Poet, playwright, actor, practitioner, theorist, director – do you detect a hint of awe? Rarely has a single figure, so irrelevant during his time, so completely influenced modern theatre as we know it. Theatre critic Susan Sontag proclaimed that Artaud “has had an impact so profound that the course of all recent serious theatre can be said to divide into two periods—before Artaud and after Artaud.” Whilst this is a far too dogmatic approach for my liking, after Artaud died (with a shoe in his hand!!) his writings have influenced the likes of Peter Brook and inspired world-renowned theatre company, Complicite.
Rejecting the highly traditional, naturalistic and bourgeoisie theatre in early twentieth century Paris, he developed a radical philosophy culminating in a series of essays entitled ‘The Theatre of Cruelty’. Artaud believed that theatre’s place in society was to challenge, to affect and to free an audience; none of which classical theatre achieved. Remarkably similar to German psychologist Sigmund Freud, he sought to free the repressed subconscious, taking heavy inspiration from dreams to wake an audience “hearts and minds”.
He wanted to shock an audience, stripping the human psyche to its most primal, most human characteristics and as such placed great focus on ritual, calling for actors “burning at the stake, laughing at the flames”. For Artaud, classical theatre had placed too much focus on the spoken word and scripted language.
In response, he crafted a new language; a language of screams and cries, of gesture and movement a language of primal guttural sounds that would both terrify and delight, encompassing the audience in new, total theatre. The audience would become a ‘participant’ rather than an external, comfortable ‘spectator’. Furthermore, Artaud’s revolutionary use of space advocated the removal of the traditional (in it’s most derogatory sense) end on stage and auditorium with a bare, empty space and with an audience “physically engulfed” by performers and emotion, thrown in the “middle of a vortex”.
I often cite Antonin Artaud as my greatest inspiration. Many people ask me why? He’s a madman! Well, I believe that…
In every madman there is a misunderstood genius, a fragmented insight so terrifying for society in its truth that to defame the man from whose head this insight shines is the only solution. In this solution there is only lies.
Over and out,