P1.3, P2.4, P3.1, P3.2
Students will identify context, philosophy, intention and the practices employed by Antonin Artaud in his quest to create ‘total theatre’. They will explore this approach through practical workshops and apply their learning when staging scenes from ‘Love and Information’.
Teacher reads or displays following excerpt from ‘The Theatre and Its Double’ as stimulus for class discussion and predictions about Artaud’s theatrical intention and practice. This is also an opportunity to assess students’ prior knowledge of practitioner.
‘We abolish the stage and the auditorium and replace them by a single site, without partition or barrier of any kind, which will become the theatre of the action. A direct communication will be re-established between the spectator and the spectacle, between the actor and the spectator, from the fact that the spectator, placed in the middle of the action, is engulfed and physically affected by it.’
Antonin Artaud, ‘The Theatre and Its Double’.
Teacher introduces theatre practitioner, Antonin Artaud and ‘total theatre’ (context, philosophy, theatrical intention and practices). This could be done through teacher explanation, a simple key terms/approaches handout or by viewing an online video introduction such as The Arts Unit ‘Antonin Artaud background and techniques’ (00:17:49).
Students should understand that Artaud wanted to create a ‘total theatre’ experience that overcame cultural/language barriers. He aimed to engage the audience intellectually, emotionally, spiritually and physically. He did this by using visual poetry, assaulting the senses and involving the audience in a surreal, dreamlike world.
Students may also explore Artaud’s approach through a series of questions which informed his practice.
- Written and spoken texts were lesser concerns.
- The playwright’s script was not important, instead the director became the author/creator of the work.
- ‘Spoken poetry’, replaced written dialogue.
- Scripts were replaced by devising and improvisation around an idea.
- Purpose-built theatres were rejected in favour of site-specific/non-theatre spaces.
- The actor-audience relationship was intimate and the audience was fully immersed in the spectacle.
- The audience was often placed at the centre of the performance with the actors performing around them.
- Performers expressed extreme emotion through facial expression, movement, non-verbal sounds and unfinished sentences.
- Actors played less defined roles, rather than characters.
- Performance included gesture, dance and chanting.
- Ritualistic movement and visual poetry replaced written dialogue.
- Sets were rejected but exaggerated puppets, costumes and masks were used.
- Intense lighting and piercing sound assaulted the audience’s senses.
- These elements of production were used to create a spectacle and immerse the audience in a surreal world.
Watch National Theatre video, Five Truths: Antonin Artaud (00:09:08). Students asked to identify how Artaud’s intentions and practices are realised/evident in this performance of Ophelia’s monologue. Compare to Stanislavski discussion from earlier lesson. How is the actor-audience relationship changed by these two different practitioner approaches?
Teacher leads students in a series of practical workshops, exploring Artaud’s theatrical intention.
Half the class observe, as the others perform. Performers work individually but simultaneously in a large space. They have 10 seconds to perform a symbolic death by broken heart. Students should use the whole 10 seconds but cannot end up on the floor. Instead, they should use gesture, twist, and contort their bodies and faces to represent their death. The observers then have their turn and they must be more extreme than the most exaggerated symbolic death they witnessed. This switching and surpassing can continue until it is impossible to increase the intensity any more.
In small groups, students share their most surreal (but appropriate) dream. They then choose one or two of the most vivid images and create a montage performance of these moments. These images could then be repeated or slowed down to create a symbolic/ritualised performance. Students are reminded to incorporate all they have learned about Artaud’s theatrical approach, including gestural and non-verbal language. Sound patterns could replace traditional speech and the montage can be anti-character.
Teachers may also like to use The Arts Unit ‘Antonin Artaud Practical Exercises’(00:13:56) to assist with this exploration of Artaud’s approach.
Students explore the site-specific locations in the school that could serve as ‘non-theatre’ theatre spaces. For example, the quadrangle or stairwell. They discuss ways they could immerse an audience in a performance in this space. Which of the senses could be assaulted? How?
Students watch and listen to a recording of Hugo Ball’s surreal, gibberish poem ‘Karawane’ performed in the Cabaret Voltaire (00:50).
Using the ‘Love and Information’ random and optional scene, ‘DNA’, students work in groups of 5 – 6 to imagine and rehearse a performance of the scene in a site-specific place of their choosing. The performance must explore Artaud’s ‘What?’ questions while immersing the audience in an emotional and instinctive ‘total theatre’ experience.
Students rehearse and perform ‘DNA’ in their chosen ‘non-theatre’ space.
Class discussion and logbook evaluation of the performance that included the most effective use of the conventions of ‘total theatre’ to immerse and impact the audience.