A friend and member of Apocryphal told me today "You're you again." I know what he means. It's been a long fucking time. A really long time.
In case you are interested in postdramatic theater and political theater, here's part of my paper. The citations are all screwed up because I cadged most of it from PhD thesis, so if you are really interested, get in touch with the British Library and they can get you a copy of the whole thing...The writing in this blog, but also the paper below is subject to copyright and I ask you do not replicate it anywhere without my permission.
Postdramatic Theatre and the Psychic Backstage (excerpts)– Julia Lee Barclay © 2011
Who were Brecht and Artaud before they became 'Brecht' and 'Artaud' and can this kind of question lead to a new type of politically engaged theatre? Whilst more overtly political theatre, in the epic tradition, concerns itself with how power operates in the realm of what can be seen and understood in a rational, materialist form, the postdramatic theatre, in the way it operates in my own and other theatre companies identified by Lehmann, opens a door into the psychic backstage of thought, experience and pre-existing social structures. What I propose to show in this presentation is how engaging with the way the gears of the machine are constructed, even more so than the visible parts of the machine itself, can be a political act.
I propose a politically and philosophically-engaged theatrical practice that tessellates the Brechtian and Artaudian traditions, wherein the undermining of the meaning-making machinery with its implicit questioning of universalizing language structures does not have to be done only by an appeal to bodily experience, but can engage that meaning-making machinery itself.
My first encounter with the tension between the Brechtian and Artaudian line of influence was directing Peter Weiss’ Marat/Sade (1965). The conceit of this play is that the Marquis de Sade is directing a play about the assassination of Jean-Paul Marat, which he has written for the inmates of Charenton, where he himself is incarcerated, in Napoleonic France. When I directed this play in 1986 at university, I wrote a thesis about the challenge of remaining true to the Artaudian undercurrent represented by Sade and the mental institution and the Brechtian analysis implied by the alienation techniques, such as signage for each scene, interventions into the ‘action’ and the lines given to Marat (Barclay 1986). Whilst Weiss later in life chose a Marxist interpretation of his text and resisted Brooke’s more Artaudian staging, the play itself does not fall on either side of the line easily. The uneasy tension set up between Brecht and Artaud (which arguably echo the tension between Marx and Nietzsche) continue to pervade my work.
The first show I directed at university was The Serpent, written by Jean-Claude van Itallie, and created by Joseph Chaikin’s Open Theater. One of Chaikin’s goals for this production is relevant to the way in which the dual influence of Artaud and Brecht can be successfully tessellated:
I think the theater could erase and repudiate the icons. It could do this by making them visible, by showing people they are the face of a body, and by showing the body of which they are the face.
(Chaikin 1984: 96)
The Serpent was called a ceremony by The Open Theater and works with the mythologies/icons of Judeo-Christian religion as they related in the 1960s to current political crises, especially the eternal sense in the US of losing its innocence, as it related to the Garden of Eden story.
My practical research (in labs in NYC and London with Apocryphal) into unearthing the “reality grid of right-now” relates to Chaikin’s strategy of repudiation of the icons by “making them visible.” The desire to show people that “they are the face of a body” relates directly to Artaud’s desire that theatre connect the audience to forces larger than themselves, whereas “by showing the body of which they are the face” relates directly to Brecht’s desire that we see clearly that of which we are a part and therefore help sustain and create. This then links back to Artaud’s concern that:
...rarely does the debate rise to a social level or do we question our social or ethical system. Out theatre never goes so far as to ask itself whether by chance this social or ethical system is iniquitous or not.
The cut-up method offers another strategy for getting outside of the strangle-hold of what Burroughs refers to as the “Word Virus” (Burroughs 1986: 47) and can make manifest the linguistic mechanisms of reality-creation. Burroughs says in an interview after talking about how when on the street we are always seeing in cut-ups, signs, newspapers, overheard conversations, sounds, visual material:
Either-or thinking is just not accurate thinking. That’s not the way things occur, and I feel the Aristotelian construct is one the great shackles of Western civilization. Cut-ups are a movement towards breaking this down.
(Burroughs & Gysin 1982: 5-6)
Burroughs’ cut-up methods perhaps answer a call Artaud makes for theatrical language:
To make metaphysics out of spoken language is to make language convey what it does not normally convey. That is to use it in a new, exceptional and unusual way, to give it its full, physical shock potential, to split it up and distribute it actively in space, to treat inflexions in a completely tangible manner and restore their shattering power and really to manifest something; to turn against language and its basely utilitarian, one might also say alimentary, sources, against its origins as a hunted beast, and finally to consider language in the form of Incantation.
(Artaud 1981: 35 emphasis mine)
Like Burroughs, Artaud sees the need to use language in alternative ways to save language from “its origins as a hunted beast.”
Another example of a way to tessellate Brecht and Artaud is the use of what I refer to as 'the grid', which is engaged to activate language, gesture, objects and the performance space itself in a way that owes a debt to the lineage of Artaud, Cage, Burroughs/Gysin and Foreman but for the purposes of engaging such overtly political 'grids' as gender, class, religion and race, in a way that owes a debt to the Brecht, Beck/Malina, Chaikin and Gómez-Peña traditions. In my work in NYC and with Apocryphal in London, the cutting-up technique happens into live performance wherein written and spoken text, as well as gestures, sounds, space and objects are “split up and distribute[d]...actively in space.”
I will now ask for a few volunteers to demonstrate one way in which this can work (did levels of address workshop, then….
Implicit in this work is the idea of the witness, each player – as you just saw – is witnessing their own actions as well as acting. This relates the grid, which is arguably a more Artaudian concept, with the eyewitness of Brecht, in which he gives instructions for the actor to report an event as a witness to that event. Theron and I will now attempt to demonstrate this with a brief reading from Apocryphal’s final production, Besides, you lose your soul or the History of Western Civilization. The text was inspired by the last line of interview with an FBI guy who said torturing people was a bad idea because you get bad information and ‘Besides you lose your soul’ and Hans-Thies Lehmann’s observation in a talk at Central that the individual soul was a Western construct.
[You can get a copy of Besides, you lose your soul...by clicking on title in publications list on blog. ]