Project Overview

Staging Cinema: Performance, Vocality, and Liveness in 1920s Cinema

Faculty Sponsor

Mary Simonson (


Film and Media Studies


This project focuses on the role of voice and vocality, live performance, and new audio recording and broadcasting technologies in silent film presentation and the experiences of American filmgoers from 1916-1926. Long before the American film industry began to produce “talkies” in the late 1920s, filmmakers, entrepreneurs, and particular exhibitors were exploring ways to use both live performance and new technologies to make voices talk and sing. This book examines the wide range of voices that were “present” in cinema in the 1920s: voices represented visibly, audible voices that accompanied films, voices sharing space on film programs, voices of audiences as they were made audible, and the various voices that were transmitted—or leaked—from inside the movie theater to beyond its confines, via amplification, radio, and telephone devices. This project includes a focus on several local central New York theaters that showed films at this time, including the Waterville Opera House and the Earlville Opera House. Student researchers will primarily be conducting archival research, using both digital archives and local history archives on campus and in nearby communities to identify specific cinematic experiments, common exhibition practices, and specific films and performances from the period.

Student Qualifications

Students should be interested in film and media history and methodologies. FMST majors and minors preferred. This position requires excellent organization and attention to detail, a willingness to work extensively with digital archival materials, and a willingness to work in consultation with local librarians and archivists with physical archival materials.

Number of Student Researchers

3 students

Project Length

8 weeks

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If you have questions, please contact Karyn Belanger (