Monday, December 21, 2020

Tableau Vivant: From Parlor Game to The ‘Gram


n a typical year at Clermont, December would’ve seen us doing our traditional Tableau Vivant event. But, as we’ve heard so many times, 2020 is no typical year. So instead, let’s take a little look at where Tableau Vivant comes from.

As may be apparent, the term “Tableau Vivant” is French. The words literally mean “Living Picture” and they refer to a game that was popularized in 18th and 19th Centuries. Way back before televisions and Nintendo 64s, after-dinner entertainment consisted of parlor games. Perhaps you’d play Blind Man’s Bluff – a sort of blindfolded version of Marco Polo. Or maybe it would be The Minister’s Cat – a word game where you use each letter of the alphabet to describe the titular feline.

Or just possibly it would fall upon you and your friends to create tableaus for the other guests to correctly identify. Teams would position themselves in recreations of famous works of art or scenes of historical significance. You may arrange yourselves according to da Vinci’s The Last Supper or recreate

the assassination of Julius Caesar. Once in position, you would have to hold your pose until the tableau was identified. Essentially this game serves as a static version of charades. No miming, but much more attention to detail. Oftentimes, the team creating the tableau would do so behind a sheet or curtain, painstakingly getting into position before they were revealed.

Tableau Vivant was a complex parlor game that may easily have fallen behind other more active games in terms of popularity. But this tradition is far from dead. Setting aside Clermont, where we revel in and hold fast to all things historical, Tableau Vivant can be seen in pop culture over and over again.

For example, both Gilmore Girls and Arrested Development feature episodes where characters take part in a Festival of Living Pictures. We see Lorelei Gilmore place herself in “Dance at Bougival” by Pierre-Auguste Renoir and George Michael Bluth as Adam in Michelangelo’s “The Creation of Adam”. Or if you aren’t a fan of either show, you might prefer another modern interpretation of Tableau Vivant known as the Mannequin Challenge.

In November of 2016, a viral trend went around where people would freeze in whatever pose they were in and hold it while being filmed. Usually the same song would play over every video. People tried to hold complicated poses, recreate funny scenes, or just get as many folks as possible to stay still in one long panoramic film. The trend became so popular that celebrities such as Paul McCartney, Taylor Swift, and even former first lady, Michelle Obama participated. Entire

sports teams posted videos in their locker rooms or on planes, totally frozen. Tableau Vivant literally became a viral video trend, over 250 years after it was first popularized.

Which brings us to 2020. Again, a year like no other. A year where Clermont had no tableaus but again, the trend showed its face to a modern audience. When folks were first in quarantine around March and April, they were desperate for ways to entertain themselves. And old ways are sometimes the best ways. Using items found in their homes, people began to recreate famous pieces of art – sound familiar? Museums shared the recreations to their Instagrams, the tableaus became more ambitious, and this 18th Century pastime provided
entertainment for many, many people.

So, there you have it, our Tableau Vivant may have had to be a throwback post on our Facebook this year (Check it out here)but we can rest easily knowing that this parlor game will probably never go out of style.

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