Brecht is nothing if not
vibrant, rough and recognizing the need for audiences to engage with
strong and exciting performances. Music, comedy, drama and bizarre
juxtapositions are theatrical devices to draw attention to socially
significant questions. Audiences are encouraged to question the
precepts of their thinking. Communist governments were uneasy with
Brecht while the liberal intellectual establishments in capitalist
Europe and America thirsted for more Brecht . . . as many students
still do . . .
As much as Brecht and his
plays and ideas are admirable, challenging and exciting, his
theoretical framework is related and perhaps even part of that same
bureaucratic world of benign and well meaning collectives who share a
vision of a better world through paradigm creating . . . and
ultimately politically controlling!
Brecht's focus on causal
relationships has a reductionist tendency where the heart of the
matter can be found in simple exchanges between people being the
result of historical forces. It is not the psychology that is
important; rather it is the action or the results of actions that are
of prime importance. There is an implication that if the apparatus of
state changes then so does the actions of the people from within.
Change the state, the institution or the curriculum; take control of
the political, social and educational organs and then one can change
the consciousness and actions of people.
This might almost seem a
truism until one sees the opposing views from the mystical tradition
that sees change occurring as a result of imagination, creativity and
the force of the spirit. Artaud's tendency to separate the collective
body or state apparatus from the spirit is based more on the realm of
myths, metaphors and the explosive capacities of individual will. Art
is itself seen as the prime source and vehicle for such explosive change.
A problem for art and
theatre in the Western Liberal democracies is that reductionism, the
material view of social interaction, has gradually reduced the notion
of reality down to semantics and commodities. What is said about the
event is accepted as the reality of the event. The ticking of
checklists and boxes and supplying of balance sheets is accepted as
evidence of action as much as experience or the phenomenology
associated with the actual interaction or engagement. Our thoughts
and feelings become a position rather than an experience. We
"position" ourselves to make a pitch or we scaffold a way
through the bureaucracies and "pathways" of life; moulding
ourselves into whatever identity it takes to achieve the goals we
shape within the paradigms offered by society. We tend to distance
ourselves within alienated work environments and from artistic
engagements seen as frivolous or as escape for given slots of time.
At a deeper level, personal insecurities are traded and bargained as
the ennui of homeless minds needs to be shaped and moulded into
commodities further separating experience from semantics and the
checklist understanding of one's own life. Only in naming or boxing
our problems of life can we "move forward"; as if giving
names and titles to experience some how allows us control by simply
reducing complexity into labelled boxes for ticking.
This is the antithesis of
Artaud's thinking. One can find philosophical discourse to elaborate
such alternative thinking from philosophers such as Faucault,
Brecht's theatre is about
giving names and labelling the enemy and situation. Artaud's theatre
is about constant engagement; exploding the labels and names and
understandings at the point of recognition. While Brecht might
contain a situation for our examination: Artaud creates nuclear
fission of the senses that cannot be contained.
Neither can be faked.
Brecht's theatre requires extreme attention to details of gesture and
vocal phrasing. Absolute clarity in what the scene is saying within
different social contexts for audiences is essential for it to work.
Artaud's theatre requires attention to all the details, but also must
engage the emotional commitment and personal dramaturgies of the
performers to be integrated into each performance. Brecht's theatre
allows for the attitude of the actor to the character to sometimes be
Artaud's theatre demands
that the actor find ways to communicate the essential meaning other
than through literal delivery of words. His Theatre
Of Cruelty encaptulates this seemingly vague and difficult to
define concept. It means evoking the mesmeric
state within the self in order to share common archetypes
through usually buried understandings brought to the surface. It is
less significant what an actor says on stage than what comes through
his / her very presence.
This has significant
implications for the way theatre is approached. In a way, it means
the actor is standing on nails in a performance so that every slight
change in balance and nuance of emphasis is felt through the feet and
into the sensory system. Every sense of joy is tempered by the
feeling of pain. Every engagement with violence and violent movement
is further enhanced by the need to overcome the feeling of standing
on nails that dig into the very bones at the base of the heels and
toes. In most forms of theatre, years of training can alleviate the
struggle over such pain. In Artaud's theatre, the struggle is ever
increased as the threshold of pain is increased and the work moves
beyond the simple actor / character relationship.