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drama theory vce drama
"Everything an actor does is based on the characters internal NEED. Nothing is divorced from the desire and the objective of the character".
BUILDING A CHARACTER:
"In building a character, an actor should be influenced by the author, by the director, by contact with the other performers, and by all the hints about the character that are found in the script. A character is a human being with his own thoughts, actions, appearance, mannerisms, experiences, habits, and so on. Though conceived by the author, the character must express the actor’s individual ideas, his emotions, his intuitions—analogous, of course, to those of the character. Only when the actors personality fuses with that of the character will he live the role.
Facing a new personality in every new play, an actor has the possibility of endless discovery." The quality of an actor’s performance depends not only upon the creation of the inner life of a role, but also upon the physical embodiment of it.... Spectators learn about the characters on the stage the way we learn about people in life—through their physical actions, which are dictated by their aims .... If an action helps to express the character, it is artistically right; if it does not, it is wrong. An action cannot be accidental or superfluous. The choice of actions must be guided bu the main idea of the play, and of the role...The role is ready when an actor knows concretely what the character does each moment on the stage and why he does it...If an actor wants the words to be his own, he must understand the reason for which the author gave them to eh character. A character’s lines will be alive if he needs them—i.e., if he has a purpose in saying them and makes others see his purpose. [ The Stanislavski System, The Professional Training of an Actor by Sonia Moore]
Emotion Memory: “relive the sensations” ( Actor 158); “Although our sense of smell, taste, and touch are useful, and even sometimes important, in our art, their role is merely auxiliary and for the purpose of influencing our emotion memory” ( Actor 160);
"When an actor is completely absorbed by some profoundly moving objective so that he throws his whole being passionately into its execution, he reaches a state we call inspiration."
IMAGINATION : "A playwright rarely describes the past or the future of his characters and often omits details of their present life. an actor must complete his character’s biography in his mind from beginning to end. . . If an actor does not fill in all these missing events and movements, the life he portrays will not be complete." Stanislavski called this missing material [what the playwright wrote between the lines] the
"Love art in yourself and not yourself in art."
"If you know your character's thoughts, the proper vocal and bodily expressions will naturally follow."
" All action on the stage must have an inner justification, be logical, coherent, and real ."
"Put life into the imagined circumstances and actions until you have completely satisfied your sense of truth and until you have awakened a sense of faith in the reality of your own sensations."
"The revolution thundered in and made its demands on us. There began a period of new explorations, of reappraisal of the old and the search for new ways. At a time when the new for the sake of the new and the negation of everything that had come before held sway in the theatre, we could not reject out of hand all that was fine in the past ... This link with the past and the eagerness to move to an unknown future, the searching quests of the new theatre - all this helped to keep us from succumbing to the dangerous 'charms' of formalism ... We did not succumb; instead we began our quest for new ways, cautiously but doggedly." - Stanislavski
" Let the wisdom of the old guide the buoyancy and vitality of the youth; let the buoyancy and vitality of the youth sustain the wisdom of the old." - Stanislavski
"Bring yourself to the part of taking hold of a role, as if it were your own life . Speak for your character in your own person . When you sense this real kinship to your part, your newly created being will become soul of your soul, flesh of your flesh."
SUB-TEXT . He wrote: : Spectators come to the theatre to hear the sub-text. They can read the text at home." [ The Stanislavski System, The Professional Training of an Actor by Sonia Moore]
THE MAGIC IF : The actor should approach the role of asking, "What would I do if I were this character in this particular situation?" He must find out all he can about the character and the situation.
"The program for our undertaking was revolutionary. We protested against the old manner of acting and against theatricality, against artificial pathos and declamation, and against affectation on the stage, and inferior conventional productions and decoration, against the star system which had been a bad affect on the cast, against the whole arrangement of plays and against the poor repertoire of the theatres." - Stanislavski
MANIFESTO IN A CLEAR LANGUAGE
by Antonin Artaud
If I believe neither in Evil nor in Good, if I feel such a strong inclination to destroy, if there is nothing in the order of principles to which I can reasonably accede, the underlying reason is in my flesh.
I destroy because for me everything that proceeds from reason is untrustworthy. I believe only in the evidence of what stirs my marrow, not in the evidence of what addresses itself to my reason. I have found levels in the realm of the nerve.
I now feel capable of evaluating the evidence. There is for me an evidence in the realm of pure flesh which has nothing to do with the evidence of reason. The eternal conflict between reason and the heart is decided in my very flesh, but in my flesh irrigated by nerves. In the realm of the affective imponderable, the image provided by my nerves takes the form of the highest intellectuality, which I refuse to strip of its quality of intellectuality. And so it is that I watch the formation of a concept which carries within it the actual fulguration of things, a concept which arrives upon me with a sound of creation. No image satisfies me unless it is at the same time Knowledge, unless it carries with it its substance as well as its lucidity. My mind, exhausted by discursive reason, wants to be caught up in the wheels of a new, an absolute gravitation. For me it is like a supreme reorganization in which only the laws of illogic participate, and in which there triumphs the discovery of a new Meaning. This Meaning which has been lost in the disorder of drugs and which presents the appearance of a profound intelligence to the contradictory phantasms of the sleep. This Meaning is a victory of the mind over itself, and although it is irreducible by reason, it exists, but only inside the mind. It is order, it is intelligence, it is the signification of chaos. But it does not accept this chaos as such, it interprets it, and because it interprets it, it loses it. It is the logic of illogic. And this is all one can say. My lucid unreason is not afraid of chaos.
I renounce nothing of that which is the Mind. I want only to transport my mind elsewhere with its laws and organs. I do not surrender myself to the sexual mechanism of the mind, but on the contrary within this mechanism I seek to isolate those discoveries which lucid reason does not provide. I surrender to the fever of dreams, but only in order to derive from them new laws. I seek multiplication, subtlety, the intellectual eye in delirium, not rash vaticination. There is a knife which I do not forget.
But it is a knife which is halfway into dreams, which I keep inside myself, which I do not allow to come to the frontier of the lucid senses.
That which belongs to the realm of the image is irreducible by reason and must remain within the image or be annihilated.
Nevertheless, there is a reason in images, there are images which are clearer in the world of image-filled vitality.
There is in the immediate teeming of the mind a multiform and dazzling insinuation of animals. This insensible and thinking dust is organized according to laws which it derives from within itself, outside the domain of clear reason or of thwarted consciousness or reason.
In the exalted realm of images, illusion properly speaking, or material error, does not exist, much less the illusion of knowledge: but this is all the more reason why the meaning of a new knowledge can and must descend into the reality of life.
The truth of life lies in the impulsiveness of matter. The mind of man has been poisoned by concepts. Do not ask him to be content, ask him only to be calm, to believe that he has found his place. But only the madman is really calm.
Surrealism is above all a state of mind, it does not advocate formulas. The most important point is to put oneself in the right frame of mind. No Surrealist is in the world, or thinks of himself in the present, or believes in the effectiveness of the mind as spur, the mind as guillotine, the mind as judge, the mind as doctor, and he resolutely hopes to be apart from the mind. The Surrealist has judged the mind. He has no feelings which are a part of himself, he does not recognize any thought as his own. His thought does not fashion for him a world to which he reasonably assents. He despairs of attaining his own mind .
It has not been definitively proved that the language of words is the best possible language. And it seems that on the stage, which is above all a space to fill and a place where something happens, the language of words may have to give way before a language of signs whose objective aspect is the one that has the most immediate impact on us. Considered in this light, the objective work of the mise en scnène assumes a kind of intellectual dignity from the effacement of words behind gestures and from the fact that the esthetic, plastic part of theater drops its role of decorative intermediary in order to become, in the proper sense of the word, a directly communicative language .
The Theater and its Double
, New York 1958, p. 107
Antonin Artaud was a theatre practitioner and poet that died, insane and in poverty in 1948. He coined the performance style “theatre of cruelty”. Even though he had a failed life his legacy changed the world of theatre, and left us with ways of seeing and communicating which enlarge our understanding of ourselves and others.
THEATRE OF CRUELTY
He viewed the world as desperate, sick and mad and believed it was in desperate need of change. Artaud’s pessimistic view of the world as being full of lies, aimlessness, meaningless and hypocrisy is based on the philosophy of Existentialism. Existentialist’s believe that human life is absolute meaningless, random and pointless. They think humans are machines that share no special purpose. The argument is that we are born with nothing, and die with nothing. Artaud saw a direct connection between the theatre and life. He thought of them as mirrors that reflected each other. To him, the world was in need of change, therefore so was theatre.
Artaud believed that movement, gestures and dance were more effective to communicate with an audience than words. His ‘visual poetry’ communicated feelings about human mysteries such as creation, growth and death in ways that words could not. He didn’t want to eliminate words altogether, however just use them when totally necessary and important.
ASSAULTING THE SENSES
He wanted the theatre of cruelty to hypnotise the audience, putting them into a trance like state, in which they could be shocked into confronting themselves, their way of life, and the meaning of all existence. He would ‘assault the senses’ using lights, music and sound.
CREATING A DREAM WORLD
Through the use of masks, objects and costumes, Artaud hoped to remove his audience from their everyday lives. He wanted no scenery in his theatre, just symbolic objects strangely distorted into nightmare and dreamlike shapes. Combined with the use of movement, lights and music these would affect the audience in ways dream would, working directly on the emotions and unconscious mind.
INVOLVING THE AUDIENCE
In Artaud’s theatre the audience would be placed in the centre with the action taking place all around them. The audience would feel part of everything that happened.
Artaud insisted that actors should be highly trained, and be able to use their voices and bodies with great skill. Unlike Brecht, he believed that all actors should be emotionally involved in their work and convinced of its truth.
His style of theatre was an attack on emotions and designed to shock the audience and totally involve them in the drama. He used violent and terrifying actions and images to change the way people perceived their world.
For the villainy of the world is great, and a man has to run his legs off to keep them from being stolen out fom underneath him.
Bertolt Brecht, The Threepenny Opera (1928), Act I Scene 3
The stage began to be instructive. Oil, inflation, social struggles, war, the family, religion, wheat, the meat market, all became subjects for theatrical representation. Choruses enlightened the spectator about facts unknown to him. Films showed a montage of events from all over the world. Projections added statistical material. And as the "background" came to the front of the stage, so people's activity was subjected to criticism. Right and wrong courses of action were shown. People were shown who knew what they were doing, and others who did not. The theater became an affair for philosophers, but only for such philosophers as wished not just to explain the world, but also to change it. So we had philosophy and we had instruction. . . .
The epic theater's spectator says: I'd never have thought it -- That's not the way -- That's extraordinary, hardly believable -- It's got to stop -- The sufferings of this man appall me, because they are unnecessary -- That's great art; nothing obvious in it -- I laugh when they weep, I weep when they laugh.
The dramatic theater's spectator says: Yes, I have felt like that too-- Just like me--It's only natural-- It'll never change--The sufferings of this man appall me, because they are inescapable--That's great art; it all seems the most obvious thing in the world--I weep when they weep, I laugh when they laugh.
The spectator was no longer in any way allowed to submit to an experience uncritically (and without practical consequences) by means of simple empathy with the characters in a play. The production took the subject matter and the incidents shown and put them through a process of alienation: the alienation that is necessary to all understanding. When something seems "the most obvious thing in the world" it means that any attempt to understand the world has been given up.
Dramatic Form of Theater
Epic Form of Theater
· the stage embodies an event
· the stage narrates an event
· draws the spectator into an event
· makes him an observer, but...
· consumes his capacity for action
· awakens his capacity for action
· allows him to have emotions
· demands decisions from him
· provides him with experience
· provides him with knowledge
· the spectator is drawn into the plot
· the spectator is placed opposite the plot
· suggestion is used
· arguments are used
· feelings are preserved
· feelings are propelled into perceptions
· man is assumed to be known
· man is the object of the inquiry
· man is unalterable
· man is alterable and altering
· suspense about the outcome
· suspense about the progress
· one scene exists for another
· each scene exists for itself
· linear development
· in curves
· the world as it is
· the world as it becomes
· what man ought to do
· what man is forced to do
· his instincts
· his motivations
· thinking determines being
· social being determines thinking
- Bertold Brecht was born in Germany and founded ‘Epic Theatre’. Brecht’s theatre grew out of the Expressionist movement in Germany between 1890 and 1920
- Brecht was involved in theatre, as a writer and director
- Brecht’s goal was to make his audiences ‘think’ – he set out to change people’s views of their world
- He used his theatre as a vehicle to show audiences what he thought was wrong with society, and to convince them to go out and change it
- His theatre became to be known as ‘Epic theatre’, as they were plays that told stories on a large scale. Stories that were typically historical and over a long period of time
- Brecht’s Epic’s were a form of propaganda that presented his personal political views
- He developed the notion of ‘alienation’. He wanted his audience to detach themselves from individual characters and instead focus on the overall message of the play.
- He wanted to take away from a character and event, all the things that would make them familiar to an audience (to alienate them). This way the audience could not become as emotionally involved with the characters and concentrate more on the issue
Production design (including costumes, sets, lighting and props) were minimal. He preferred to use single items as symbols.
- Single pieces of furniture to suggest whole locations
- Scenery changed in front of the audience, often by the actors, destroying the illusion
- Actors would often change characters, preventing the audience from getting attached to a certain actor/character
- Generally flooded the stage with bright, white light, regardless of season or time of day onstage
- Often an actor would narrate the story, otherwise, other forms of narration were used: images projected onto a screen, billboards, song
- Use of song was used an alienation effect – it reminded the audience that they were watching a play
- Songs commented on the action and summarized the message of the play
- The actors needed to be vocally strong
- They often will chant, sing, use mechanical and non-human sounds and speak in a range of dialects and accents
- The actor’s job was to demonstrate what happens in the story, but not to get too carried away with his/her role emotionally. He didn’t want the audience to believe they were watching a real event. At no point should the audience or actor identify with the character
Brechtian Acting Techniques – Rules of the Epic Theatre
- Perform with the awareness of being watched
- Separate voice from movement so that words and gestures do not connect
- Remain uninvolved with the other actors, physically or emotionally
- Deliberately act at specific groups in the audience
- Speak your lines as if they were a quotation or speech
- Occasionally speak stage directions out loud
- Be critical of the characters you are playing
- Change roles with other actor/characters regularly
- Use opposite styles of acting. Eg. Act a serious death scene in a comedic style
THEATRE OF THE ABSURD (Absurd Theatre)
Absurd Theatre was developed by some great playwrights like Samuel Beckett, Eugene Ionesco and Jean Genet. They all expressed similar strong and individual existentialist views of the world as a meaningless and threatening place to live in for human beings. The difference between ‘Cruel theatre’ and ‘Absurd theatre’ is the lack of visual poetry and minimal staging.
It is possibly the most difficult form of contemporary theatre to grasp. It is easily confusing and bizarre. Sometimes it can appear as though there is no actual plot or theme. The only common theme is the theme of emptiness and meaningless. As Samuel Beckett wrote in his greatest play “Waiting for Godot”…. “Nothing to be done”.
His plays are a despairing portrait of desperate human beings struggling to survive, or facing death, in a world that is pointless, lonely and hostile.
In his plays the characters struggle to control themselves and each other in a world that is chaotic and dangerous.
Ionesco’s plays are much funnier and less grim than Beckett’s work. However there is a much darker layer underneath the writing.
Statement of Principles - Jerzy Grotowski
The rhythm of life in modern civilization is characterized by pace, tension, a feeling of doom, the wish to hide our personal motives and the assumption of a variety of roles and masks in life (different ones with our family, at work, amongst friends or in community life, etc.-). We like to be "scientific", by which we mean discursive and cerebral, since this attitude is dictated by the course of civilization. But we also want to pay tribute to our biological selves, to what we might call physiological pleasures. We do not want to be restricted in this sphere. Therefore we play a double game of intellect and instinct, thought and emotion; we try to divide ourselves artificially into body and soul. When we try to liberate ourselves from it all we start to shout and stamp, we convulse to the rhythm of music. In our search for liberation we reach biological chaos. We suffer most from a lack of totality, throwing ourselves away, squandering ourselves.
Theatre - through the actor's technique, his art in which the living organism strives for higher motives - provides an opportunity for what could be called integration, the discarding of masks, the revealing of the real substance: a totality of physical and mental reactions. This opportunity must be treated in a disciplined manner, with a full awareness of the responsibilities it involves. Here we can see the theatre's therapeutic function for people in our present day civilization. It is true that the actor accomplishes this act, but he can only do so through an encounter with the spectator - intimately, visibly, not hiding behind a cameraman, wardrobe mistress, stage designer or make-up girl - in direct confrontation with him, and somehow " instead of" him. The actor's act - discarding half measures, revealing, opening up, emerging from himself as opposed to closing up - is an invitation to the spectator. This act could be compared to an act of the most deeply rooted, genuine love between two human beings - this is just a comparison since we can only refer to this "emergence from oneself" through analogy. This act, paradoxical and borderline, we call a total act. In our opinion it epitomizes the actor's deepest calling.
Why do we sacrifice so much energy to our art? Not in order to teach others but to learn with them what our existence, our organism, our personal and unrepeatable experience have to give us; to learn to break down the barriers which surround us and to free ourselves from the breaks which hold us back, from the lies about ourselves which we manufacture daily for ourselves and for others; to destroy the limitations caused by our ignorance and lack of courage; in short, to fill the emptiness in us: to fulfill ourselves. Art is neither a state of the soul (in the sense of some extraordinary, unpredictable moment of inspiration) nor a state of man (in the sense of a profession or social function). Art is a ripening, an evolution, an uplifting which enables us to emerge from darkness into a blaze of light.
We fight then to discover, to experience the truth about ourselves; to tear away the masks behind which we hide daily. We see theatre - especially in its palpable, carnal aspect - as a place of provocation, a challenge the actor sets himself and also, indirectly, other people. Theatre only has a meaning if it allows us to transcend our stereotyped vision, our conventional feelings and customs, our standards of judgment - not just for the sake of doing so, but so that we may experience what is real and, having already given up all daily escapes and pretenses, in a state of complete defenselessness unveil, give, discover ourselves. In this way - through shock, through the shudder which causes us to drop our dally masks and mannerisms - we are able, without hiding anything, to entrust ourselves to something we cannot name but in which live Eros and Charitas.
Art cannot be bound by the laws of common morality or any catechism. The actor, at least in part, is creator, model and creation rolled into one- He must not be shameless as that leads to exhibitionism. He must have courage, but not merely the courage to exhibit himself - a passive courage, we might say: the courage of the defenseless, the courage to reveal himself. Neither that which touches the interior sphere, nor the profound stripping bare of the self should be regarded as evil so long as in the process of preparation or in the completed work they produce an act of creation. If they do not come easily and if they are not signs of outburst but of mastership, then they are creative: they reveal and purify us while we transcend ourselves. Indeed, they improve us then.
For these reasons every aspect of an actor's work dealing with intimate matters should be protected from incidental remarks, indiscretions, nonchalance, idle comments and jokes. The personal realm - both spiritual and physical - must not be "swamped" by triviality, the sordidness of life and lack of tact towards oneself and others; at least not in the place of work or anywhere connected with it. This postulate sounds like an abstract moral order. It is not. It involves the very essence of the actor's calling. This calling is realized through carnality. The actor must not Illustrate but accomplish an "act of the soul" by means of his own organism. Thus he is faced with two extreme alternatives: he can either sell, dishonour, his real "incarnate" self, making himself an object of artistic prostitution; or he can give himself, sanctify his real "incarnate" self.
An actor can only be guided and inspired by someone who is whole-hearted in his creative activity. The producer, while guiding and inspiring the actor, must at the same time allow himself to be guided and inspired by him- it is a question of freedom, partnership, and this does not imply a lack of discipline but a respect for the autonomy of others. Respect for the actor's autonomy does not mean lawlessness, lack of demands, never ending discussions and the replacement of action by continuous streams of words. On the contrary, respect for autonomy means enormous demands, the expectation of a maximum creative effort and the most personal revelation. Understood thus, solicitude for the actor's freedom can only be born from the plenitude of the guide and not from his lack of plenitude. Such a lack implies imposition, dictatorship, superficial dressage.
An act of creation has nothing to do with either external comfort or conventional human civility; that is to say working conditions in which everybody is happy. It demands a maximum of silence and a minimum of words. In this kind of creativity we discuss through proposals, actions and living organisms, not through explanations. When we finally find ourselves on the track of something difficult and often almost intangible, we have no right to lose it through frivolity and carelessness. Therefore, even during breaks after which we will be continuing with the creative process, we are obliged to observe certain natural reticences in our behaviour and even in our private affairs. This applies just as much to our own work as to the work of our partners. We must not interrupt and disorganize the work because we are hurrying to our own affairs; we must not peep, comment or make jokes about it privately. In any case, private Ideas of fun have no place in the actors calling. In our approach to creative tasks, even if the theme is a game, we must be in a state of readiness - one might even say " solemnity". Our working terminology which serves as a stimulus must not be dissociated from the work and used in a private context. Work terminology should be associated only with that which it serves.
A creative act of this quality is performed in a group, and therefore within certain limits we should restrain our creative egoism. An actor has no right to mold his partner so as to provide greater possibilities for his own performance. Nor has he the right to correct his partner unless authorized by the work leader. Intimate or drastic elements in the work of others are untouchable and should not be commented upon even in their absence. Private conflicts, quarrels, sentiments, animosities are unavoidable in any human group. It is our duty towards creation to keep them in check in so far as they might deform and wreck the work process. We are obliged to open ourselves up even towards an enemy.
It has been mentioned several times already but we can never stress and explain too often the fact that we must never exploit privately anything connected with the creative act: i. e. location, costume, props, an element from the acting score a melodic theme or lines from the text. This rule applies to the smallest detail and there can be no exceptions. We did not make this rule simply to pay tribute to a special artistic devotion. We are not interested in grandeur and noble words, but our awareness and experience tell us that lack of strict adherence to such rules causes the actors score to become deprived of its psychic motives and "radiance."
Order and harmony in the work of each actor are essential conditions without which a creative act cannot take place. Here we demand consistency. We demand it from the actors who come to the theatre consciously to try themselves out in something extreme, a sort of challenge seeking a total response from every one of us. They come to test themselves in something very definite that reaches beyond the meaning of "theatre" and is more like an act of living and way of existence. This outline probably sounds rather vague. If we try to explain it theoretically, we might say that the theatre and acting are for us a kind of vehicle allowing us to emerge from ourselves, to fulfill ourselves. We could go into this at great length. However, anyone who stays here longer than just the trial period is perfectly aware that what we are talking about can be grasped less through grandiose words than through details, demands and the rigours of work in all its elements. The individual who disturbs the basic elements, who does not for example respect his own and the others acting score, destroying its structure by shamming or automatic reproduction, is the very one who shakes this undeniable higher motive of our common activity. Seemingly small details form the background against which fundamental questions are decided, as for example the duty to note down elements discovered in the course of the work. We must not rely on our memory unless we feel the spontaneity of our work is being threatened, and even then we must keep a partial record. This is just as basic a rule as is strict punctuality, the thorough memorizing of the text, etc. Any form of shamming in one's work is completely inadmissible. However it does sometimes happen that an actor has to go through a scene, just outline it, in order to check its organization and the elements of his partners' actions. But even then he must follow the actions carefully, measuring himself against them, in order to comprehend their motives. This is the difference between outlining and shamming.
An actor must always be ready to join the creative act at the exact moment determined by the group. In this respect his health, physical condition and all his private affairs cease to be just his own concern. A creative act of such quality flourishes only if nourished by the living organism. Therefore we are obliged to take daily care of our bodies so we are always ready for our tasks. We must not go short of sleep for the sake of private enjoyment and then come to work tired or with a hangover. We must not come unable to concentrate. The rule here is not just one's compulsory presence in the place of work, but physical readiness to create.
Creativity, especially where acting is concerned, is boundless sincerity, yet disciplined: i.e. articulated through signs. The creator should not therefore find his material a barrier in this respect. And as the actor's material is his own body, it should be trained to obey, to be pliable, to respond passively to psychic impulses as if it did not exist during the moment of creation - by which we mean it does not offer any resistance. Spontaneity and discipline are the basic aspects of an actor's work and they require a methodical key.
Before a man decides to do something he must first work out a point of orientation and then act accordingly and in a coherent manner. This point of orientation should be quite evident to him, the result of natural convictions, prior observations and experiences in life. The basic foundations of this method constitute for our troupe this point of orientation. Our institute is geared to examining the consequences of this point of orientation. Therefore nobody who comes and stays here can claim a lack of knowledge of the troupe's methodical program. Anyone who comes and works here and then wants to keep his distance (as regards creative consciousness) shows the wrong kind of care for his own individuality. The etymological meaning of " individuality" is " indivisibility" which means complete existence in something: individuality is the very opposite of half-heartedness. We maintain, therefore, that those who come and stay here discover in our method something deeply related to them, prepared by their lives and experiences. Since they accept this consciously, we presume that each of the participants feels obliged to train creatively and try to form his own variation inseparable from himself, his own reorientation open to risks and search. For what we here call "the method" is the very opposite of any sort of prescription.
The main point then is that an actor should not try to acquire any kind of recipe or build up a "box of tricks." This is no place for collecting all sorts of means of expression. The force of gravity in our work pushes the actor towards an interior ripening which expresses itself through a willingness to break through barriers, to search for a "summit", for totality.
The actor's first duty is to grasp the fact that nobody here wants to give him anything; instead they plan to take a lot from him, to take away that to which he is usually very attached: his resistance, reticence, his inclination to hide behind masks, his half-heartedness, the obstacles his body places in the way of his creative act, his habits and even his usual "good manners".
Before an actor is able to achieve a total act he has to fulfill a number of requirements, some of which are so subtle, so intangible, as to be practically undefinable through words. They only become plain through practical application. It is easier, however, to define conditions under which a total act cannot be achieved and which of the actor's actions make it impossible. This act cannot exist if the actor is more concerned with charm, personal success, applause and salary than with creation as understood in its highest form. It cannot exist if the actor conditions it according to the size of his part, his place in the performance, the day or kind of audience. There can be no total act if the actor, even away from the theatre, dissipates his creative impulse and, as we said before, sullies it, blocks it, particularly through incidental engagements of a doubtful nature or by the premeditated use of the creative act as a means to further own career.
Jerzy Grotowski was a Polish theatre director who is known for developing ‘Poor theatre’ or the ‘theatre of transformation’. He was a dedicated man that demanded an incredibly intense system of acting. He made his actors believe that acting is not just a job, but a way of life. The actors were put through extreme physical and vocal exercises everyday of their working lives. His actors had to give themselves completely to the production process without embarrassment or inhibitions (something we need to work on). He asked them to eliminate selfishness, nervousness, vanity, egotism and anything else that would interrupt their training and focus.
ACTING THROUGH FOCUS AND AWARENESS
His actors were so vocally and physically skilled that they could communicate clearly through sounds and movements. The actors would create an inner harmony and peace of mind that would keep them healthy in both mind and body. Grotowski actors believe that acting is a search for self knowledge and awareness. Their style of training taught them to break free of limitations and realise their full potential.
WORKING IN SILENCE
Grotowski stated that an actor must begin by doing nothing! He believed that if a group of actors could remain completely still for several minutes without disturbances, then they would be able to concentrate more intensely and use it as a creative passage.
His actors were extremely physically skilled. They developed a technique of movement which allowed them to control every move they made, even the smallest in every detail. It is our bodies that express everything about us. Everything we think and feel is expressed through our bodies and everything we experience is felt through our bodies. He gave actors physical skills for fully expressing their imaginations and their personalities.
Vocal training was essential. They focussed their voices as though they were coming from different parts of their bodies. They used full registers of their voices from very high to very low. He emphasised clarity and used techniques such as singing, chanting and reciting poetry. All actors were so vocally strong that they were able to recite atmospheric sounds of the world such as mechanics, animals, thunder and so on. To Grotowski the voice is an instrument.
He believed in true contact between human beings. He believed that real harmony in human relationships only developed when people really learned to look at each other and listen to each other. He wanted actors to be more aware of the impact they had on other people.
TRANSFORMATION & POOR THEATRE
In his ‘poor theatre’ he always aimed for the simplist possible use of staging, lighting, costumes and special effects. This forced actors to use all their skills to transform empty spaces and simple objects into a whole range of imaginative worlds. Symbolism was essential in this form of theatre. In the theatre of poverty, the only important elements were the actors themselves and their relationship with the live audience. Often actors were in the audience’s personal spaces, close enough to touch them. Grotowski arranged the space he was using so that the audience would be completely involved in the theatre as possible.
Like Brecht, Grotowski emphasised the use of emotion memory to recall an experience and recreate the feeling that went with that memory. He demanded total honesty and total commitment from his actors in their use of emotion memory. They had to make use of all their memories, no matter how painful or private. This made their performances genuine. Through this process, actors would come closer to knowing the truth about themselves. It is an important path to self-knowledge. Grotowski demanded total commitment and belief in every activity, even the simplest exercise.
Grotowski technique can help us to concentrate more effectively, use our voices and bodies more skilfully and develop greater self-awareness.
Grotowski’s system is a way of life, not just a training program. It produces people of extraordinary physical and vocal skill, totally dedicated to their art, and outstanding in their emotional maturity.
Commitment, Discipline, Dedication, Cohesion and FOCUS!
And most importantly… Trusting yourself and each other
The Holy Theatre
By Peter Brook
I am calling it the Holy Theatre for short, but it could be called The Theatre of the Invisible-Made-Visible: the notion that the stage is a place where the invisible can appear has a deep hold on our thoughts. We are all aware that most of life escapes our senses: a most powerful explanation of the various arts is that they talk of patterns which we can only begin to recognize when they manifest themselves as rhythms or shapes. We observe that the behaviour of people, of crowds, of history, obeys such recurrent patterns. We hear that trumpets destroyed the walls of Jericho , we recognize that a magical thing called music can come from men in white ties and tails, blowing, waving, thumping and scraping away. Despite the absurd means that produce it, through the concrete in music we recognize the abstract, we understand that ordinary men and their clumsy instruments are transformed by an art of possession. We may make a personality cult of the conductor, but we are aware that he is not really making the music, it is making him—if he is relaxed, open and attuned, then the invisible will take possession of him; through him, it will reach us.
This is the notion, the true dream behind the debased ideals of the Deadly Theatre. This is what is meant and remembered by those who with feeling and seriousness use big hazy words like nobility, beauty, poetry, which I would like to re-examine for the particular quality they suggest. The theatre is the last forum where idealism is still an open question: many audiences all over the world will answer positively from their own experience that they have seen the face of the invisible through an experience on the stage that transcended their experience in life. They will maintain that Oedipus or Berenice or Hamlet or The Three Sisters performed with beauty and with love fires the spirit and gives them a reminder that daily drabness is not necessarily all. When they reproach the contemporary theatre for its kitchen sinks and cruelties, this, honourably, is what they are trying to say. They remember how during the war the romantic theatre, the theatre of colours and sounds, of music and movement, came like water to the thirst of dry lives. At that time, it was called escape and yet the word was only partially accurate. It was an escape, but also a reminder: a sparrow in a prison cell. When the war was over, the theatre again strove even more vigorously to find the same values.
The theatre of the late ‘40s had many glories: it was the theatre of Jouvet and Bérard, and of Jean-Louis Barrault, of Clave at the ballet, Don Juan, Amphitryon, La Folk de Chaillot, Carmen, John Gielgud's revival of The Importance of Being Ernest, Peer Gynt at the Old Vic, Olivier's Oedipus, Olivier's Richard III, The Lady's not for Burning, Venus Observed; of Massine at Covent Garden under the birdcage in the The Three-Cornered Hat just as he had been fifteen years before—this was a theatre of colour and movement, of fine fabrics, of shadows, of eccentric, cascading words, of leaps of thought and of cunning machines, of lightness and of all forms of mystery and surprise—it was the theatre of a battered Europe that seemed to share one aim—a reaching back towards a memory of lost grace.
....The curtain used to be the great symbol of a whole school of theatre—the red curtain, the footlights, the idea that we are all children again, the nostalgia and the magic were all of a piece. Gordon Craig spent his life railing against the theatre of illusion, but his most treasured memories were of painted trees and forests and his eyes would light up as he described effects of trompe d'œil. But the day came when the same red curtain no longer hid surprises, when we no longer wanted—or needed—to be children again, when the rough magic yielded to a harsher common-sense; then the curtain was pulled down and the footlights removed.
Certainly, we still wish to capture in our arts the invisible currents that rule our lives, but our vision is now locked to the dark end of the spectrum. Today the theatre of doubting, of unease, of trouble, of alarm, seems truer than the theatre with a noble aim. Even if the theatre had in its origins rituals that made the invisible incarnate, we must not forget that apart from certain Oriental theatres these rituals have been either lost or remain in seedy decay. Bach's vision has been scrupulously preserved by the accuracy of his notations: in Fra Angelico we witness true incarnation: but for us to attempt such processes today, where do we find the source? In Coventry , for instance, a new cathedral has been built, according to the best recipe for achieving a noble result. Honest, sincere artists, the ‘best,' have been grouped together to make a civilized stab at celebrating God and Man and Culture and Life through a collective act. So there is a new building, fine ideas, beautiful glass-work—only the ritual is threadbare. Those Ancient and Modern hymns, charming perhaps in a little country church, those numbers on the wall, those dog-collars and the lessons—they are sadly inadequate here. The new place cries out for a new ceremony, but of course it is the new ceremony that should have come first—it is the ceremony in all its meanings that should have dictated the shape of the place, as it did when all the great mosques and cathedrals and temples were built. Goodwill, sincerity, reverence, belief in culture are not quite enough: the outer form can only take on real authority if the ceremony has equal authority—and who today can possibly call the tune? Of course, today as at all times, we need to stage true rituals, but for rituals that could make theatre-going an experience that feeds our lives, true forms are needed. These are not at our disposal, and conferences and resolutions will not bring them our way.
The actor searches vainly for the sound of a vanished tradition, and critic and audience follow suit. We have lost all sense of ritual and ceremony—whether it be connected with Christmas, birthdays or funerals—but the words remain with us and old impulses stir in the marrow. We feel we should have rituals, we should do ‘something' about getting them and we blame the artists for not ‘finding' them for us. So the artist sometimes attempts to find new rituals with only his imagination as his source: he imitates the outer form of ceremonies, pagan or baroque, unfortunately adding his own trappings—the result is rarely convincing. And after the years and years of weaker and waterier imitations we now find ourselves rejecting the very notion of a holy stage. It is not the fault of the holy that it has become a middle-class weapon to keep children good.
....More than ever, we crave for an experience that is beyond the humdrum. ....we only know that what is called the holy has let us down, we shrink from what is called poetic because the poetic has let us down. Attempts to revive poetic drama too often have led to something wishy-washy or obscure. Poetry has become a meaningless term, and its association with word-music, with sweet sounds, is a hangover of a Tennysonian tradition that has somehow wrapped itself round Shakespeare, so that we are conditioned by the idea that a verse play is half-way between prose and the opera, neither spoken nor sung, yet with a higher charge than prose—higher in content, higher somehow in moral value.
All the forms of sacred art have certainly been destroyed by bourgeois values but this sort of observation does not help our problem. It is foolish to allow a revulsion from bourgeois forms to turn into a revulsion from needs that are common to all men: if the need for a true contact with a sacred invisibility through the theatre still exists, then all possible vehicles must be re-examined.
I have sometimes been accused of wanting to destroy the spoken word, and indeed in this absurdity there's a grain of sense. In its fusion with the American idiom our ever-changing language has rarely been richer, and yet it does not seem that the word is the same tool for dramatists that it once was. Is it that we are living in an age of images? Is it even that we must go through a period of image-saturation, for the need for language to re-emerge? This is very possible, for today writers seem unable to make ideas and images collide through words with Elizabethan force. The most influential of modern writers, Brecht, wrote full and rich texts, but the real conviction of his plays is inseparable from the imagery of his own productions.
Yet in the desert one prophet raised his voice. Railing against the sterility of the theatre before the war in France an illuminated genius, Antoine Artaud, wrote tracts describing from his imagination and intuition another theatre—a Holy Theatre in which the blazing centre speaks through those forms closest to it. A theatre working like the plague, by intoxication, by infection, by analogy, by magic; a theatre in which the play, the event itself, stands in place of a text.
Is there another language, just as exacting for the author, as a language of words? Is there a language of actions, a language of sounds—a language of word-as-part-of movement, of word-as-lie, word-as-parody, of word-as-rubbish, of word-as-contradiction, of word-shock or word-cry? If we talk of the more-than-literal, if poetry means that which crams more and penetrates deeper—is this where it lies? Charles Marowitz and I instituted a group with the Royal Shakespeare Theatre called the Theatre of Cruelty to investigate these questions and to try to learn for ourselves what a holy theatre might be.
The title was by way of homage to Artaud, but it did not mean that we were trying to reconstruct Artaud's own theatre. Anyone who wishes to know what ‘Theatre of Cruelty' means should refer directly to Artaud's own writings. We used his striking title to cover our own experiments, many of which were directly stimulated by Artaud's thought—although many exercises were very far from what he had proposed. We did not start at the blazing centre, we began very simply on the fringes.
We set an actor in front of us, asked him to imagine a dramatic situation that did not involve any physical movement, then we all tried to understand what state he was in. Of course, this was impossible, which was the point of the exercise. The next stage was to discover what was the very least he needed before understanding could be reached: was it a sound, a movement, a rhythm—and were these interchangeable—or had each its special strengths and limitations? So we worked by imposing drastic conditions. An actor must communicate an idea—the start must always be a thought or a wish that he has to project—but he has only, say, one finger, one tone of voice, a cry, or the capacity to whistle at his disposal.
An actor sits at one end of the room, facing the wall. At the other end another actor, looking at the first one's back, not allowed to move. The second actor must make the first one obey him. As the first one has his back turned, the second has no way of communicating his wishes except through sounds, for he is allowed no words. This seems impossible, but it can be done. It is like crossing an abyss on a tightrope: necessity suddenly produces strange powers. I have heard of a woman lifting a huge car off her injured child—a feat technically impossible for her muscles in any predictable conditions. Ludmilla Pitoeff used to go on stage with her heart pounding in a way that in theory should have killed her every night. With this exercise, many times we also observed an equally phenomenal result: a long silence, great concentration, one actor running experimentally through a range of hisses or gurgles until suddenly the other actor stood and quite confidently executed the movement the first one had in mind.
Similarly these actors experimented in communication through tapping with a finger-nail: starting from a powerful need to express something and again using only one tool. Here it was rhythm—on another occasion, it was the eyes or the back of the head. A valuable exercise was to fight in partners, taking and giving back every blow, but never being allowed to touch, never moving the head, nor the arms, nor feet. In other words a movement of the torso is all that is allowed: no realistic contact can take place, yet a fight must be engaged physically, emotionally and carried through. Such exercises should not be thought of as gymnastics—freeing muscular resistance is only a by-product—the purpose all the time is to increase resistance—by limiting the alternatives—and then using this resistance in the struggle for a true expression. The principle is the one of rubbing two sticks together. This friction of unyielding opposites makes fire—and other forms of combustion can be obtained in the same way. The actor then found that to communicate his invisible meanings he needed concentration, he needed will; he needed to summon all his emotional reserves; he needed courage; he needed clear thought. But the most important result was that he was led inexorably to the conclusion that he needed form. It was not enough to feel passionately—a creative leap was required to mint a new form which could be a container and a reflector for his impulses. That is what is truly called an ‘action.' One of the most interesting moments was during an exercise in which each member of the group had to act a child. Naturally, one after the other did an ‘imitation' of a child by stooping, wiggling, or squawking — and the result was painfully embarrassing. Then the tallest of the group came forward and without any physical change at all, with no attempt to imitate baby talk, he presented fully to everyone's complete satisfaction the idea that he had been called upon to carry. How? I can't describe it; it happened as direct communication, only for those present. This is what some theatres call magic, others science, but it's the same thing. An invisible idea was rightly shown.
I say ‘shown' because an actor making a gesture is both creating for himself out of his deepest need and yet for the other person. It is hard to understand the true notion of spectator, there and not there, ignored and yet needed. The actor's work is never for an audience, yet always is for one. The onlooker is a partner who must be forgotten and still constantly kept in mind: a gesture is statement, expression, communication and a private manifestation of loneliness—it is always what Artaud calls a signal through the flames—yet this implies a sharing of experience, once contact is made.
Slowly we worked towards different wordless languages: we took an event, a fragment of experience and made exercises that turned them into forms that could be shared. We encouraged the actors to see themselves not only as improvisers, lending themselves blindly to their inner impulses, but as artists responsible for searching and selecting amongst form, so that a gesture or a cry becomes like an object that he discovers and even remoulds. We experimented with and came to reject the traditional language of masks and makeups as no longer appropriate. We experimented with silence. We set out to discover the relations between silence and duration: we needed an audience so that we could set a silent actor in front of them to see the varying lengths of attention he could command. Then we experimented with ritual in the sense of repetitive patterns, seeing how it is possible to present more meaning, more swiftly than by a logical unfolding of events. Our aim for each experiment, good or bad, successful or disastrous, was the same: can the invisible be made visible through the performer's presence?
....In naturalistic plays the playwright contrives the dialogue in such a way that while seeming natural it shows what he wants to be seen. By using language illogically, by introducing the ridiculous in speech and the fantastic in behaviour, an author of the Theatre of the Absurd opens up for himself another vocabulary. For instance, a tiger comes into the room, but the couple take no notice: the wife speaks, the husband answers by taking off his pants and a new pair floats in through the window. The theatre of the Absurd did not seek the unreal for its own sake. It used the unreal to make certain explorations, because it sensed the absence of truth in our everyday exchanges, and the presence of the truth in the seeming far-fetched. Although there have been some remarkable individual works stemming from this approach to the world, as a recognizable school the Absurd has reached an impasse. Like so much that is novel in texture, like much concrete music, for instance, the surprise element wears thin, and we are left to face the fact that the field it covers is sometimes very small. Fantasy invented by the mind is apt to be lightweight, the whimsicality and the surrealism of much of the Absurd would no more have satisfied Artaud than the narrowness of the psychological play. What he wanted in his search for a holiness was absolute: he wanted a theatre that would be a hallowed place: he wanted that theatre served by a band of dedicated actors and directors who would create out of their own natures an unending succession of violent stage images, bringing about such powerful immediate explosions of human matter that no one would ever again revert to a theatre of anecdote and talk. He wanted the theatre to contain all that normally is reserved for crime and war. He wanted an audience that would drop all its defences, that would allow itself to be perforated, shocked, startled, and raped, so that at the same time it could be filled with a powerful new charge.
This sounds tremendous, yet it raises a nagging doubt. How passive does this make the spectator? Artaud maintained that only in the theatre could we liberate ourselves from the recognizable forms in which we live our daily lives.
This made the theatre a holy place in which a greater reality could be found. Those who view his work with suspicion ask how all-embracing is this truth, and secondly, how valuable is the experience? A totem, a cry from the womb: these can crack through walls of prejudice in any man: a howl can certainly reach through to the guts. But is this revealing, is this contact with our own repressions creative, therapeutic? Is it really holy—or is Artaud in his passion dragging us back to a nether world, away from striving, away from the light—to D. H. Lawrence, Wagner; is there even a fascist smell in the cult of unreason? Is a cult of the invisible, anti-intelligent? Is it a denial of the mind?
Artaud applied is Artaud betrayed: betrayed because it is always just a portion of his thought that is exploited, betrayed because it is easier to apply rules to the work of a handful of dedicated actors than to the lives of the unknown spectators who happened by chance to come through the theatre door.
None the less, from the arresting words ‘Theatre of Cruelty' comes a groping towards a theatre, more violent, less rational, more extreme, less verbal, more dangerous. There is a joy in violent shocks: the only trouble with violent shocks is that they wear off. What follows a shock? Here's the snag. I fire a pistol at the spectator—I did so once—and for a second I have a possibility to reach him in a different way. I must relate this possibility to a purpose, otherwise a moment later he is back where he was: inertia is the greatest force we know. I show a sheet of blue—nothing but the colour blue — blueness is a direct statement that arouses an emotion, the next second that impression fades: I hold up a brilliant flash of scarlet—a different impression is made, but unless someone can grab this moment, knowing why and how and what for—it too begins to wane. The trouble is that one can easily find oneself firing the first shots without any sense of where the battle could lead. One look at the average audience gives us an irresistible urge to assault it—to shoot first and ask questions later. This is the road to the Happening.
A Happening is a powerful invention, it destroys at one blow many deadly forms, like the dreariness of theatre buildings, and the charmless trappings of curtain, usherette, cloakroom, programme, bar. A Happening can be anywhere, any time, of any duration: nothing is required, nothing is taboo. A Happening may be spontaneous, it may be formal, it may be anarchistic, it can generate intoxicating energy. Behind the Happening is the shout ‘Wake up!' Van Gogh made generations of travellers see Provence with new eyes, and the theory of Happenings is that a spectator can be jolted eventually into new sight, so that he wakes to the life around him. This sounds like sense, and in Happenings, the influence of Zen and Pop Art combine to make a perfectly logical twentieth-century American combination. But the sadness of a bad Happening must be seen to be believed. Give a child a paintbox, and if he mixes all the colours together the result is always the same muddy browny grey. A Happening is always the brainchild of someone and unavoidably it reflects the level of its inventor: if it is the work of a group, it reflects the inner resources of the group. This free form is all too often imprisoned in the same obsessional symbols; flour, custard pies, rolls of paper, dressing, undressing, dressing-up, undressing again, changing clothes, making water, throwing water, blowing water, hugging, rolling, writhing—you feel that if a Happening became a way of life then by contrast the most humdrum life would seem a fantastic happening. Very easily a Happening can be no more than a series of mild shocks followed by let-downs which progressively combine to neutralize the further shocks before they arrive. Or else the frenzy of the shocker bludgeons the shockee into becoming still another form of the Deadly Audience—he starts willing and is assaulted into apathy.
The simple fact is that Happenings have brought into being not the easiest but the most exacting forms of all. As shocks and surprises make a dent in a spectator's reflexes, so that he is suddenly more open, more alert, more awake, the possibility and the responsibility arise for onlooker and performer alike. The instant must be used, but how, what for? Here, we are back to the root question—what are we searching for anyway? Do-it-yourself Zen hardly fits the bill. The Happening is a new broom of great efficacity: it is certainly sweeping away the rubbish, but as it clears the way the old dialogue is heard again, the debate of form against formless, freedom against discipline; a dialectic as old as Pythagoras, who first set in opposition the terms Limit and Unlimited. It is all very well to use crumbs of Zen to assert the principle that existence is existence, that every manifestation contains within it all of everything, and that a slap on the face, a tweak of the nose or a custard pie are all equally Buddha. All religions assert that the invisible is visible all the time. But here's the crunch. Religious teaching—including Zen—asserts that this visible-invisible cannot be seen automatically—it can only be seen given certain conditions. The conditions can relate to certain states or to a certain understanding. In any event, to comprehend the visibility of the invisible is a life's work. Holy art is an aid to this, and so we arrive at a definition of a holy theatre. A holy theatre not only presents the invisible but also offers conditions that make its perception possible. The Happening could be related to all of this, but the present inadequacy of the Happening is that it refuses to examine deeply the problem of perception. Naively it believes that the cry ‘Wake up!' is enough: that the call ‘Live!' brings life. Of course, more is needed. But what?
A happening was originally intended to be a painter's creation—which instead of paint and canvas, or glue and sawdust, or solid objects, used people to make certain relationships and forms. Like a painting, a happening is intended as a new object, a new construction brought into the world, to enrich the world, to add to nature, to sit alongside everyday life. To those who find happenings dreary the supporter retorts that any one thing is as good as another. If some seem ‘worse' than others, this, they say, is the result of the spectator's conditioning and his jaded eye. Those who take part in a happening and get a kick out of doing so can afford to regard the outsider's boredom with indifference. The very fact that they participate heightens their perception. The man who puts on a dinner jacket for the opera, saying, ‘I enjoy a sense of occasion, and the hippy who puts on a flowered suit for an all-night light-show are both reaching incoherently in the same direction. Occasion, Event, Happening—the words are interchangeable. The structures are different—the opera is constructed and repeated according to traditional principles, the light-show unfolds for the first and last time according to accident and environment; but both are deliberately constructed social gatherings that seek for an invisibility to interpenetrate and animate the ordinary. Those of us who work in theatres are implicitly challenged to go ahead to meet this hunger.
... A director dealing with elements that exist outside of himself can cheat himself into thinking his work more objective than it is. By his choice of exercises, even by the way he encourages an actor to find his own freedom, a director cannot help projecting his own state of mind on to the stage. The supreme jujitsu would be for the director to stimulate such an outpouring of the actor's inner richness that it completely transforms the subjective nature of his original impulse. But usually the director or the choreographer's pattern shows through and it is here that the desired objective experience can turn into the expression of some individual director's private imagery. We can try to capture the invisible but we must not lose touch with common-sense—if our language is too special we will lose part of the spectator's belief. The model, as always, is Shakespeare. His aim continually is holy, metaphysical, yet he never makes the mistake of staying too long on the highest plane. He knew how hard it is for us to keep company with the absolute—so he continually bumps us down to earth — and Grotowski recognizes this, speaking of the need for both ‘apotheosis' and ‘derision.' We have to accept that we can never see all of the invisible. So after straining towards it, we have to face defeat, drop down to earth, then start up again.
I have refrained from introducing the Living Theatre until now because this group, led by Julian Beck and Judith Malina, is special in every sense of the word. It is a nomad community. It moves across the world according to its own laws and often in contradiction to the laws of the country in which it happens to be. It provides a complete way of life for every one of its members, some thirty men and women who live and work together; they make love, produce children, act, invent plays, do physical and spiritual exercises, share and discuss everything that comes their way. Above all, they are a community; but they are only a community because they have a special function which gives their communal existence its meaning. This function is acting. Without acting the group would run dry: they perform because the act and fact of performing corresponds to a great shared need. They are in search of meaning in their lives, and in a sense even if there were no audiences, they would still have to perform, because the theatrical event is the climax and centre of their search. Yet without an audience their performances would lose their substance—the audience is always the challenge without which a performance would be a sham. Also, it is a practical community that makes performances for a living and offers them for sale. In the Living Theatre, three needs become one: it exists for the sake of performing, it earns its living through performing and its performances contain the most intense and intimate moments of its collective life.
One day this caravan may halt. This could be in a hostile environment—like its origins in New York —in which case its function will be to provoke and divide audiences by increasing their awareness of uncomfortable contradiction between a way of life on stage and a way of life outside. Their own identity will be constantly drawn and redrawn by the natural tension and hostility between themselves and their surroundings. Alternatively, they may come to rest in some wider community that shares some of their values. Here there would be a different unity and a different tension: the tension would be shared by stage and audience—it would be the expression of the unresolved quest for a holiness eternally undefined.
In fact, the Living Theatre, exemplary in so many ways, has still not yet come to grips with its own essential dilemma. Searching for holiness without tradition, without source, it is compelled to turn to many traditions, many sources—yoga, Zen, psychoanalysis, books, hearsay, discovery, inspiration—a rich but dangerous eclecticism. For the method that leads to what they are seeking cannot be an additive one. To subtract, to strip away can only be effected in the light of some constant. They are still in search of this constant.
In the meantime, they are continually nourished by a very American humour and joy that is surrealist, but with both feet firmly on the ground.
In Haitian voodoo, all you need to begin a ceremony is a pole and people. You begin to beat the drums and far away in Africa the gods hear your call. They decide to come to you, and as voodoo is a very practical religion, it takes into account the time that a god needs to cross the Atlantic . So you go on beating your drum, chanting and drinking rum. In this way, you prepare yourself. Then five or six hours pass and the gods fly in—they circle above your heads, but it is not worth looking up as naturally they are invisible. This is where the pole becomes so vital. Without the pole nothing can link the visible and the invisible worlds. The pole, like the cross, is the junction. Through the wood, earthed, the spirits slide, and now they are ready for the second step in their metamorphosis. Now they need a human vehicle, and they choose one of the participants. A kick, a moan or two, a short paroxysm on the ground and a man is possessed. He gets to his feet, no longer himself, but filled with the god. The god now has form. He is someone who can joke, get drunk and listen to everyone's complaints. The first thing that the priest, the Houngan, does when the god arrives is to shake him by the hand and ask him about his trip. He's a god all right, but he is no longer unreal: he is there, on our level, attainable. The ordinary man or woman now can talk to him, pump his hand, argue, curse him, go to bed with him—and so, nightly, the Haitian is in contact with the great powers and mysteries that rule his day.
In the theatre, the tendency for centuries has been to put the actor at a remote distance, on a platform, framed, decorated, lit, painted, in high shoes—so as to help to persuade the ignorant that he is holy, that his art is sacred. Did this express reverence? Or was there behind it a fear that something would be exposed if the light were too bright, the meeting too near? Today, we have exposed the sham. But we are rediscovering that a holy theatre is still what we need. So where should we look for it? In the clouds or on the ground?
The Empty Space
By Peter Brook
Copyright©1968 by Peter Brook
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