January 2005 (see also companion
article: Releasing Artaud from
a theatre of cruelty paradoxical manuals for
on Antonin Artaud's contradictory Theatre of Cruelty involve more
than the development of techniques and approaches to theatre
practice, development and presentation. While there are probably
unlimited approaches abounding in the area, the underlying necessity
is a shift in one's thinking about the social / cultural
constructions of reality.
human being's contradictory self protective and aggressive natures
are manifest in the behaviours which lock
threats to the system (be it self, family, group, culture or society)
while locking in personal opportunities and creativity. The greater
the need to lock out threats, then the greater is the likelihood of
violence and war! The greater the need to lock
personal opportunities and creativity the greater is the likelihood
of neurosis and related diseases!
for the actor results in aggressive even tantrum behaviour in
rehearsals and an inability to open up for suggestion to re-evaluate
possibilities for a role or a way of approaching a work. It results
in overly protective behaviours placing a shield around the
performance and approach to performance and working with others. The
conceit and vanity of the actor over-rides any sense of development
or play. Semantics are used with acidic effect to deflect criticism
and ensure the actor is the centre of the stage universe rather than
a contributor to a collective picture. Most of us have worked with
actors survive by displaying exquisite technical skills or audience
pulling power. Others are very good at auditioning and providing a
completed package at the point of first contact. Unfortunately, this
is too often the sum total of what is going to be offered. Their
range is so restricted by personality factors that lock-out
mechanisms ensure they have to justify and defend very fixed
positions at every phase or turn of a rehearsal, workshop or
development phase. Their view of what is required cannot be
challenged without a fight. No vulnerability will ever be
deliberately revealed. And the vulnerabilities of work colleagues
will be seen as weakness to be exploited in rounds of inter-personal
games playing. When given research tasks or additional reading, the lock-out
actor smugly assumes it is not necessary and so either doesn't read
the text or only reads enough so as to illustrate his or her proficiency.
results in similar behaviours but for different reasons and with
different nuances. The lock-in
actor always has a problem; a problem involving a precarious
emotional state that needs to be injected into the rehearsal and
performance space. The lock-in
actor often takes the persona of a perfectionist. But this only
results in constant break down while attempting tasks and a refusal
to commit to the moment. The headiness of the lock-in
actor is often more frustrating than the smugness of the lock-out
actor. Though both are very jarring in a development process. Phrases
like "I'm confused" or "I just don't get it" or
half completed sentences like "Look, I" with a shake of the
head followed by silences are some observable features of the lock-in actor.
always has a sense that the real issue is not within the focus of
the work at hand but in some unstated inner personal turmoil of the
actor. Unlike the lock-out
actor, the lock-in
actor is in constant need of personal attention and support. The
rehearsal or workshop process becomes a therapy excuse where the
focus is not on the work at hand but on the personal connection with
an incomprehensible universe.
some stage in an acting life, most of us have probably veered
towards one of these ends of the lock-out
spectrum. As a director, I prefer to avoid engaging actors with
either of these characteristics. However, in truth most of us display
such recognizable characteristics in certain circumstances. Directors
also display the same tendencies. As do writers, designers,
administrators, technicians etc.!
it doesn't take too much imagination to apply such thoughts across
the spectrum of the individual through to the group, society and
culture. Most Drama schools attempt to face these characteristics
head on. Concepts such as letting go, detachment, focus etc. are
common to all acting training and desirable traits. However, with all
the pressures on the individual in a competitive world, it is very
understandable that real life pressures affect the theatre practitioner.
and Letting Go: Ratio
model we can formulate a Control
and Letting-go: Acceptance ratio
within individuals and groups. Whether the problem is one of lock-out
the underpinning issue is one's need for control. One's need to
control outcomes may lead to committed practice of key skills or
actions. However it can also lead to misplaced tightening up and
locking of the moment; killing the very essence of theatre.
Artaud provided us with key elements, concepts and inspiration to
use such notions and such paradigms for constant rejuvenating our
work within a changing world environment.
balancing a balloon
hold a key to illustrating the Control
/ Acceptance Ratio
in ephemeral presentation. Acting is an ephemeral art. It exists only
at the moment of its construction. It is a paradoxical art requiring
preparation yet an ability to respond at the moment of stimulus.
Balloons can provide a unique tool for preparing the body and mind
for Artaud's theatre of liberation from the organs. This simple
utility can be used as a gauge of an actor's temperament for handling
the ephemeral being of theatre that cannot be rehearsed, fixed and controlled.
why should an actor waste time balancing balloons to explore beyond
the confines of the body when most of our thinking is about control.
Control of our bowls, control of our voice, control of our reading,
control of our movement, control of our delivery of lines, control of
our presentation of self, control over our role, control of our
image. And more!
the audiences are also about control. They are being educated to
control the artists and what the artists deliver on stage. Through
controls on funding and even over reality TV and shows like Australian
Idol, there is the encouragement to make the artist like the
gladiator striking down mercilessly all opponents until there emerges
just one who soars for a few moments before being discarded and
forgotten. Is this democratising art?
this can be confusing and cluttering. So forget for a while about
the end product and the need to make a living and vie for the next
job. Take a balloon or two balloons. Blow them up. Humm into them and
feel the vibrations. Keep humming until the vibrations are strong.
Then balance on your finger tips. Keep contact with the balloon. Push
too hard and it bounces away. Apply not enough pressure and it falls
over. Then try it with two. Then try it with eyes closed. Keep
building with it. Feel the maddening desire to be done with them. But
persevere. And when you discover that thin line between control and
letting go, that is the point at which to begin releasing one's own
fears of being a performer.
allow for the mesmeric state of flow to absorb you and take you into
the silent meditative world of just being. Just try it. Then see if
the above makes any sense for you.
what about the cruelty?
theatre of cruelty isn't about being cruel or violent or simulating
such things for their own sakes. To create work that goes into the
heart of cultural / social / personal bestial nature requires us to
accept much more about ourselves and our working relationships. It
requires more than superimposing some other world view or paradigm
over a series of stage actions construed by a writer or director or
both. Acceptance of our own violence, weakness, vulnerability are
crucial for a work that subverts the theatrical in order to infect
audiences with a virus of awareness and potential for change.
just finished a year of working Acting
with a most willing ensemble of actors; and having seen the group
opening out with some extremely potent imagery and the release of
incredible erotic and physical energy, I have become more convinced
of the need for this discovering of the Control
and Letting-go: Acceptance ratio. The
result is an amazing freeing up of performers to journey where-ever
the work leads. With such freedom comes an energy that is beautiful,
frightening and infectious for the psyche of the individual and society.
cannot be achieved without a positive ratio of
control and letting-go.
Nor can it be achieved with the jarring of processes caused by the lock-out
and lock-in phenomenum.
was suggested to me recently that Artaud despised society; that he
was filled with hate and aggression towards the pigs of culture and
society. It was suggested that any sense of toning down the hate and
the neurosis was counter to Artaud's sensibility and aims. It was
further suggested that to even perform our work in certain theatre
spaces was contrary to the spirit of Artaud.
such a person, I suggest he take two balloons, balance them on the
back of outstretched hands, close the eyes and be still or walk ...
but don't drop the balloons. Then contemplate an existence without
the constraints of one's own body that is made brittle by unharvested
emotions; then "dance inside out as in the frenzy of dance
halls and this wrong side out will be his real place."
(Antonin Artaud: To Have Done With The Judgement Of God).
Woodward (Jan. 2005)
information on 4
States Of Artaud Workshops click
If you found this essay useful, then also read the recent companion
piece on "Releasing Artaud From a Theatre Of Cruelty" which
can be accessed here.
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