Artaud’s Anguine Audience

Connections to the GCSE, AS and A level specifications

  • Theatrical style
  • Methods of creating, developing, rehearsing and performing
  • Artistic intentions
  • Significant moments in the development of theory and practice
  • The relationship between actor and audience in theory and practice

PC: Another important distinguishing point is his perception of audiences. I know that his work never really had a chance to establish an audience but how did he envisage the audience?

RM: I think one of my favourite quotes, it is not an exact quote but slightly paraphrasing it, he says that, ‘audience members should be treated like snakes and they should feel every vibration.’ The theatre should communicate with the audience through vibration like with snakes. So the audience is a passive vehicle. But at the same time the audience are not passive because they become an active part of the process.

PC: Are the audience’s bodies physically engaged with the bodily experience of the performer?

RM: Yes, what you think of the boundaries between the body of the audience member and what they see on stage should be somehow disrupted. But it only seems to go in one direction, so it is only from the performer to the audience. The audience is incorporated into the spectacle but almost against their will. You have to abandon all intellectual capacity and just be, be subjected to this onslaught.

PC: I know he talks about the audience being encircled in The Theatre of Cruelty manifesto. Has that disruption and onslaught been realised in other peoples work since Artaud? Perhaps The Living Theatre and their ‘happenings’. Their Paradise Now seemed to disrupt those boundaries.

RM: Yes, there is a lot within performance art. I don’t know to what extent they are really ‘Artaudian’ but there are a lot of people who speak about Artaud as an influence. Stephen Barber has written quite a bit about Artaud’s influence on The Living Theatre and Japanese Butoh, as well as, people like Marina Abramovic: people that use their bodies as a vehicle.

PC: What were the aesthetics of his theatre? Was it connected to the Tarahumaras and Balinese dance experience?

RM: When I think about the aesthetics of it, the thing that springs to mind is lighting and sound. It ties in with the all engulfing, sensory experience.

PC: It has to “satisfy the senses”. How does he write about lighting and sound?

RM: He writes about using all the latest technology. Basically it should be spectacular. With sound I know he wanted to use this instrument the Ondes Martenot which is similar to a theremin. It makes a weird wobbly sound. He was really interested with engaging with technology which is another way that he was quite innovative. He was quite anti-sound in cinema but he was into using all the new technical possibilities in the theatre to enhance this sensory experience.

PC: Are there any examples of this sensory experience in action?

RM: Les Cenci but that had negative reviews that said it was too overwhelming and there was nothing subtle about it. It was too much of an assault on the senses.

PC: I think that is a common difficulty that teachers have with the work that students produce under the umbrella of being Artaudian – it can often lack subtlety.

RM: I don’t think it would ever be possible to actually really put Artaud’s ideas into practice. There is a sense that this plague metaphor is not really just a metaphor so it is something that is so violent and destructive. Yes we have the Tarahumaras and Balinese dance, and yes most would say his cruelty is not about violence, but Artaud’s theatre is in theory something that is violent and destructive. He was always writing about these apocalyptic scenarios. It is not possible to take it to the extreme that Artaud seemed to suggest.


  • The theatre should communicate with the audience through vibration like with snakes.
  • The audience is incorporated into the spectacle but almost against their will.
  • Lighting and sound tie in with the all engulfing, sensory experience.
  • Artaud writes about using all the latest technology: it should be spectacular.
  • It is not possible to take theatre to the extreme that Artaud seemed to suggest.

Artaud’s Vision: Balinese Dancers and the Mexican Tarahumaras

Interview with Ros Murray

Dr. Ros Murray has held research posts at the University of Manchester and Queen Mary University of London, where she taught in French and film, before starting at King’s College, London as a lecturer in 2016.

Ros’ research interests lie broadly in 20th and 21st century visual culture, critical theory, queer theory and feminism. She works on avant-garde, experimental and documentary film and video. Her book Antonin Artaud: The Scum of the Soul explored how Artaud’s work combined different media (theatre, film, drawings, notebooks and manifestos) in relation to the body.


Connections to the GCSE, AS and A level specifications

  • Theatrical style
  • Social, cultural, political and historical context
  • Significant moments in the development of theory and practice
  • Influence
  • Key collaborations with other artists
  • Use of theatrical conventions

PC: Artaud had some very influential experiences: visiting the Tarahumaras tribe in Mexico and seeing the touring Balinese dancers. When did those experiences happen and what inspired him from those experiences?

RM: It is interesting, it could be said that it is impossible to put his proposals into practice, but his ideas were based on something he actually saw: the Balinese dancers and the Tarahumaras. That was what he was trying to write about. In a sense it did exist, but it was very much in the vision of what he was seeing.

PC: When did he see the Balinese dancers because that experience has been criticised for not being particularly representative of Balinese culture.

RM: Yes, the context in which he saw it is obviously significant. He saw the Balinese dance performances as part of the colonial exhibition he saw in Paris in the 1930s. There is an argument that much of French and European literature in the 19th and early 20th century romanticised what they call the ‘Orient’. They explored the white European self through the vision of the ‘other’ (see Edward Saïd, Orientalism). That is relevant to Artaud: all texts that he approached, he approached them through his own perspective.

PC: He was quite open and honest about that though. He wasn’t necessarily attempting to define or represent their culture through his output. It is more that he was using his experiences to inform his ideas about representation itself.

RM: Yes nobody really knows what actually happened with the Tarahumaras because it is not properly documented but he did go to Mexico, we know that much. The writing is about the Tarahumaras: he talks about going off with this tribe and doing the peyote ritual and all these other crazy things that happened. Several people have written that he didn’t actually go at all but it was all in his imagination because he was going a bit mad at this point. I think there are some anthropologists that have found evidence of Artaud having had contact with the tribe. He spent time performing these rituals with the Tarahumaras and they came to inform his theatre.

PC: Is there something specific in the peyote ritual experience that informed his ideas?

RM: The peyote is a hallucinogenic drug like acid but it is a natural herb. The ritual is based on a dance. He talks about the Tarahumaras’ relationship with the landscape and the countryside and how the rocks were speaking.

PC: You can see these kind of dances in videos online. It is a good way of seeing what Artaud saw without fully experiencing it! It is repetitive, it is rhythmic. Rhythms of the body and the voice.

RM: Have you heard Artaud’s recordings on


  • Artaud did experience the kind of theatre that he wrote about when he saw the Balinese dancers and participated in the peyote ritual with the Tarahumaras.
  • All texts that Artaud approached, he approached them through his own perspective.
  • The peyote ritual is based on a dance.