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Chapter 9 The 90s and Experimental Theatre

In the previous chapter you read about the growth of experimental theatre in Europe and the USA. In the second part of the experimental theatre, you will learn about how the movement flourished in the 1 !s. "ou will also become familiar with some important theatre groups, practitioners and definitive wor#s of this nature. $y the 1 !s most performance art had begun to emphasi%e the performance part of their genre, perhaps because actors, dancers and musicians were initiating the experiments. &ot surprisingly, the concerns of these mostly solo performers often revolve around the self and its identity in relation to society, a sub'ect of special interest to those communities traditionally on the margins of power hierarchy, whether women, gays or ethnic groups.

Performance venues for experimental work

&ew "or#(s ).S. 1**, )ainted $ride in )hiladelphia+ the ,al#er Arts -enter in .inneapolis +

the $roo#lyn Academy(s annual &ext ,ave /estival+

0incoln -enter+

resident theatres 1 presented wor#s on their 2second(

stages that ranged from &ew 3audevillian li#e $ill Irwin4+

the postmodern 'uggling troupe the /lying 5arama%ovs to the monologuist 6 ,ooster 7roup member Spalding 7ray+ and the expressionistic pieces of )ing -hong from ,isconsin8.adison.

&o American theatre artist has pushed the boundaries of theatrical imagination further, than 9obert ,ilson, whether creating an epic multinational, multi8part unfinished wor# 1the CIVIL warS4 or an intimate blac#box student production 1Hamlet-machine4, or re8visiting classics 1Euripides( Alcestis+ $uchner(s Dantons Death4.

Vaudeville/ New Vaudeville

:he term vaudeville refers to comic, musical and acrobatic acts in the theatre. :hough vaudeville could not compete with cinema, it is still practiced in some forms in contemporary times.

,ilson(s contemporary 9ichard /oreman began directing his own plays in the late 1 ;!s. /oreman(s <ntological8=ysteric :heatre 1this group nurtured Sam

Shepard(s early wor#4 offers enigmatic chamber pieces featuring bro#en, hallucinatory narrative, supported by amplified and recorded sound, glaring light punctuated with sudden blac#outs and video monitors, within sets resembling >oseph -ornell boxes ? all in an effort to renew his audiences( perception of familiar phenomena and, li#e ,ilson, give them a chance to perceive stimuli without the burden of interpreting it. Similarly, .abou .ines, often used classical sources as inspiration. Important wor#s included Dressed Like an Egg 11 @@4 and Prelude to a Death in Venice 11 @ 4. .abou .ines, the 0iving :heater and the San /rancisco .ime :roupe have struggled on, due to lac# of sponsors and funds. In San /rancisco, =erbert $lau and >ules Irving(s Actor(s ,or#shop experimented successfully with European avant8garde classics. :his period also witnessed the emergence of small 7uerilla :heatres began performing all over the country, using experimental techniAues and avowedly non8commercial means to try to enlighten 1 ;!s America to alternative political and social realities. .eanwhile in &ew "or#, venues such as :heater 7enesis, -afe -ino, and the <pen :heater, among other groups and venues, sprang into existence. >oseph -hai#in(s ensemble improvisations helped reali%e path brea#ing wor#s li#e .egan :erry(s Viet Rock and >ean8-laude 3an Itallie(s he Ser!ent.

Viet Rock

:he agitprop play is a satirical ta#e on the 3ietnam ,ar, and employs roc# music, improvisations and alienation effect where actors interact directly with the audience. In several ways it is seen as a precursor to Hair.

The Serpent

An astoundingly ground brea#ing wor#, satiri%ing the American conformist and conservative values.Using the $oo# of 7enesis as its plot, 3an Itallie uses improvisational techniAues and alienation effects, combining it all with choreography, music and mime.

Joseph Papp :he most important &ew "or# producer, to populari%e the alternative theatre movement is >oseph )app. As producer of the &ew "or# Sha#espeare :heatre for B! years, he managed to present free 2classics( in the par# using multicultural casting, while simultaneously nurturing and populari%ing experimentalists. =e gave $roadway the roc# musical Hair. .uch alternative theatre since the 1 ;!s has also been energi%ed by the experiments of dancers and choreographers who began moving away from the abstract expressionism. Some of the more notable American dance8theatre artists include )ing -hong, .eredith .on#, >ohn 5elly and Cavid 7ordon. Cance :heatre ,or#shop, based in &ew "or#, is one of the country(s foremost producers and presenters of experiments in this genre. <rson ,elles( experimental 2voodoo( "ac#eth , set in =aiti and staged with an all blac# cast was once considered daring and innovative for its 2concept( and use of 2non8traditional casting.( /or more details, see? http?66culture.pagannewswirecollective.com6*!116!B6orson8welles8and8the8voodoo8 macbeth6

Hair : he American "usical 11 ;@4

ri#al Lo$e-Rock

Hair is a musical set in the 1 ;!(s, and is a product of hippie counter8cultural and sexual revolution. It tells the story of long8haired hippies who are anti8 3ietnam ,ar. Some of its themes of pacifism and environmentalism are relevant even today.

%rson &elles e'!erimental ($oodoo "ac#eth 11 D;4

:he first Afro8American production on stage, ,elles( Voodoo "ac#eth was an enormously successful play.

ooster !roup

:he most vigorously experimental ensemble wor#ing in the United States during the last two decades of the century was the ,ooster 7roup. )roductions deconstructed classic wor#s by Arthur .iller, :hornton ,ilder and especially <(&eill interspersing these texts with all manner of found material, including a technological overlay of video images and amplified voice, and a performance style highlighted with irony. :heir wor# is reminiscent of the theatrical experiments of the SAuat :heater, which came from =ungary to &ew "or# and performed against a window loo#ing out on to a street, so that passers8by could loo# inside and en'oy the show. ,ooster also may have influenced a whole generation of US theatre artists who went on to employ layers of text, sound and large amounts of video.

En 7arde Arts company, based in &ew "or# , consistently produced some of the best experimental theatre in the United States in the 1 !s. En 7arde(s productions are notable not only because of the remar#able ready8made sets 888the company approximates a -entral )ar# la#eside, a =udson 9iver pier, the yard of an abandoned asylum, the streets of .anhattan(s meat8pac#ing district, etc., 888 but because the texts presented are written by some of the most well8#nown practitioners of experimental theatre .


.atch the following? "eature i ii Ceconstructed classics European classics

Theater !roup a En 7arde b ,ooster c =erbert $lau

iii 0ifeli#e sets



,ho was <rson ,ellesG /ind out all about his plays and his contribution to theatre.



,ith the help of your teacher and friends, enact a scene from Viet Rock or Ser!ent.

#nswer ke%

18a8iii+ b8i+ c8ii

&u$$ested readin$s


.ichael 5irby, =appenings . &ew "or#? Cutton Inc, 1 ;H.

*. 888888:he Art of :ime ? Essays on the Avant87arde . &ew "or#? Cutton Inc,1 ; . D. 9obert $rustein, 9evolution as :heatre? &otes on the &ew 9adical Style. &ew "or#? 0ivewright, 1 @1.

&u$$ested links

http? DD6marina8abramovic http?66www.dallasnews.com6entertainment6columnists6lawson8 taitte6*!1!!11@8:heater8innovator8/red8-urchac#8s8legacy8 !BD.ece http?66robertwilson.com6 http?66en.wi#ipedia.org6wi#i6)ingI-hong http?66www.moma.org6explore6collection6media