramatic scenes and tableaux. They were a major feature of festivities for royal weddings, coronations and Royal entries into cities. Often the actors imitated statues, much in the way of modern street entertainers, but in larger groups, mounted on elaborate temporary stands along the path of the main procession.* Parlor Tableaux were a particular kind of social entertainment that reached its prime in the 19th century. Consisting of people, usually wealthy guests at a party, dressing up and posing as a painting or etching of their choice, they play pivotal roles in several novels of the day, including Jane Eyre and The House of Mirth. Piquant and lustrous, it more or less died out as a result of the boom of the entertainment business in the 20th century, and the birth of cinematography.** Tableaux Vivants evolved from educational and artistic performances to parlour games and charades and then, during the Victorian era, they took a darker turn with the introduction of “poses plastiques”– scantily clad actresses recreating famous statues. The following instructions for playing Tableaux Vivants are from Cassell’s Book of

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