from the cracks in the psyche of culture
by Joe Woodward
ANYONE WITH A ZEST FOR LIFE AND ART
ready for an emotional and physical challenge
WHAT IS IT ABOUT
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.
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.
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
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.
Impractical Beauty of Artaud's Dilemmas" offers you:
new paradigm (a M.E.S.H.) through which to approach the work of
for using space to focus and provide safety for participants and self
to disassociate the object of one's creation from the personal self
rituals prior to working on theatre creation and tasks
primacy of atmosphere in releasing the mind and body from everyday clutter
exercises on 'body
as a means of letting
Artaud's thinking to some Meyerhold biomechanics techniques using balloons
of tapping intuition between participants for linking of the group.
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.
Why Me and Why Now
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!
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.
none of this is particularly difficult when approached with the
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
- 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
- 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.
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
- 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
- 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.
- 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.
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
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