Maybe I’ll understand this when I grow up…

Last Tuesday morning, as the 196A bus pulled into the York Commons, I placed my spare McDonald’s napkin in my The Theatre And It’s Double book to hold my place, I gently closed it, put it into my purse and thought to myself WTF WAS THAT ABOUT!????!??!

A solid hour of reading and rereading, asking myself, “What’s wrong with you Kate?! Are you still asleep or something? READ the text!!” But I was! I would go over and over the same paragraph and tell myself, “put it in your head! PROCESS!!” But nothing was happening. I was wishing for the OED at that moment seeing as every page there were at least 10 words I had never even heard of before. However even if I had had a dictionary in front of me, it wouldn’t have been able to decode the endless metaphors that spilled from page to page.

I thought to myself, there is NO WAY I am going to be able to read AND understand this in time to write a blog about it. I suppose this week  I’ll forfeit a blog entry. I’ll just get a head start on Grotowski instead.

This didn’t make me feel good. I felt like crap. Like I was stupid. Why didn’t I understand this book? Especially seeing as two major theatre artists that inspire me (Grotowski and Peter Brook) were hugely influenced by him.

Then I read the back of the book. Looking for some sort of insight, or passage way into this dense text in clear english, I came across quotes that did little to ease my insecurities. “The Theater and It’s Double is far and away the most important thing that has been written about the theatre in twentieth century.” The course of all recent serious theatre in Western Europe and the Americas can be said to divide into two periods- before Artaud and after Artaud.”

Oh- and my favorite- ” Artaud… sees and says important truths with bright simplicity“. SIMPLICITY??!!!?? This is the most complicated book on theatre I’ve ever read!

What angers me is the fact that I am a graduate student and neither myself nor the countless classmates I conferred with could understand it either. And it is so frustrating because I’m curious! I want to understand what Artaud’s brilliant manifestos are about! So I read it, but shamefully had to go onto the net to search for the de-metophorized version.

What I found began to put some pieces together in my head- and it is truly invigorating stuff. Artaud was calling for a new theatre. He was sick and tired of the conventional, contrived and ‘civilised’ theatre. He was demanding the removal of the ‘refined’  mask we all wear that hides our true animalistic and barbaric nature. He advocated for a ‘Theatre of Cruelty’; provocative theatre- probing theatre- uninhibited gestures- huge theatrics- a call for the destruction of the barrier between actor and audience. He wanted to bring the audience a profound visceral experience– appeal to their sensual sense- put the LIFE back in live theatre.

The notion of being through with the passive audience and calling forth an active one that is literally shaken to the core and thrown off kilter experiencing this theatre is pretty exciting. Very very rarely have I been witness to this type of theatre in real life. In my dreams all the time- and I think Artaud draws much importance and inspiration from the lawless, expansive and endlessly imaginative force that our dreams are. I dream of a time when conventional boundaries of the theatre are burnt down and the experience of ‘going to the theatre’ is a profoundly moving and thrilling one. A theatre that doesn’t ignore it’s theatrical possibilities. A theatre that blows my body, spirit and mind.

In my guilty online readings some writer referred to the. “tidal force of [Artaud’s] imagination“. How perfect is that? Tidal force. And that’s what it is. His imagination and unapologetic demands of the theatre were so monstrous in size that I don’t think I had the first clue how to process them. I already feel like I could go back to the book and understand a tiny bit more.

Maybe one day, when I grow up and have had a lot of time to process this, I’ll go back to that book and begin to understand and appreciate his language. I really hope I do. I genuinely mean that.


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