Connections to the GCSE, AS and A level specifications
- Theatrical style
- Methods of creating, developing, rehearsing and performing
- Artistic intentions
- Theatrical purpose
- The relationship between actor and audience in theory and practice
PC: If Artaud’s work is so connected to his life and experience how can someone create something Artaudian?
RM: It should definitely be rooted in the body. They can think about how they can use their body, their own experience of their body, to express something. Not necessarily in words. The way that he writes about breath is possibly a good starting point for putting Artaud into practice. In The Theatre and the Plague he is interested in the plague because the two organs that the plague has its effect on are organs that you can consciously manipulate: the brain and the lungs. He says that you can control your thoughts and you can also control your breathing. Playing with those two, particularly the breath, you don’t want to hyper-ventilate, but thinking about using things that you would think of as being bodily functions that are somehow automatic and disrupting them in some way. And doing that with language as well.
PC: Disrupting language?
RM: Using glossolalia, improvising around shouting and making noises. Starting with a sentence and undo it.
PC: Understanding how language emerges and develops in young children may be interesting to look at. Students could reverse that process when working on a text. Finding how the simplest human sounds impact on the body.
RM: Yes and what they can do to a text. The violence that they can do to the text. Rather than the violence they can do to the body. The violence that they can do to the text using their body in some way. It is difficult to say how someone can do something ‘Artaudian’ because as Grotowski writes: the paradox of Artaud is it is impossible to carry out his proposals.
PC: To a certain extent I think all practitioners are difficult to replicate because they are so rooted in a specific context: Grotowski’s work came out of a response to the Polish experience of Nazism, specifically concentration camps. Brecht was responding to the rise of Nazism and life in Germany under Nazism. But these practitioners had work produced and there are detailed records of their productions: photographs and films.
RM: Yes, he didn’t actually do very much, which makes Artaud so difficult. His theatre didn’t really exist. There was Les Cenci but it was a failure. All his theatre projects ended up as a failure. Not only with theatre, he had a film career as an actor then he wanted to make films and that was a disaster. He never actually produced a book: all of his texts are manifestos and notes on things. He never actually produced anything that was complete. Which makes it difficult but, at the same time, a lot of the ideas are accessible.
PC: Did he want it to fail? Was the act of failing in a strange way evidence for his theories. Did he think that representation is impossible therefore it will fail? Like a kind of professional self-harming?
RM: Yes. There are two things going on with Artaud, particularly when you read all his letters to his editors: on the one hand he was absolutely desperate to make money and to live, so publishing texts was a necessity to make a living but at the same time he was absolutely resistant to completion. Yes I think you’re right. Essentially he needed all his work to fail in some way to be able to prove that representation itself was doomed to failure. So there is another paradox: he needed it to fail in order for it to succeed; to show that language and representation is inherently flawed.
PC: You mentioned Artaud’s plague metaphor. Could you explain that metaphor and how it influenced his vision for theatre?
RM: He wrote about how the theatre should be like a plague. The thing he highlighted in the plague was the contagion. It should be this contagious, uncontrollable force that invades the body of the actor rendering all their intellectual capabilities useless: turning them into this pure, affective energy. It is a central metaphor for Artaud. There is a question to the extent to which it is metaphor or to which he really means it. I mean, it is a metaphor but he takes it so far that it seems like he is actually talking about a plague.
PC: Does he propose that the performance should infect the audience then?
RM: It is the sense that there is no escape from it. If you are in the room, you’ll have the plague, you’re going to be infected by this energy, this destructive force. It doesn’t care who you are, you can be anybody and you can still be infected by it. The plague knows no social hierarchy or nationality or language barriers.
PC: How much research did he do about the plague or did he take the simple concept of plague and then run with it?
RM: I’m not sure about his research into the plague. He read The Book of the Dead and he did a lot of research into Ancient Egyptian culture and also into magic, Jewish mysticism and the Kabbalah and so on, beyond that I don’t think he did a huge amount of research about anything. He does talk about specific instances: there had been an outbreak of the plague in Marseille but I think it was a pretext for his ideas.
- To create ‘Artaudian’ work think about how you can use your body, your own experience of your body, to express something.
- Artaud makes a connection between the plague and the theatre. Both should effect the brain and lungs.
- Theatre should be this contagious, uncontrollable force that invades the body of the actor rendering all their intellectual capabilities useless: turning them into this pure, affective energy.
- Artaudian work is about the violence that you can do to a text using their body in some way.
- Artaud needed all his work to fail in some way to be able to prove that representation itself was doomed to failure.