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Hey there, I'm Mike Rugnetta, and this is
Crash Course Theater.

Yorick, you are looking especially dead today.
How fitting!
Because today it's the Theater of Cruelty,
a style developed by the French genius Antonin

Artaud—a guy who believed that theater in
the West had become way too hung up on realism.

He wanted theater to get out of the living
room and to return to its origins—magic,

myth, and ritual.
Today we'll be looking at Artaud's life,
and his influential book of essays and one

of his plays—the show about scorpions crawling
out of a wet nurse's vagina that you never

knew you needed.
Lights up!
Antonin Artaud was born in 1896 in Marseilles.

When he was four, he came down with meningitis.
He survived, but his health was seriously

Artaud was a depressed teenager.
He had his first breakdown at sixteen, and
his parents arranged several sanitarium stays

for him.
In 1916, he was briefly conscripted into the
French army but soon discharged for sleepwalking.

He went back to the sanitarium where his doctor
prescribed opium.

Which is (A) not helpful for depression.
And (B) a really bad idea BECAUSE IT'S OPIUM.
He developed a lifelong addiction.
In his twenties, Artaud moved to Paris and
hooked up with the Surrealists, acting in

a couple of films and writing the scenario
for at least one other.

But the Surrealists rejected him.
Not cool, Surrealists!
Artaud is Surreal as heck.
Apparently they were miffed because Artaud
wouldn't renounce theater as a bourgeois

commercial art form.
You tell 'em Artaud!
But if you consider Artaud's theories and
subsequent theatrical career, this failure-to-renounce

the commercialism of theater is legit hilarious.
Because there's uncommercial…
And then there's Artaud.
From 1926 to 1928, he co-ran the Theater Alfred
Jarry, producing work by August Strindberg.

In these years, he started to develop the
theories he would explain in

“The Theater and Its Double”—more about
that in a minute.

And he tried some of them out in his staging
of Percy Shelley's incest-heavy verse drama,

“The Cenci,” which did about as well with
critics and audiences as you would expect

an incest-heavy verse drama staged to actively
unhinge the spectator to do.

Then Artaud went to Mexico, took peyote, wrote
some memoirs, and detoxed from heroin (though

he would later retox ). He returned to France,
went to Ireland, and was brought back to France

... in a straitjacket, literally, because
he'd suffered a major psychotic break and

tried to attack some people.
He was diagnosed with “incurable paranoid
delirium” and underwent electroshock treatment.

Eventually, he was released, and his friends
paid for him to stay in a private psychiatric

He continued writing, including poems and
a script for a radio broadcast that French

radio never aired, because it was strange
and rude.

Diagnosed with cancer, Artaud died in 1948.
Okay, so he may have had a dramatic life,
but why are we devoting a whole episode to

a guy who did a little acting, a little directing,
took peyote, and wrote a play or two before

confronting extreme mental, and eventually
physical illness?

Because his theories are still a huge influence.
Looking at the portrait we've painted over
the last number of episodes, you'll maybe

have noticed that modern theater had a nonstop
identity crisis about how to capture real

Sometimes theater is like, we're going to
make it as real as possible.

Those toilets onstage are going to flush!
And sometimes theater is like, heck no!
The only way to capture real life is with
myth and magic, poetry and violence.

Everything on stage is a metaphor for toilets!
On the anti-realist side, Artaud is pretty
much king.

In 1938, Artaud published “The Theater and
Its Double.”

The book and its theories had a lot of important
influences: Surrealism, Symbolism, the works

that he helped produce at the Theater Alfred
Jarry, as well as the works of Jarry himself—all

super significant.
But maybe the strongest influence was a performance
by a troupe of Balinese dancers that Artaud

had seen at the Paris International Colonial
Exposition in 1931.

The dance consisted, he wrote, “of everything
that occupies the stage, everything that can

be manifested and expressed materially on
a stage and that is addressed first of all

to the senses instead of being addressed primarily
to the mind as the language of words.”

Now, to be accurate…
Balinese dance does have words.
And stories.
And specific meanings.
Artaud was doing the thing a lot of Western
artists did where they saw what they wanted

to see in the art of Eastern cultures.
In Artaud's case, he wanted a performance
style that transcended psychological realism,

which he called “psychological and human

Inspired by the dance, he imagined a style
that would “restore the theater to its original

destiny,” a mix of dance, song, and pantomime,
“fused together in a perspective of hallucination

and fear.”
Real talk?
Count me in.
Artaud called this new form, the Theater of
Cruelty, a place

“in which violent physical images crush
and hypnotize the sensibility of the spectator

seized by the theatre as by a whirlwind of
higher forces.”

Now, Artaud wasn't talking about actual
physical violence—well, he wasn't only

talking about actual physical violence—but
rather a violent impulse that would rupture

ordinary perception and the boring normcore
way that most people conduct their day-to-day

Society, he thought, had become sick, complacent,
lulled by bourgeois illusion.

People needed ceremony and ritual—“a magic
exorcism”—to heal.

Artaud believed that the theater had learned
all the wrong lessons from Aristotle, with

his emphasis on plot and language, and his
meh attitude toward spectacle.

The Theater of Cruelty was going to be all
spectacle, all the time!

It would use music, dance, and certifiably
bananas lighting design that would wake up

the audience to how bizarre and violent real
life actually is.

He wanted a theater that would “leave an
ineffaceable scar.”

In his words:
“The Theatre of Cruelty has been created

in order to restore to the theater a passionate
and convulsive conception of life, and it

is in this sense of violent rigor and extreme
condensation of scenic elements that the cruelty

on which it is based must be understood.
This cruelty, which will be bloody when necessary
but not systematically so, can thus be identified

with a kind of severe moral purity which is
not afraid to pay life the price it must be

Let's book a babysitter and go!
Artaud called for a style of performance that
would emphasize the mise-en-scene—sound,

lights, costumes, basically everything that
isn't text.

And yet, he didn't really believe in sets
or props.

He wanted actors who would operate not from
a place of psychological realism, but from

a place of emotion, sensation, and pure physicality.
He called these actors “Athletes of the

He envisioned a theater in which the audience
would sit in the center, helpless, and the

play would surround them in an act of “organized

Take that, proscenium arches!
Oh, and what's the Double after “Theatre
and its...”?

That's tricky and not completely articulated
in the essays, but the basic idea seems to

be that it's life, or what life could be
if we allow theater to work on our senses

and awaken us to something better, truer,
stronger, and way more intense than life as

we know it.
To Artaud, good theater should actually be
more “real” than boring everyday life.

Let's put these theories into blood-spattered
practice by looking at Artaud's early play

“The Jet of Blood” or
“The Spurt of Blood.”

I guess it all depends on how you like your
high-velocity blood flow.

The play was written in 1925—maybe in a
single day.

Help us out, ThoughtBubble:
A young man and a young girl, who may be brother

and sister, are being all lovey-dovey.
Then a hurricane arrives, and here's a fun
stage direction: “Two stars are seen colliding,

and from them fall a series of legs of living
flesh with feet, hands, scalps, masks, colonnades,

porticos, temples, alembics, falling more
and more slowly, as if falling in a vacuum:

then three scorpions one after another and
finally a frog and a beetle which come to

rest with desperate slowness, nauseating slowness.”
Then a knight comes in, pursued by a wet nurse
who is holding her swollen breasts.

The knight eats some cheese and chokes.
Night falls, the earth quakes, lightning flashes,
and an enormous hand comes out and grabs a

prostitute by her hair and shouts, “...look
at your body.”

The prostitute shouts, “Leave me alone,

And she bites him.
Cue enormous jet of blood.
That title was not a metaphor!
More lightning—because God does not like
to be nibbled upon!—and then everyone is

dead except for the prostitute and the young

They fall into each other's arms .
The wet nurse, who doesn't have breasts

anymore, re-enters, dragging the corpse of
the young girl.

Scorpions crawl out from underneath the wet
nurse's dress and here's another fun stage

direction: “Her vagina swells up, splits
and becomes transparent and glistening like

a sun.”
The young man and the prostitute run away,
at which point the young girl sits up and

says, “The virgin!
Ah that's what he was looking for.”
And scene.
Thanks, Thought Bubble.
A lot … going on there.
And it all happened in about three pages of

The whole history of the universe, from the
Garden of Eden to the apocalypse, in three

gonzo pages.
I'm gonna go ahead and say, yup, that's
the Theater of Cruelty.

I don't know about you...
I definitely feel fused together in a perspective
of hallucination and fear.

“The Jet of Blood” was scheduled for the
Theater Alfred Jarry season of 1926–1927.

But it was never produced in Artaud's lifetime.
Artaud spent a lot of his life in various
institutions, and various states of mental

His writing and art, especially in his later
years, is cryptic, strange, and sometimes

Still, he's been a huge influence on theater-makers
and theater companies who feel let-down by

realistic writing and Stanislavski-style acting.
Jean Genet, Jerzy Grotowski, Peter Brook,
the Living Theater—all big fans.

Also John Cage, Merce Cunningham, and even
Jim Morrison.

As legacies go, not too cruel.
Thanks for watching!
We'll see you next time, when we explore
yet one more way to give the theatrical finger

to realism.
We're going to meet the mostly Marxist,
totally dialectical, often smelly theatrical

mastermind Bertolt Brecht.
It's going to be epic.
But until then...Curtain.


Antonin Artaud and the Theatre of Cruelty: Crash Course Theater #43

163 タグ追加 保存
Pei-Yi Lin 2019 年 5 月 5 日 に公開
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