Theatre from the cracks in the psyche of culture










Canberra Feb 2016

presented by Joe Woodward

A journey for 

teachers,actors,directors,students,and ANYONE WITH A ZEST FOR LIFE AND ART
and ready for an emotional and physical challenge


Too often Artaud is studied and presented as being only about violence and darkness. It is as if his words were isolated and abstracted to a label which is harsh and alienating: only violent and only shocking.

While acknowledging that much of Artaud's thought was necessarily contradictory, we can take the notion of a "body without organs" and find it's impossibility as a liberating concept for anyone involved in artistic and creative thinking and working.

We need to make sure there is a defined Acting Space. The entering and exiting the space allows participants to disassociate from the confines of one's own socialization and become the object of their own creation and observe it in a detached sense while outside the space. This is for protection. It is to allow for freedom within space to do whatever comes via impulse; but to then withdraw and allow participants to become their own personal selves outside of the space. The aim is to discard the vanity that prevents people from fully engaging in the moment of creation. It is the moment of creation we are seeking to find. That moment of obliteration of personal confinement!

The workshop requires people to have a healthy predisposition towards role play and contact with others. The use of balloons, silence, working with eyes closed and a lot of physical contact along with explosive vocal and emotional ranges will be engaged.


"The Impractical Beauty of Artaud's Dilemmas" offers you:

a new paradigm (a M.E.S.H.) through which to approach the work of Antonin Artaud

techniques for using space to focus and provide safety for participants and self

techniques to disassociate the object of one's creation from the personal self

introductory rituals prior to working on theatre creation and tasks

the primacy of atmosphere in releasing the mind and body from everyday clutter

introductory exercises on 'body without organs' as a means of letting go of control

linking Artaud's thinking to some Meyerhold biomechanics techniques using balloons

ways of tapping intuition between participants for linking of the group.

Artaud can be a dangerous person to muck around with! This workshop will provide you with the necessary sense of safe space and objectivity needed to venture into the more dangerous territories associated with Artaud's ideas and concepts. He provided very little by way of strategies and techniques. Rather he provided a challenge and another way of conceiving that is more relevant now than at the time of his writing.


But Why Me and Why Now

Along with cultural tendencies along the lines of "If it can't be measured it doesn't exist", Artaud can provide us with the tools and thinking to counter the constant reducing of all inspiration to labels and tick boxes. And it can work to link participants with universes within and without the individual and group. We can be inspired to change ourselves and our work by breaking down the boundaries of art and the confinement of imposed unities that really don't exist except in the world of semantics. Artaud's work takes us beyond language; beyond the world of little tick boxes and well meaning definitions of achievement. The process is the content!

If any of this strikes a chord with you, then you must step into the world of the somewhat evasive and elusive Artaud and the theatre of release.

And none of this is particularly difficult when approached with the right attitude.


more about the workshop and its underpinning ideas

Developing a methodology for creating within the context of a Theatre Of Cruelty, involves unearthing the very creative bones of Antonin Artaud in order that "we might invoke a new domain for theatre in contemporary society".

Artaud didn't prescribe methods of working. He was no Stanislavsky, Mayerhold or Brecht. Artaud's life was his prescription for art and change. Metaphor preceded reality. Reality preceded metaphor! Absurdity held truth. Common sense was comprised of lies. Semantics were for arguing over.

Essentially, his theatre needed to explode the commonly held belief systems and infect believers with alternative possibilities and realities. We are left to sift through his writings and life to form a conjecture as to what it was all about. And for me, Artaud's life and art in purest form was about release; release from the organs of the body, release from strictures of the mind, from the inadequacy of words, from cultural hegemony, from stifling routines, from society's self destruction, and from boring orthodoxies of all kinds. The list goes on. But if we start by identifying Artaud's central idea as being that of "release", then other simple to comprehend concepts follow.

Theatre for Artaud is more about dream logic than any naturalistic ordering of events and actions. Our dreams may terrorize us or provoke irrational fear that lingers into our everyday activity. They reveal what we dare not think or speak. Collectively, dreams become archetypes that hover and become manifest in spasmodic creations.

For Artaud, the body's organs are like parts of the house where secrets are bordered up as in Edgar Allan Poe's "Tell Tale Heart". The body is like the large house with sealed up cavities hiding bodies of one's victims. Our secret crimes are stored but don't actually die. They seek to escape. Like the virus or bacteria, they cause inflammations that can lead to disease and decay as they chip away at their bordered up cells in order to escape. And like the "living dead" we cannot destroy them. The more we try, the more ferocious and persistent they become.

A culture that seeks to deny its guilt and foundations in violence likewise lays the seeds for virulent growths that seek excising in outbursts of racism, chauvinism, sexual repression and genocide. Cultures and individuals transfer the location of these hidden entities under layers of institutionalized bordering up which might run over generations. Ultimately they lose the memory of the exact location of the problem, so embedded that it becomes part of the fabric of the organism itself.

In the individual the result is physical and mental disease. In culture, the result is social upheaval, violence and repression. Artaud suggests theatre is the means for expiating and releasing these toxins from the organs of the body; be it from an individual or society. Theatre allows for a kind of exorcism requiring purification of the one performing the ceremony while exhibiting violent shocks on the party subject to the exercise. Individual and society devils are so imbedded that it is necessary for drastic action to release them; exposing them to make them manageable.

Clearly such a purpose for theatre is not easily or readily accepted in contemporary society. And this provides a main source of criticism of Artaud's ideal theatre. Whether the concept is necessarily flawed or whether it simply hasn't been tried is another question.

Alternatively, is Artaud's theatre primarily for the participants in its creation much like the monastic way is for the monks or nuns in organized religions? While there is a Shamanistic tendency in those who have adopted Artaud-like theatre positions (eg. Grotowsky) the essential element is still the actor/audience relationship. This doesn't suggest a cloistered function for the artist. Rather it is one of engagement.

Release through the actors' M.E.S.H.

I will now focus on the means for implementing Artaud's "release". I deliberately speak of "release" as opposed to his well publicized "theatre of cruelty". My reading of Artaud is subjective and others will disagree with the model gleaned from his disparate focus.

I propose four states which the actor needs to achieve in order to fulfil the potential of Artaud's theatre. These are:

"the Mesmeric state;

"the Erotic state;

"the Sculptural state;

"the Heightened Emotional state.

For ease of usage, I suggest the anagram MESH.

Exercises and improvisations can be developed and practiced for achieving the Actors' MESH. While the third and fourth states are common enough foundations within acting training, the first two are certainly not generally emphasized. Performers in the Japanese Bhuto theatre, however, might well be attuned to aspects of these areas. Needless to say, they are not part of mainstream training in the Western theatre traditions.

Creating the MESH

The Mesmeric State is where the actor is neither emotional nor intellectual but is in a constant state of movement and rhythm with intensity ebbing and flowing in response to external or internal prompts. It is not a zombie-like state, unless such a manifestation is required. In fact, the Mesmeric State may well be extremely vigorous and even violent. Where there is emotional intensity, such emotion is derived from external stimulus as at a rock concert or a political rally. Frenzy may well be an example. The Mesmeric State might resemble a collective autism where individual volition is subjugated to some unseen force. And it is more.

It is not something that can simply be rustled up with a bit of chanting and banging of drums. The Mesmeric State is the state in which a kind of magic or alchemy is evoked. It is through this that a "theatre of the invisible made visible" (Peter Brook's term) is possible. The Mesmeric State coupled with the Erotic State provides the distinguishing features that define and separate this theatre of release from some academic exercise performed in the name of theatre but with the sterility of a fluorescent room.

The Erotic State is one of inner stillness and awareness of personal shape, spirit and existence in front of another. It is active within its apparent stillness. It is one of acceptance of physical and emotional exposure. It accepts personal self-consciousness in oneself and within the audience and the resulting tension this may evoke. It is the opposite of denial of this essentially erotic act. It accepts that art cannot exist without sexuality. In such acceptance, it flies in the face of the more customary institutionalized denial of this connection. To achieve this state, the actor must develop a highly developed personal acceptance of self and a high tolerance and embracing of stillness, silence and personal communication with the self. It requires that actors become personally aware of their own charisma and accept, without flinching, that their art may call upon such usage when intellect and technique prove inadequate.

The Sculptural State is concerned with the actors' ability to objectify personal presence in a given space in order to achieve an image of value. The way the actor connects with other actors and objects and the dimensions of the space should not be the sole prerogative of the director or choreographer. As most acting training is now for the screen where all such decisions are made, the actors' thinking in sculptural terms is diminishing. But to achieve a Sculptural State, the actor needs to be acutely aware of the relationship between sound and space; between the character "point of view" and distance; between that which is dislodged in order to make way for his/her presence; the different effects created by extension of the body or the adoption of different costume or properties; the point of entry and point of departure from the focus of the scene or the space itself. The list can be extended.

The Heightened Emotional state is the most familiar of the MESH. All acting training will demand of actors a degree of heightened emotional response; getting in tune with one's own emotions etc. Working in an Artaud inspired theatre though means heightening the intensity of performance over periods that will require great stamina. This contrasts with the mainly static nature of so much stage acting that mimics the screen form.

Essentially, invoking of the MESH is a reinvigorating process to place creativity back into the body and to provide an alternative schema through which theatrical exploration may take place. The MESH is a deliberate construction based on the principles and ideas articulated by Antonin Artaud. It attempts to incorporate the processes involved in dynamic performance and give recognition to the essentially artistic as opposed to academic construction of theatre with its partitioned hegemony of intellectual conceit.

Using the MESH is an attempt to give a physical form to the theories, principles and ideas articulated by Antonin Artaud. This should be seen as bridging personal experience with art and what it means to be a social being in association with other social beings.

A Rationale

There is nothing in the history or human kind that has caused so much unrest, genocide, murder and sheer oppression of the human spirit than the implementation and institutionalization of belief systems, be they religious or secular. More people have died prematurely because of the direct intervention of agents of such systems than all the deaths caused by criminals with personal self interest or some notion of pure evil as the primary motivation. Whole generations of people have become co-opted into the armies of occupation of the human psyche. The seductive discipline offered as a reward bleeds the human function of the imagination and intuition in favour of acceptance and faith in the competing dogmas of the belief system.

In this regard, Artaud is more valuable to us than Brecht if we are seeking a theatre of change. Brecht's reliance on equating theatre with historical / political agendas is at odds with Artaud's rejection of the political equation in favour of a more personal connection with underlying forces of nature: a world below the political with its deceptive agendas and manipulations.

Artaud proposed an art and life relationship that challenged the political will of the demigods of ideology and religion. Our art isn't setting out to attack a solitary target as is done with satire where the target is set up in narrow focus and pinioned. Rather, it is about entering the consciousness of the individual and wider society to effect ripples of changing impulses. The point of Artaud is to seek below the deceptions of vanities and belief systems in order to find the collective consciousness below the surface.

And here, we find the world of dreams releasing blocks from the human spirit through the use of ceremony, enactment, choice of imagery, selected speech and dialogue, story telling, contradictory juxtaposition of iconic objects and actions, exposing of the actor and artist, the inducing of altered states of mind within the audience.

Joe Woodward


Relevant articles and writing concerning the workshop and theatrical processes adopted by Shadow House PITS.
Sample Workshop on Artaud's theatre of release
God in the details of CREATION:
Some lessons from Dr. Michael Persinger in creative processes of theatrical development and presentation
Acting Artaud theatre production
Acting Artaud
Acting Artaud Workshop
The Artaud M.E.S.H. A method for applying Artaud's theories
Artaud Legacy and Eroticism in Theatre
Dream Sculptures in the Presentation of Theatre
Workshop & Educ Program

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