Project Overview

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

Faculty Sponsor

Mary Simonson (


Film and Media Studies


Staging Cinema is a book project that examines the centrality of live performance and new audio recording and broadcasting technologies to 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. Taken together, these experiments expand our narratives of the silent era, shedding new light on contemporary debates about technology, perception, and sensation. They also enable us to reimagine film’s transition to sound not as a rapid technological conversion managed by studio executives, but as an ongoing exploration of liveness, mediation, and the concept of the “audio-visual” by a diverse group of exhibitors, performers and filmmakers, as well as the American public. 

Student researchers will be responsible for using specialized digital archives to conduct research on specific topics, summarizing findings, and cataloguing content (images, citations) in databases and citation systems. 


Student Qualifications

Must have strong proficiency working with the Media History Digital Library (Lantern) and/or other digital collections, and good familiarity with film history and film studies methodologies (FMST minor preferred). Position requires excellent organization and attention to detail.

Number of Student Researchers

2 students

Project Length

8 weeks weeks

Applications open on 01/05/2018 and close on 02/05/2018

<< Back to List

If you have questions, please contact Karyn Belanger (