Artaud discusses the way he envisions how theater should be. He, similar to Brecht, in a way feels like theater is just fed to us; it is too easy on our senses. Writers are almost insulting our senses by giving us such light plays, and Artaud retaliates, saying that we need harsher theater. If no one else will create this form of theater, then he must. And he does. He calls his form the Theatre of Cruelty.
Before attempting to get an idea of his form, it is helpful to first understand what he means by “cruelty.” A quote from Wikipedia states, “The Theatre of Cruelty aimed to hurl the spectator into the centre of the action, forcing them to engage with the performance on an instinctive level. For Artaud, this was a cruel, yet necessary act upon the spectator designed to shock them out of their complacency” (Wikipedia) To follow up on this, Lee Jamieson explains that “Artaud sought to remove aesthetic distance, bringing the audience into direct contact with the dangers of life. By turning theatre into a place where the spectator is exposed rather than protected, Artaud was committing an act of cruelty upon them” (Wikipedia). Artaud basically wants to make theater more realistic and involve the audience, pulling them right into the play with images and sounds. The same article says, “In one production that he did about the plague he used sounds so realistic that some members of the audience were sick in the middle of the performance.” This starts to clear things up a little more. Artaud wants theater to be so powerful, so realistic, and so inclusive that it could cause people to get sick and/or leave the auditorium. In an attempt to project this explanation in a more concrete manner, here is a short, cruel clip from a film titled Un Chien Andalou by Salvador Dali and Luis Buñuel ([1:22] Un Chien Andalou).
This inclusion of the audience in theater is similar to Schechner's ideas. Schechner sees a blurred line between play and reality and discusses ways in which play becomes reality and vice-versa. Similarly, Artaud says, “Instead of making the stage and auditorium two closed worlds, without possible communication, spreads its visual and sonorous outbursts over the entire mass of the spectators” (86). He wants to completely erase the line between the stage and the auditorium and shatter the wall that separates them. He says that there must be more sounds and images to do so. The audience's senses must be attacked, and they must really feel what is happening on stage. The following clip shows one way in which a band blends the concert stage with theatrics and does just what Artaud says: They spread visual and sonorous outbursts over the entire mass of the spectators. Literally. (GWAR)
There is more to his Theatre of Cruelty than just horrific and disgusting sounds and images, though. Artaud's Theatre must also be dreamlike. He says, “In the same way that our dreams have an effect upon us and reality has an effect upon our dreams, so we believe that the images of thought can be identified with a dream which will be efficacious to the degree that it can be projected with the necessary violence” (85). The following clip demonstrates a dream-like scene from the movie The Science of Sleep (SoS). It also demonstrates Artaud's idea that images and sounds should also come to a halt at points to balance it out (discussed in next paragraph). A theater group from Sidney that actually performs interpretations of Artaud's writing explains this idea very well on its website: “When I was a child I dreamt one night of eating soap. For the next few weeks I couldn't get the taste out of my mouth. I didn't like it. But I couldn't get rid of it. It certainly reinforced my own understanding of the power of suggestion. Here is an analogy for what we are doing. The taste of soap, like a virus in the system, remains after the initial infection or incursion” (shadowhousepits.com). Just as the taste of soap remained in this speaker's mouth after a dream—something that didn't really happen—the images, sounds, and tastes should remain with Artaud's audience after a play is over. If this happens, the play successfully “[attacked] the spectator's sensibility on all sides” (86). The following clip from the movie Hannibal is similar to the idea expressed on the Acting Artaud website, in which the spectators' senses of taste and scent are attacked, leaving the taste and scent from the scene lingering in their bodies after the clip has ended ([0:58] Hannibal).
The final quality of the Theatre of Cruelty is imagery and sound. The plays that Artaud wants to see need to contain lots of images and sounds that affect the audience's sense of sight and hearing. He says, “Words say little to the mind; extent and objects speak. . . But space thundering with images and crammed with sounds speaks too, if one knows how to intersperse from time to time a sufficient extent of space stocked with silence and immobility” (87). A good way to think of this in modern visual terms is of flashback scenes in movies. These scenes often flash images and loud sounds at the spectator and are meant to arouse a sense of fright, insofar as a common goal is to at least give the spectator an adrenaline rush. Artaud says, however, that this aspect of the play must not be overused and must be balanced out with “silence and immobility.” Constant powerful sounds and visuals can ruin the effect, so the softer parts, calmer parts have to be strategically mixed in to really be effective. This was seen in the clip from The Science of Sleep when, after a section of loud music and flashing images in the background, we are again calmed by the section where the character is floating through the air over a dream-like city. The following scene from the show Dexter combines all of the qualities of the Theatre of Cruelty: It is cruel in that it is effective to our sense of emotion, it contains a dream-like flashback, it includes flashing images and sounds, and the intensity is balanced out with a softer, quiet few seconds (Dexter).
For a quick conclusion, here is a final clip of an actual interpretation of one of Artaud's play's called Jet of Blood that will combine everything and show the Theatre of Cruelty to a full extent (Jet of Blood)
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