Experimental theatre (also known as avant-garde theatre), inspired largely by Wagner's concept of Gesamtkunstwerk,began in Western theatre in the late 19th century with Alfred Jarry and his Ubu plays as a rejection of both the age in particular and, in general, the dominant ways of writing and producing plays. The term has shifted over time as the mainstream theatre world has adopted many forms that were once considered radical.
Like other forms of the avant-garde, it was created as a response to a perceived general cultural crisis. Despite different political and formal approaches, all avant-garde theatre opposes bourgeois theatre. It tries to introduce a different use of language and the body to change the mode of perceptionand to create a new, more active relation with the audience.
Famed experimental theatre director and playwright Peter Brook describes his task as building "… a necessary theatre, one in which there is only a practical difference between actor and audience, not a fundamental one."
Traditionally audiences are seen as passive observers. Many practitioners of experimental theatre have wanted to challenge this. For example, Bertolt Brecht wanted to mobilise his audiences by having a character in a play break through the invisible "fourth wall," directly ask the audience questions, not giving them answers, thereby getting them to think for themselves; Augusto Boal wanted his audiences to react directly to the action; and Antonin Artaud wanted to affect them directly on a subconscious level.Peter Brook has identified a triangle of relationships within a performance: the performers' internal relationships, the performers' relationships to each other on stage, and their relationship with the audience. The British experimental theatre group Welfare State International has spoken of a ceremonial circle during performance, the cast providing one half, the audience providing another, and the energy in the middle.
Aside from ideological implications of the role of the audience, theatres and performances have addressed or involved the audience in a variety of ways. The proscenium arch has been called into question, with performances venturing into non-theatrical spaces. Audiences have been engaged differently, often as active participants in the action on a highly practical level. When a proscenium arch has been used, its usual use has often been subverted.
Audience participation can range from asking for volunteers to go onstage to having actors scream in audience members' faces. By using audience participation, the performer invites the audience to feel a certain way and by doing so they may change their attitudes, values and beliefs in regard to the performance's topic. For example, in a performance on bullying the character may approach an audience member, size them up and challenge them to a fight on the spot. The terrified look on the audience member's face will strongly embody the message of bullying to the member and the rest of the audience.
Physically, theatre spaces took on different shapes, and practitioners re-explored different ways of staging performance and a lot of research was done into Elizabethan and Greek theatre spaces. This was integrated into the mainstream, the National Theatre in London, for example, has a highly flexible, somewhat Elizabethan traverse space (the Dorfman), a proscenium space (the Lyttelton) and an amphitheatre space (the Olivier) and the directors and architects consciously wanted to break away from the primacy of the proscenium arch. Jacques Copeau was an important figure in terms of stage design, and was very keen to break away from the excesses of naturalism to get to a more pared down, representational way of looking at the stage.
The increase of the production of experimental theaters during the 1950s through the 1960s has prompted some to cite the connection between theater groups and the socio-political contexts in which they operated.Some groups have been prominent in changing the social face of theatre, rather than its stylistic appearance. Performers have used their skills to engage in a form of cultural activism. This may be in the form of didactic agit-prop theatre, or some (such as Welfare State International) see a performance environment as being one in which a micro-society can emerge and can lead a way of life alternative to that of the broader society in which they are placed. For instance, in a study of South American theatrical developments during the 1960s, the Nuevo Teatro Popular materialized amid the change and innovations entailed in the social and political developments of the period. This theatrical initiative was organized around groups or collective driven by specific events and performed themes tied to class and cultural identity that empowered their audience and help create movements that spanned national and cultural borders. These included Utopian projects, which sought to reconstruct social and cultural production, including their objectives.
Augusto Boal used the Legislative Theatre on the people of Rio to find out what they wanted to change about their community, and he used the audience reaction to change legislation in his role as a councillor. In the United States, the tumultuous 1960s saw experimental theater emerging as a reaction to the state's policies on issues like nuclear armament, racial social injustice, homophobia, sexism and military–industrial complex.The mainstream theater was increasingly seen from as a purveyor of lies, hence, theatrical performances were often seen as a means to expose what is real and this entails a focus on hypocrisy, inequality, discrimination, and repression. This is demonstrated in the case of Grotowski, who rejected the lies and contradictions of mainstream theater and pushed for what he called as truthful acting in the performances of his Poor Theater as well as his lectures and workshops.
Experimental theatre encourages directors to make society, or our audience at least, change their attitudes, values, and beliefs on an issue and to do something about it. The distinction was explained in the conceptualization of experimentation that "goes much deeper and much beyond than merely a new form/or novel content" but "a light that illuminates one's work from within. And this light in the spirit of quest – not only aesthetic quest – it is an amalgam of so many quests – intellectual, aesthetic, but most of all, spiritual quest."
Traditionally, there is a highly hierarchical method of creating theatre - a writer identifies a problem, a writer writes a script, a director interprets it for the stage together with the actors, the performers perform the director and writer's collective vision. Various practitioners started challenging this and started seeing the performers more and more as creative artists in their own right. This started with giving them more and more interpretive freedom and devised theatre eventually emerged. This direction was aided by the advent of ensemble improvisational theater, as part of the experimental theatre movement, which did not need a writer to develop the material for a show or "theater piece." In this form the lines were devised by the actors or performers.
Within this many different structures and possibilities exist for performance makers, and a large variety of different models are used by performers today. The primacy of the director and writer has been challenged directly, and the directors role can exist as an outside eye or a facilitator rather than the supreme authority figure they once would have been able to assume.
As well as hierarchies being challenged, performers have been challenging their individual roles. An inter-disciplinary approach becomes more and more common as performers have become less willing to be shoe-horned into specialist technical roles. Simultaneous to this, other disciplines have started breaking down their barriers. Dance, music, video art, visual art, new media art and writing become blurred in many cases, and artists with completely separate trainings and backgrounds collaborate very comfortably.
In their efforts to challenge the realism of western drama, many modernists looked to other cultures for inspiration. Indeed, Artaud has often credited the Balinese dance traditions as a strong influence on his experimental theories: his call for a departure from language in the theatre,he says, partially came to him as a concept after having seen the Balinese Theatre's performance at the Colonial Exhibition in Paris in 1931. He was particularly interested in the symbolic gestures performed by the dancers and their intimate connection to the music; in his Notes on Oriental, Greek and Indian Cultures, we find a curiosity as to what the French theatre scene could become if it pulled from traditions such as Noh and Balinese dance.
Similarly, it is in his essay on Chinese acting that Brecht used the term Verfremdungseffekt for the first time.Brecht's essay, written shortly after having witnessed performer Mei Langfang's demonstration of a few Peking Opera performance practices in 1935 Moscow, elaborates on his experience on his experience feeling “alienated” by Mei's performance: Brecht notably mentions the absence of a fourth wall in the demonstration, which later on became a staple in Brechtian theatre, and the “stylistic” nature of the performance; another key concept which would find its way into Brecht's later theories. In fact, three of Brecht's plays are set in China (The Measures Taken, The Good Person of Szechwan, and Turandot)
Yeats, pioneer of the modernist and symbolist movement, discovered Noh drama in 1916, as detailed in his essay Certain Noble Plays of Japan,which reveals a strong interest in the musicality and stillness of the Noh performance. His production of the same year, At the Hawk's Well was created by loosely following the rules of a Noh Play: Yeats' attempt at exploring Noh's spiritual power, its lyrical tone and its synthesis of dance, music and verse.
Additionally, Gordon Craig repeatedly theorized about "the idea of danger in the Indian theatre",as a potential solution to the lack of risk-taking in the western theatre, and some might argue his theories about an über-marionette actor could be compared to the kathakali training. In 1956, Grotowski too found himself an interest for Eastern performance practices, and experimented with using some aspects of Kathakali in his actor training program. He had studied the South-Indian tradition in Kerala, at the Kalamandalam.
In many cases, these practitioners' pulling of theatrical conventions from the East came from their desire to explore unexpected or novel approaches to theatre-making.Audiences at the time were not often exposed to Eastern theatre practices, and the latter were hence a powerful tool for modernists: Brecht could easily generate the alienation of his western audiences by presenting them with these supposedly "strange" and "foreign" theatrical conventions they were simply not familiar with. Artaud and Yeats could experiment with the musicality and ritualistic nature of Eastern dance traditions as a means to reconnect the western theatre to the mystical and to the universe; and both Grotowski and Craig could draw from the kathakali performers' training as a means to challenge the western theatre's sole focus on psychological truth and truthful behavior.
However, their exposure to these theatre traditions was extremely limited: these theatre-makers's understandings of the Eastern traditions they were pulling from were often limited to a few readings,translations of Chinese and Japanese works, and, in the case of Brecht and Artaud, the witnessing of an out-of-context demonstration of Balinese Theatre Dance and Peking Opera conventions. Remaining geographically distant, for the most part, of the traditions they wrote about, the "oriental theatre" could hence be argued to be more of a construct than a true practice for these theatre-makers. While they do pull from Eastern traditions, Brecht, Artaud, Yeats, Craig and Artaud's respective articulations of their vision for theatre predate their exposure to these practices: their approach to Eastern theatre traditions were filtered "through a personal agenda", and the absence of earnest curiosity for the oriental theatre could be argued to have led to its misinterpretation and distortion in the modernist movement.
Furthermore, Eastern theatre was repeatedly reduced by these western practitioners to an exotic, mystical form.It is important here to acknowledge the importance of cultural context in theatre-making: these practitioners' isolating of a particular ritual or convention from its broader cultural significance and social context shows perhaps that this "questionable exoticization" was customarily used to push their own preconceived notions about the theatre, rather than to explore the culture they were borrowing from.
Experimental theatre alters traditional conventions of space (black box theater), theme, movement, mood, tension, language, symbolism, conventional rules and other elements.
The following outline is provided as an overview of and topical guide to theatre:
Jerzy Marian Grotowski was a Polish theatre director and theorist whose innovative approaches to acting, training and theatrical production have significantly influenced theatre today.
A black box theater is a simple performance space, typically a square room with black walls and a flat floor. The simplicity of the space allows it to be used to create a variety of configurations of stage and audience interaction. The black box is a relatively recent innovation in theatre.
Antoine Marie Joseph Paul Artaud, better known as Antonin Artaud, was a French writer, poet, dramatist, visual artist, essayist, actor and theatre director. He is widely recognized as a major figure of the European avant-garde. In particular, he had a profound influence on twentieth-century theatre through his conceptualization of the Theatre of Cruelty. Known for his raw, surreal and transgressive work, his texts explored themes from the cosmologies of ancient cultures, philosophy, the occult, mysticism and indigenous Mexican and Balinese practices.
Noh is a major form of classical Japanese dance-drama that has been performed since the 14th century. Developed by Kan'ami and his son Zeami, it is the oldest major theatre art that is still regularly performed today. Although the terms Noh and nōgaku are sometimes used interchangeably, nōgaku encompasses both Noh and kyōgen. Traditionally, a full nōgaku program included several Noh plays with comedic kyōgen plays in between; an abbreviated program of two Noh plays with one kyōgen piece has become common today. Optionally, the ritual performance Okina may be presented in the very beginning of nōgaku presentation.
Epic theatre is a theatrical movement arising in the early to mid-20th century from the theories and practice of a number of theatre practitioners who responded to the political climate of the time through the creation of new political dramas. Epic theatre is not meant to refer to the scale or the scope of the work, but rather to the form that it takes. Epic theatre emphasizes the audience's perspective and reaction to the piece through a variety of techniques that deliberately cause them to individually engage in a different way. The purpose of epic theatre is not to encourage an audience to suspend their disbelief, but rather to force them to see their world as it is.
Physical theatre is a genre of theatrical performance that encompasses storytelling primarily through physical movement. Although several performance theatre disciplines are often described as "physical theatre," the genre's characteristic aspect is a reliance on the performers' physical motion rather than, or combined with, text to convey storytelling. Performers can communicate through various body gestures.
The Theatre of Cruelty is a form of theatre generally associated with Antonin Artaud. Artaud, who was briefly a member of the surrealist movement, outlined his theories in The Theatre and Its Double. The Theatre of Cruelty can be seen as a break from traditional Western theatre and a means by which artists assault the senses of the audience. Artaud's works have been highly influential on artists including Jean Genet, Jerzy Grotowski, Peter Brook, and Romeo Castellucci.
In theatre and performing arts, the stage is a designated space for the performance of productions. The stage serves as a space for actors or performers and a focal point for the audience. As an architectural feature, the stage may consist of a platform or series of platforms. In some cases, these may be temporary or adjustable but in theaters and other buildings devoted to such productions, the stage is often a permanent feature.
A theater, theatre or playhouse, is a structure where theatrical works, performing arts and musical concerts are presented. The theater building serves to define the performance and audience spaces. The facility usually is organized to provide support areas for performers, the technical crew and the audience members, as well as the stage where the performance takes place.
This article is an overview of traditional and modern Japanese theatre. Traditional Japanese theatre is among the oldest theatre traditions in the world. Traditional theatre includes Noh, a spiritual drama, and its comic accompaniment kyōgen; kabuki, a dance and music theatrical tradition; bunraku, puppetry; and yose, a spoken drama. Modern Japanese theatre includes shingeki, shinpa and shōgekijō. In addition, there are many classical western plays and musical adaptations of popular television shows and movies that are produced in Japan.
The Theatre and Its Double is a collection of essays by French poet and playwright Antonin Artaud. It contains his most famous works on the theatre, including his manifestos for a Theatre of Cruelty.
Twentieth-century theatre describes a period of great change within the theatrical culture of the 20th century, mainly in Europe and North America. There was a widespread challenge to long-established rules surrounding theatrical representation; resulting in the development of many new forms of theatre, including modernism, expressionism, impressionism, political theatre and other forms of Experimental theatre, as well as the continuing development of already established theatrical forms like naturalism and realism.
The Lehrstücke are a radical and experimental form of modernist theatre developed by Bertolt Brecht and his collaborators from the 1920s to the late 1930s. The Lehrstücke stem from Brecht's epic theatre techniques but as a core principle explore the possibilities of learning through acting, playing roles, adopting postures and attitudes etc. and hence no longer divide between actors and audience. Brecht himself translated the term as learning-play, emphasizing the aspect of learning through participation, whereas the German term could be understood as teaching-play. Reiner Steinweg goes so far as to suggest adopting a term coined by the Brazilian avant garde theatre director Zé Celso, Theatre of Discovery, as being even clearer.
Conceptualised by 20th century German director and theatre practitioner Bertolt Brecht (1898-1956), "The Modern Theatre Is the Epic Theatre" is a theoretical framework implemented by Brecht in the 1930s, which challenged and stretched dramaturgical norms in a postmodern style. This framework, written as a set of notes to accompany Brecht's satirical opera, ‘Rise and Fall of the City of Mahagonny’, explores the notion of "refunctioning" and the concept of the Separation of the Elements. This framework was most proficiently characterised by Brecht's nihilistic anti-bourgeois attitudes that “mirrored the profound societal and political turmoil of the Nazi uprising and post WW1 struggles”. Brecht's presentation of this theatrical structure adopts a style that is austere, utilitarian and remains instructional rather than systematically categorising itself as a form that is built towards a more entertaining and aesthetic lens. ‘The Modern Theatre Is the Epic Theatre’ incorporates early formulations of Brechtian conventions and techniques such as Gestus and the V-Effect. It employs an episodic arrangement rather than a traditional linear composition and encourages an audience to see the world as it is regardless of the context. The purpose of this new avant-garde outlook on theatrical performance aimed to “exhort the viewer to greater political vigilance, bringing the Marxist objective of a classless utopia closer to realisation”.
A theatre practitioner is someone who creates theatrical performances and/or produces a theoretical discourse that informs his or her practical work. A theatre practitioner may be a director, dramatist, actor, designer or a combination of these traditionally separate roles. Theatre practice describes the collective work that various theatre practitioners do.
More Fire! Productions was a women's theatre collective active in New York City from 1980 to 1988. It was founded by Robin Epstein and Dorothy Cantwell and based in the East Village section of Lower Manhattan, New York City. More Fire! Productions created and produced eight full-length plays between 1980 and 1988, becoming known as "one of the city's leading women's theatre groups" for its contributions to the downtown, experimental theatre, and women's and lesbian theatre scenes of the 1980s. Epstein and Cantwell co-wrote, produced, and performed in the company's first three plays: As the Burger Broils (1980), The Exorcism of Cheryl (1981), and Junk Love (1981), which had numerous runs and became a neighborhood cult classic, "the longest running show on Avenue A." Epstein then wrote and produced The Godmother (1983). Novelist and writer Sarah Schulman joined the company in 1983 and collaborated on the writing and performing of three later plays: Art Failures (1983), Whining and Dining (1984), and Epstein on the Beach (1985). The final play, Beyond Bedlam (1987), was written and produced by Epstein, who was the only person involved in all More Fire! plays.
Teatralnaya Laboratoriya of Vadim Maksimov is the only theatre in Russia that works using Antonin Artaud's theories on The Theatre of Cruelty. The theatre has been active in St. Petersburg for over twenty years and is currently directed by its founder, Vadim Maksimov.
Theatre of Yugen is a non-profit theater company based in San Francisco, California, that specializes in bringing Japanese performing arts to American audiences. Theatre of Yugen in its 34th season was founded in 1978 by founder and director Yuriko Doi. The troupe centers its production efforts on creating works of world theater influenced by the classical Japanese dramatic forms of Noh and Kyogen.
The Firehouse Theater of Minneapolis and later of San Francisco was a significant producer of experimental, theater of the absurd, and avant guard theater in the 1960s and 1970s. Its productions included new plays and world premieres, often presented with radical or inventive directorial styles. The Firehouse introduced playwrights and new plays to Minneapolis and San Francisco. It premiered plays by Megan Terry, Sam Shepard, Jean-Claude van Itallie, María Irene Fornés and others; and it presented plays by Harold Pinter, John Arden, August Strindberg, John Osborne, Arthur Kopit, Eugène Ionesco, Berthold Brecht, Samuel Beckett and others. In a 1987 interview Martha Boesing, the artistic director of another Minneapolis theatre, described the Firehouse Theater as "the most extreme of all the groups creating experimental theater in the sixties, and the closest to Artaud’s vision." Writing in 1968, The New York Times said that the Firehouse Theater "has been doing avantgarde plays in Minneapolis nearly as long as the Tyrone Guthrie Theater has been doing the other kind, and with much less help from the Establishment." That same year, when a federal grant was provided to support the Firehouse, it was pointed out in the Congressional Record that the Firehouse Theatre "is the only major theatre dealing experimentally with the writing of plays and their production outside the metropolitan New York area."