The (1896-1948). He was a French actor, costume designer

 

The first of my two practitioners is Antonin Artaud
(1896-1948). He was a French actor, costume designer and writer who changed the
face of drama with his ‘Theatre of cruelty’ which is also known as TOC. He
worked as an actor on stage and in film and as a writer he was involved in the
surrealist movement where people used visual imagery from the subconscious mind
to create art. The theatre of cruelty argued that drama needs to abandon its
emphasis on text and rely on more mysterious expressions of sounds movement and
light which are the primal expressions for human beings. However, Artaud was
viewed as a madman for his ideas about theatre which were radical and breached
the conventions of his day and age. It is also said stated that Artaud soon
became addicted to the drug opium after a few months of taking it to alleviate
some pains he had. On top of a drug addiction, he spent the beginning of the
final phase of his life in different asylums where, in some, he received
electric treatment which was believed to eliminate his ‘symptoms’ which
included disturbing drawings and crafting magic spells. However, there was much
controversy at the time about how ethical it was to administer these shocks to
another human being. 

His theatre was a break from the traditional western
theatre. Artaud’s ideas were very different by means where the artists assault
the senses of the audience, resulting in making them feel uncomfortable and
also making the piece uncomfortable to watch. He achieved this by exposing the
harsh truths about society. Some of Artaud based performances included nudity
which for starters would make the audience feel awkward.  

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Artaud only produced one play in his lifetime called
‘Jet of blood’ also known as ‘Spurt of blood’; however it was often deemed unstageable
in his lifetime. Nevertheless, Artaud’s work was carried on and other artists
reflect his work in their own productions. People such as Jean Genet and Peter
Brook. One of Artaud’s strongest beliefs was that there was a universal
language which was expressed by body language and sounds, but not words, as it
was found 80% of our communication is non-verbal. This explains why we hear
lots of screaming and uncomfortable sounds during Artaud’s productions, because
it is a language everyone can understand. The surrealist movement helped shape
his later theories. It reflected the belief that the unconscious mind is a
source of artistic truth. Artaud was inspired by a Balinese dance troupe
performance and was moved by the intense physicality of the dancers and how
they expressed themselves through their bodies.

When we first studying Artaud in class, we thought
of our worst nightmare and devised 3 freeze frames with or without sounds from
it. To get into the right frame of mind to tackle Artaud was difficult as it
isn’t like any other type of theatre around. We had to warm up and feel
confident to act a little weird around each other, which we did by all
screaming at the same time so we couldn’t be the only person to be heard. We
used our bodies increasingly to represent feelings and emotion but to do this
we had to be in touch with our bodies and be very aware of them. One of the primary
emotions we portrayed in our three freeze frames was the feeling of being
trapped. As it is a feeling most people will have experienced in their lives,
whether it’s being emotionally trapped or physically trapped. To achieve this
we started by creating a physical wall, entwining our bodies together with
someone reaching outwards to try and escape from it. Our next piece of
classwork was to perform a short 2-minute piece about a man who was rebelling
about the common trends people follow in society. Instead of our piece telling
a story we tried to make it indirect by using symbol which was the main
component to the TOC. He was a big believer in symbols and thought a lot of the
piece did not have to be obvious to the audience. We used a grid to represent
the order and format in society but then broke out of it by making noises which
were psychotic and completely unrelated to one another, accompanied by gestures
and random movements. The piece was difficult to put together as it wasn’t a
piece which had a clear plot line, which is what I am used to performing, but rather
a piece showing emotion through symbols which was what Artaud tried to portray
is his performances.

I liked learning about Artaud because he allowed the
actors to bring out modern day issues but in an abnormal and slightly
theatrical way. It would shock the audience and make them think about the issue
being addressed. This idea of problems with modern day society co-insides with
the next practitioner we are going to be using.

Bertolt Brecht was born in Bavaria in 1898 and died
in 1956 aged 58. He was a German theatre practitioner, playwright and poet and
also one of the most influential figures of the 20th century
theatre. Brecht helped as a medic during WW1 after studying medicine for a number
of years. He was shocked by the horror of war and started to question the political
side of it. Later-on in his playwriting career, his plays criticized the
injustices and inequalities of society.

Brecht didn’t want the audience to feel involved or
relate to the piece being performed, but instead he wanted them to take away
the message he was trying to get across so they could think about it, process
it and hopefully the world could do something about it. He used techniques to
remind the audience that they were only watching a play, not real life.
Techniques like placards told details of the story without gaining the
audience’s empathy. Brecht plays would also include the actors directly
addressing the audience, which again drew the attention away from the plot
itself and drew a more direct line to the overall message of the play. These
types of theatrical conventions came together and formed Epic theatre. Within
this type of theatre, Brecht devised the alienation effect, also known and the
‘distancing effect’ or ‘V-effect’. It was a central idea which Brecht hoped would
prevent the audience from becoming emotionally invested with the production. He
believed that an audience member would appear to relate to a character even
when they may not have anything in common. The audience may cry when the
character is upset and cries themselves, and they usually laugh when the
character laughs, this was believed by Brecht to be emotional manipulation
which he sought to fix through his alienation effect.

We then adapted Artaud’s style to a scene in ‘5
Kinds of Silence’ by Shelagh Stephenson. The play is about an abusive father
who has OCD and his two daughters and wife who are mentally and psychically
abused throughout their time with him. The daughters are 35 so have been in
this ‘hell’ for much of their early life. We chose a scene when the father,
called Billy, went to the army barracks and he explained how he got pleasure
out of everything being organised and in order. I played the role of one of the
daughters although I didn’t follow the typical role in the book; my character
was more of a symbol for her emotions and her subconscious. We spoke very
little during the performance with the only words used being a sentence from
the father’s monologue. We did this in order to set the scene for the audience,
to give them a vague idea about what our piece entailed. As the piece was not
100% Artaud style, we wanted to add some naturalistic acting so that it wasn’t
too intense the whole way through. We replaced the majority of words with sound
effects including shouting and ill sounding noises like coughing and heavy
breathing to show how broken down the daughters and the mother had become by
Billy’s constant abusive behaviour towards them. I also performed a short dance
duet within the piece to create an abstract feeling, and to show how in sync
the girls had to be with each other when Billy was around to uphold the ‘order’
which he so desperately craved.

In class we explored and researched Brecht so we
understood his approach towards theatre. We followed this on by adapting his
style to the opening scene of ‘5 kinds of silence’. This scene is all about
when the two daughters, Janet and Susan and the mother named Mary, kill the
father as his abusive behaviour towards them was reaching it limits. As the
opening scene was all about murder, or self-defence, whichever way somebody may
choose to look at it, it provided a perfect basis to introduce the political
aspect of our performance. We performed the piece twice, once naturalistically
and once sarcastically. We did this to offer two views on the situation.
Firstly, we performed the scene very naturalistically but with Brechtian styles
still obvious to the audience. We had a placard saying ‘Alcoholic’ on it which
we placed on Billy, as he was a heavy drinker, which then changed to say
display the words ‘Drunken mess’ for the sarcastic version, again offering the
two perspectives to our piece. As well as the placards, I entered the stage
from the audience, reminding them that the actors are just acting and it is not
real life, preventing them from coming emotionally invested with the
performance. By doing this it also broke the fourth wall. During the first
performance which was naturalistic, we had sarcastic comments at intervals
during the piece. This contrast showed the controversial situation the sisters
were in, some may have believed that they should not have shot their Dad, as it
is still murder, whereas others may believe the girls had no other way out of
this miserable life and shooting their Dad would have set them free from the
miserable life they had been suck in.

On the second-time around, we completely changed our
tone of voices with every line being heavily sarcastic. We primarily did this
to draw attention to the alienation effect because we didn’t want the audience
becoming emotionally invested; therefore, adding sarcasm also added elements of
humour, separating them from the realistic and serious nature of the play. At
one point the daughters mentioned drinking whiskey which had previously
belonged to Billy, but since he is now dead the girls use this as an
opportunity to rebel. When the thought of a drink was mentioned all of the
characters on stage shouted ‘wheey!’ including Billy who was splayed on the
floor. This emphasized the sarcasm and the seeming lack of importance of their
father’s death. To add to this, we added in some facts about domestic violence at
different points throughout the scene which bought the audience back to the
‘real life’ element of the play, reminding them how serious the subject was
that we were talking about and not to let the sarcasm whitewash it.