Project Overview

Staging Cinema: Performance, Liveness, and the Transition to Sound

Faculty Sponsor

Mary Simonson (


Film and Media Studies


This project focuses on the role of live performance and new audio recording and broadcasting technologies in silent film presentation and the experience of American filmgoers from 1916-1926. Long before the American film industry’s “transition to sound” in the late 1920s, filmmakers, entrepreneurs, and particularly exhibitors were exploring ways to use both live performance and new technologies to make film “sound”: stage prologues with music, dance, and dialogue that were developed to introduce and create “atmosphere” for feature films; the practice of interrupting films with “interludes” in which live actors would enact moments from the film’s diegesis onstage; the staging of musical performances by “invisible” musicians using automated musical instruments like Ampico pianos; and live radio broadcasts of narrated film programs from cinemas, among others. The student researcher will use digital archival materials, other primary source documents, and secondary literature in order to both catalogue instances of these experiments and identifying trends, common practices, and period discourses.

Student Qualifications

Student should be familiar with film history and film studies methodologies (FMST majors or minor preferred). Requires excellent organization and attention to detail, strong writing skills, and a willingness to work extensively with archival materials.

Number of Student Researchers

2 students

Project Length

8 weeks weeks

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If you have questions, please contact Karyn Belanger (