Antonin Artaud had a radical vision. In the anguished, catastrophic times there is an urgent need for theatre that is not overshadowed by events, but arouses deep echoes within and manages to rise above an unsettled period. Schumacher, , p Grounded in the idea that life itself is evil and goodness is an act of will, Artaud declared that it is cruel to have to continually make the effort to live without evil.
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One of the most influential theatre theorists of the 20th century and a key figure of the European avant garde, Antonin Artaud — developed the ideas behind the Theatre of Cruelty.
The Theatre of Cruelty is both a philosophy and a discipline. Artaud wanted to disrupt the relationship between audience and performer. He believed gesture and movement to be more powerful than text. Sound and lighting could also be used as tools of sensory disruption. The audience, he argued, should be placed at the centre of a piece of performance.
Antonin Artaud featured in several ground-breaking silent movies. It was a piece of Balinese theatre that Artaud saw at the Paris Colonial Exposition in that began to shape his ideas about gesture and performance. He was interested in the use of facial expressions and the relative unimportance of the spoken word. Gesture could make these things visible on stage.
To express it is to betray it. But to translate it is to dissimulate it… That is why an image, an allegory, a figure that masks what it would reveal have more significance for the spirit than the lucidities of speech and its analytics'. He believed in the abolition of the auditorium and the stage to create a single playing space with no barriers between audience and performers.
His work had a profound impact on a generation of European writers including Jean Genet and Samuel Beckett. His ideas bled beyond the world of the stage.
Jim Morrison, lead singer of the s American band the Doors, was inspired by his writings on ritual and spectacle in performance.
The effect was an overwhelming of the senses. The text is sparse and the stage directions are surreal. Scenes of destruction abound. There is an earthquake, a giant hand — and a jet of blood.
Dead bodies are left strewn across the stage. Jelly and ice cream are splattered about with abandon, and the production ended in a disorientating looping, the same line repeated into a microphone until the words cease to have any meaning. Artaud was born in Marseilles, France, in He contracted spinal meningitis as a young child and spent long stretches in sanatoriums during his youth.
While he read widely during this time, he also developed a laudanum dependency that resulted in a lifelong dependence on opiates. In , he moved to Paris intending to pursue a career as a writer, but he became interested in the avant-garde theatre scene and began training and performing with directors, including Charles Dullin and Georges Pitoeff.
He continued to write poetry and essays during this time. He had a great interest in cinema and wrote the scenario for an early surrealist film by director Germaine Dulac, The Seashell and the Clergyman Artaud appeared in over 20 films.
An adaptation of Percy Bysshe Shelley 's The Cenci premiered in , with a set designed by Bauhaus, but it was a commercial failure, and most of the reviews were hostile or indifferent.
Soon afterwards, Artaud travelled to Mexico, where he studied and lived for a period with the Tarahumaran people, experimenting with peyote. After a strange and disastrous episode in which he travelled to Ireland and was deported in a straitjacket — he had acquired a cane that he believed holy and sought its creators, an episode ending in an altercation with the police — The Theatre and Its Double was published in Already behaving erratically and increasingly fascinated with magic and astrology, Artaud spent much of the Second World War in asylums and psychiatric hospitals.
Electroshock treatments were administered. During this period he began writing and drawing again. Because of its political content and its cacophonous quality — including grunts and moans — a panel was assembled to discuss the merits of the piece. While they found in favour of it, it was never broadcast on French radio.
In , Artaud was diagnosed with cancer and he died shortly afterwards at the age of Natasha Tripney is a theatre critic and the reviews editor at The Stage. She is the co-founder of theatre website Exeunt. She is regular reviewer of books for the Observer and has written for Literary Review.
The text in this article is available under the Creative Commons License. Antonin Artaud and the Theatre of Cruelty. Article written by: Natasha Tripney Themes: 20th-century theatre , Capturing and creating the modern , Theatre practitioners and genres , European influence Published: 7 Sep The Theatre of Cruelty, developed by Antonin Artaud, aimed to shock audiences through gesture, image, sound and lighting. Natasha Tripney describes how Artaud's ideas took shape, and traces their influence on directors and writers such as Peter Brook, Samuel Beckett and Jean Genet.
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Theatre of Cruelty
Sadly, the French mastermind known as Antonin Artaud was not always a lucid one. Artaud often has less appeal to teachers and students of theatre than other theorists and practitioners because his techniques are not readily translatable. But this does not mean we should dismiss Artaud or his influence on 20th century theatre. Piercing sound and bright stage lights bombarded the audience during performances.
Antonin Artaud and the Theatre of Cruelty
Series: Plays and Playwrights. Antonin Artaud's theatre of cruelty is one of the most vital forces in world theatre, yet the concept is one of the most frequently misunderstood. In this incisive study, Albert Bermel looks closely at Artaud's work as a playwright, director, actor, designer, producer and critic, and provides a fresh insight into his ideas, innovations and, above all, his writings. Tracing the theatre of cruelty's origins in earlier dramatic conventions, tribal rituals of cleansing, transfiguration and exaltation, and in related arts such as film and dance, Bermel examines each of Artaud's six plays for form and meaning, as well as surveying the application of Artaud's theories and techniques to the international theatre of recent years. Buy this work. Bloomsbury Publishing Series: Plays and Playwrights. The definitive guide to the life and work of Antonin Artaud Antonin Artaud's theatre of cruelty is one of the most vital forces in world theatre, yet the concept is one of the most frequently misunderstood.