Artaud (1896-1948) and Theatre of Cruelty
Antonin Artaud was a French actor, playwright, writer, theatre director, designer and theorist. He was born in Marseille, France on September 4, 1896 and his childhood was marked by a series of illnesses and accidents. His health did not improve as he matured and for most of his life he was beset with ill health, pain and nervous depression. He was continually admitted and discharged from hospitals and mental institutions and developed addictions to hallucinatory and pain-reducing drugs like opium. His addiction and abuse of these substances began to have permanent effects and his mental health further deteriorated over the years. However, he always managed to write and his fluctuating but creative state of mind is represented throughout his many pieces of writing and painting.
Artaud was a prolific and unusual writer and wrote poetry, commentaries and dramatic dialogues from an early age. In 1921 he began writing for magazines like the Surrealists' journal Literature. He became a leading member of this group. Artaud also wrote outlines for a number of films during the 1920's and early 1930's. He also acted in films like Carl Dreyer's Passion of Joan of Arc (1927). During this period, he also wrote and directed for the Paris stage in works that ranged Greek and Roman classics, to plays by Strindberg to works by Surrealist friends like Roger Vitrac.
He left the surrealist group due to disagreements with Andre Breton. He soon after wrote his first significant work Art and Death (1929). In 1931, Artaud saw a Balinese dance performed at the Paris Colonial Exposition and he saw that the body could express story, character and extreme emotion without words. Soon after he started the draft of his most famous work The Theatre and its Double which he finally completed in 1937 and which was published in 1938. He tried throughout this period to include these ideas in plays that he mounted during the 1930’s through until the outbreak of war. Artaud’s 1935 adaptation of Shelley’s The Cenci involved the first use of electronic sounds and sound effects on stage. Balthus also designed a sensual and erotic set for this piece.
Artaud championed ideas for the creation of a Total Theatre that he hoped would transform existing expectations of theatrical experiences. Attacking theatre's dependency on scripts, he believed that theatre had turned into a mouthpiece for the playwright and argued that theatre practitioners should stop being bound to texts and should try to discover and articulate their own language. Artaud wanted theatre to return to magic and ritual and create a new theatrical language of totem and gesture where the theatrical space would be devoid of spoken dialogue and appeal primarily to the senses.
Artaud's attitudes, beliefs and style were influenced by psychology, mythology, Surrealism and his addiction to opiates and heroin. He spent most of his life in and out of mental institutions. He once visited Ireland with what he thought was St Patrick’s walking stick. He was deported back to France and ended up in a straightjacket in a mental asylum in Rodez for about nine years. He was released from the asylum in 1936 and died within two years.
Artaud said: "Words say little to the mind, compared to space thundering with images and crammed with sounds… where the spectator is seized by the theatre as by a whirlwind of higher forces."
· Timed Breathing & Circular Nose Breathing
· Walking – Balancing the space as a plate, as a magnet, fluid circular movement, straight lines, angles, combinations
· Transitioning from one to other, transferring and transitioning states
· Use the body as the voice. Try the following emotions using the parts of the body to express the emotion or action – crying foot, grieving hand, laughing knee, kissing elbow. Now try to express these emotions and actions with your whole body.
· Try to have your whole body embody a complex emotional state such as Isolation, Revolt, Cruelty, Assimilation and Disgust. Now see if two people interacting can transfer their complex state to one another.
· Artaud believed that spoken language destroys theatre. Take a script and using only the vowels of the dialogue as the text and the bodies of the actors create a piece which assaults the senses.
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