Experimental theatre


Marat/Sade in Keith Fowler‘s inaugural production for the Virginia Museum Theater, October 1969 – design by Sandro La Ferla

Experimental theatre (also known as avant-garde theatre) began in Western theatre in the late 19th century with Alfred Jarry and his Ubu plays as a rejection of both the age in particular and, in general, the dominant ways of writing and producing plays. The term has shifted over time as the mainstream theatre world has adopted many forms that were once considered radical. Like other forms of the avant-garde, it was created as a response to a perceived general cultural crisis. Despite different political and formal approaches, all avant-garde theatre opposes bourgeois theatre. It tries to introduce a different use of language and the body to change the mode of perception and to create a new, more active relation with the audience. Famed experimental theatre director and playwright Peter Brook describes his task as building ‘… a necessary theatre, one in which there is only a practical difference between actor and audience, not a fundamental one.’ Traditionally audiences are seen as passive observers. Many practitioners of experimental theatre have wanted to challenge this. … Aside from ideological implications of the role of the audience, theatres and performances have addressed or involved the audience in a variety of ways. The proscenium arch has been called into question, with performances venturing into non-theatrical spaces. … The increase of the production of experimental theaters during the 1950s through the 1960s has prompted some to cite the connection between theater groups and the socio-political contexts in which they operated. Some groups have been prominent in changing the social face of theatre, rather than its stylistic appearance. Performers have used their skills to engage in a form of cultural activism. … Traditionally, there is a highly hierarchical method of creating theatre – a writer identifies a problem, a writer writes a script, a director interprets it for the stage together with the actors, the performers perform the director and writer’s collective vision. Various practitioners started challenging this and started seeing the performers more and more as creative artists in their own right. This started with giving them more and more interpretive freedom and devised theatre eventually emerged. …”
Wikipedia, W – Julian Beck, W – Peter Brook, W – Jerzy Grotowski, W – Robert Wilson, etc.
NY Times: THE THEATER’S AVANT-GARDE BRANCHES OUT (March 1982)
Igniting the Stage: Experimental Theatre in America


Bread and Puppet Theater

About 1960s: Days of Rage

Bill Davis - 1960s: Days of Rage
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