September 4, 2009
As a playwright, I’m always lamenting theater’s (often-deserved) reputation as a staid and boring art, and have often wished for a modern-day ANTONIN ARTAUD (1896-1948) to shake things up. Magician, schizophrenic, (ab)user of opiates and peyote, purged Surrealist, and progenitor of The Theater of Cruelty, Artaud sought to tear the veil between dreams and waking life. His “cruelty” referred not to sadism, but to the ruthless exposure of consensus reality as just another delusion. Like much great art, Artaud’s was based on a misunderstanding: while watching a Balinese puppet show, he misinterpreted a complex language of gestures (universally known in Bali) as pure abstraction, frightening and alien. In his error, performance art was born.
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