Theatre from the cracks in the psyche of culture










SCREAM No. 52: June 2011

Artaud's obliteration of the body isn't easy nor obvious and nor is it about creating new clothes for the cultural emperor. Shadow House PITS discusses theatre as mythic creation as opposed to theatre as replica.
The following article includes selections from Peter Butz' video of GEESE

Imagine a painter who only painted Van Gogh paintings or replicas of great masters! Imagine a photographer who only took replicas of Alfred Stieglitz photos of the 1920s! We might admire such efforts if done well. We might acknowledge a place for such activity. Yet it is not the core of what makes art or photography relevant today. Yet so much of our theatre today is organized to proffer the replicate ... those whose shape, inspiration and life is drawn from past repertoires, styles and nostalgic appeals. It is rare to find well funded theatres, theatre companies and university drama departments that focus primarily on the creating of new works of art in theatre.

In the popular mind, theatre is still Bernard Shaw, Shakespeare and, in Australia, David Williamson or early works of Arthur Miller, Edward Albee, Pinter etc. Looking at high profile theatre companies, we still find major seasons containing replicate productions of Tennessee Williams with high profile Americans contracted to direct and thus promote the show. In short, the funded theatre scene reeks of nostalgic replicas of past artistic achievement. With the exceptions of Miller, David Mamet and Tennessee Williams, the public mind is still framed within the English repertoire models. Any drama teacher will attest to the adoption of English accents by students when feeling "theatrical" ...

It is then very exciting to find successful instances of non-replicate theatre and to see the common grounds of purpose, vision, creativity and connection with community that such groups possess. Have a look at such companies in the Trinculo's Shadow News Letter No. 12 which can be accessed here.


Shadow House PITS' recent production of GEESE attempted to apply aspects of Artaud's theories. We focused on the notion of shedding the cultural body in order to achieve a liberation of the spirit. The relationship between cultural semantics and rituals with the human psyche was attempted against a backdrop of radicalism as witnessed in Australia from the 1960s leftist thinking to the Islamic radicalism identified through the Bali bombing. By referencing Artaud and the synchronous relationship to Balinese dance, we hoped to draw at least some association between Artaud's antagonistic relationship with words and the possibilities of retraining and re-programming the personal psyche based on a constant psychological cleansing. In short we need then to focus on the mythic nature of our art form.

If this doesn't make any sense, then have a look at the video below and note particularly the cruelty of the "guttermouth" character and then his description of words when offered to the incarcerated Simon.

"in a grave there is evidence of living
in a womb there is potential death ..."

With suicide as the ultimate shedding of culture, it is understandable how those fixated on obliteration of a particular hegemony see one's own death as the ultimate weapon. Martyrdom has a track record of choice for those who see no other way to focus opinion and attention on a particular world view. In GEESE, we see a young radical woman, Eva, who partnered the young Simon in a pact to focus ultimate attention to their cause. Reference is made to the Vietnamese monks who used self immolation as a protest against President Diem's regime in South Vietnam. The inadequacy of words as a potent force required some strong action. In the case of Eva, she died. Simon balked at the last minute and spent the rest of his life attempting to shed his culture and the tendencies of his inherited DNA.

Artaud became an advocate of revolution only in his later years. But he always saw the need to break through the walls to perception that were created by any culture. By elevating culture we only elevate ignorance caused by the shutting out of the other. This element of most theatre is the core reason for Artaud's veherment attack on traditional and conventional western theatre forms. By deliberately creating shocks to perception through a transitory culture that is inherent in theatre form, we have the potential for awakening human potential and transcending cultural lock-in.

The social experiments in Communist China were a theatre writ large. I wrote in my previous article on Revolutionary Suicide (SCREAM April 2011) of the relationship between Mao's thought and that of Artaud. Have a look at Peter Butz' video of the Eva / Radical girl sequence in GEESE. Note the relationship between sex and politics and the lingering nostalgia for a picture of the world to meet a particular and fabricated model probably just as restrictive as the one needing replacing.

Probably the most difficult part in change is the shedding of everything that is inside one's memory and psyche. Otherwise, change is determined by external events and situations that one has little control over; nor is one actually aware of the hold such external events and situations actually have over one's decision making. In the case of Simon, his most devastating attempt at shedding what he once was in order to become something else, was framed through his relationship with another dynamic woman who sought the re-awakening of his very ear and the way the melody of life is actually heard and experienced. This meant adopting new language and living in unfamiliar and different spaces.

A video of this sequence will be added here later.

But it is in the case of his mother's death and his refusal to attend her funeral that Simon's purging goes further than his attack on culture. This suggests his defiance of the cosmos. We can see how being an outsider as a child in a closed culture had a strong motivating influence on his need to shed so much. We also can sense the death of something of himself for which he has no explanation.

A character who defies cultural precepts, the universe and attempts the impossible is at the core of Artaud's imploration for theatre. Early Brecht's theatre saw similar ideas exemplified in BAAL as he toyed with surrealist influences. In GEESE the crunch comes in this scene as Simon outlines what is so familiar for most of us; only to turn it all on its head from being a nostalgic and warming memory to something that has to be burnt and discarded.

We attempted a dialectical relationship here as we then focused on the mother's lament from her grave. She depicts the pain of feeling her son ripped from her cultural heritage and not simply through death or leaving.

We obviously have a lot more investigation into theatre potential and its relationship with ideas, society and life. But if we are to be relevant and not simply promulgating the art of irrelevance and constantly replicanting past glories, then we need to look at the mythic nature of our work and stop simply reducing our art form down to some common denominator about some "relationship" between very narrowed down characters.

The Emperor's New Clothes

Probably the most relevant fairy tale for today's world is The Emperor's New Clothes. The beauty of the tale is that it creates a central image we understand immediately. Complexity in our technological age requires of our theatre that same equivalent: a theatre that can distill and challenge through the elevating of mythic characters and situations; a theatre that is above and truly beyond that which is currently driving the box office.

Have a look at the extended preview of GEESE

Joe Woodward
(June 2011)

If you are interested in reading the full text of GEESE or wish to consider mounting your own production, please click on the link here.

The photo above depicts Anna Voronoff as the Mother in GEESE

The videos feature:
 Braiden Dunn as Geese, Jack Spahr as Simon, Alison McGregor as Eva, 
Anna Voronoff as Mother, Hanna Cormick as Anais, Carolyn Minchin as Green
Music is by Damien Foley
Choreography by Hanna Cormick
Set Design by Josh Sellick
Costumes by Jessica Fairbairn

Videos by Peter Butz

Written and directed by Joe Woodward



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