He sought to use theater to transcend writing, to break through the language in order to touch life.”The very phrase, ' Theatre of Cruelty', has passed into such common currency that few of us bother much to give a lot of consideration to what its creator Antonin Artaud, who died in 1948, was really (literally, sometimes) banging on about.
Artaud, an actor, director, playwright and poet, was tangentially linked to the surrealists although what he admired most in drama, and what he strove for, was a kind of ultra-realism.
And in his book, St Augustine does not doubt the reality of this fascination for one moment.
Yet conditions must be found to give birth to a spectacle that can fascinate the mind. And finally from a human point of view we can see that the effect of theatre is as beneficial as the plague, impelling us to see ourselves as we are, making the masks fall and divulging our world’s lies, aimlessness, meanness and even two-facedness.”In Production and Metaphysics, the beginnings of a seeking after a non-verbal theatre and a look towards Symbolism and the metaphorical world, Artaud points to what he saw as over-literalised drama: “Given theatre as we see it here, one would imagine there was nothing more to know than whether we will have a good f*ck, whether we will go to war or be cowardly enough to sue for peace”He admired Balinese theatre for the “absolute superiority of theproducer whose creative ability does away with words.” -and wondered, in Oriental and Western Theatre, if we could strip theatre away from The Words, as everything in theatre outside the script appeared to be subservient to it or merely part of the staging.
His goal, set forth in his long essay The Theater and Its Double (1938), was to replace the contemporary theater, with its emphasis on psychology, by a theater of myth that would reintroduce the sacred into modern life.
Experiments with drugs, coupled with a long history of psychiatric trouble, led to Artaud's commitment to a mental hospital for nine years.
He remains a contemporary heir to the nineteenth-century antiestablishment poets and an inspiration to contemporary theoreticians of the theater.
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In life, Antonin Artaud, the French actor, director, poet, playwright and visionary, was a terrible failure.