Dropped the proposed Chamber Work
name, since it was misunderstood and other tropers seemed to have a hard time grasping it.
four rational people conversing.
—Johann Wolfgang von Goethe
A work characterised by intimacy between performers and audience, simplicity, a small number of largely co-equal performers, and on requiring little in the form of effects, locale, or crew. It has elements of Minimalism
, but the Rule of Drama
always comes first. Within music, when first used consciously it became known as chamber music
, and in theatre as chamber plays
Put another way, this is putting minimal distance between the work, the performers, and the audience, and placing a premium of interaction between the performers. This also means that the setting is very demanding for the performers—in a very real sense their performance is
Note that this trope relates to both the work
(the script, the score etc.) and to the performance
(how the work is expressed to the audience). If a work is written to be performed this way, it can still be set up in a big scene, though the performance won't be a chamber play (or chamber music) anymore. Some plays share many of the outer trappings of a chamber plays but were not written as such and are usually performed on big scenes. The opposite can also happen, but will require a lot more work and adaptation. A lot of amateur theatre functions that way.
The trope was first defined in music, as chamber music
, meant to be performed by a few musicians (eg a string quartet) in a single (palace) chamber for a small audience. As such, it goes back at least to the 16th century, though early works were often written to be performed both in a chamber or in an orchestral setting. In 1906 Max Reinhardt borrowed the term when he founded the scene Kammerspiele
in Berlin as an annex to the Deutsches Teater
, and his ideas here were inspired by August Strindberg, who then was the first to call his own plays chamber plays
in Swedish). There was also a short-lived tradition of chamber movies
in Germany in the 1920s and 1930s.
Compare Bottle Episode
(a good such can be indistinguishable from a chamber play) and Minimalist Cast
. The Minimalist Cast
is often a consequence of writing a Bottle Episode
or a chamber play.
- The short story Aftermaths by Lois McMaster Bujold is set on a spaceship with a crew of two, collecting four corpses as part of a war burial assignment.
- Carroll O'Connor's iconic character Archie Bunker from All in the Family routinely conducted his thirty minutes of barbarians-at-the-gate sitcom from his favorite living room chair. The interior of his house at 704 Hauser Street in Queens was often the only set used.
- Most performances of The Honeymooners set solely in the Kramdens' apartment on Chauncey Street. In fact, one set piece was a kitchen sink, which makes The Honeymooners an early Kitchen Sink Drama as well.
- The parts of the Star Trek: The Next Generation episode Darmok that are set planet-side with only Picard and Dathon (the episode as a whole doesn't qualify, though, but it's the planet-side scenes with Picard and Darmok which are memorable).
- The Homicide: Life on the Street episode Three Men and Adena is almost entirely set in the interrogation room with two cops interrogating the suspect.
- August Strindberg acted as the Trope Codifier of the type in theatre. Miss Julie is an early example, but he later consciously worked with the form in a series of five plays, of which The Ghost Sonata is the most famous.