Antonin Artaud Information (including theories and influences)

Timeline of Antonin Artaud's life and his influences in Theatre of Cruelty

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Antonin Artaud
1896: Born, 4 September, Marseilles.
1901: Contracts meningitis, which starts a lifelong
history of nervous disorders.
1915: Suffers from depression. His parents arrange for
him to go into a sanatorium. This first
incarceration is a signal of a condition that is
repeated throughout his life.
1918: Prescribed opium which leads to a lifelong
addiction to drugs of all kinds.
Artaud's personal relationships are made difficult
because of his drug-taking habits.
1926: Breton sees him as a threat and expels him from
the Surrealist group.
1931: Continues to make films, but is in a state of acute poverty, living alternately with his
mother and in cheap hotels. A growing reliance on drugs is taking its toll, sapping his
strength and mind.
1936: Embarks on his ill-fated voyages of discovery, starting with a search for lost rituals
among the Indians of Mexico. Also travels to Ireland where his frage hold on reality
evaporates, until he is finally arrested in Dublin.
1948: Dies alone on 4th March, sitting at the end of his bed with a shoe still in his hand. He
may have died of an overdose of chloral.
No other figure in the history of theatre has been so raided for his dreams for a new theatre
and then so misunderstood as Artaud. His ideas and theories were bound up with his life and
the style in which it was lived. Life could be likened to a journey through a `darkness pierced
occasionally by flashes of brilliant light', we need to hold on to those moments of clarity
when interpreting his work and applying his style.
He always chose an apparently chaotic choice of starting points. He was incarcerated in
institutions ­ a voice silenced and unheard. He did not choose to have fruitful collaborations
with others.
He believed the director should dominate the working through scenarios which laid stress on
ritual. For Artaud, ritual involved a carefully worked out scenario with staging elements that
by their visual and aural power would present a controlled sense of danger in their
performance. Actors' bodies, gestures and voices were to be worked on and choreographed

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They should be controlled and precise in
order to achieve their objective. Artaud saw theatre as a weapon to destroy present society.
His theories on theatre seek to return to some notion of primitivism, aiming to release the
mostly dark forces of our soul through a highly stylised form, in the `church' (auditorium) of
the `faithful' (audience).
`A ritual generally takes the form of repeating a pattern of words and gestures which tend to
excite us above a normal state of mind.…read more

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It used rapid juxtaposition of imagery e.g. a woman who
is about to be embraced becomes a cow, the
transformation provoking a sudden release of laughter.
He saw laughter as a great liberator. His theatre could do
the same through such contrasts and he envisaged the
use of puppets alongside the human actor to achieve
this. The Marx Brothers created a world of their own
which short-circuited a logical chain of events.…read more

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Through stimulation of the physical and
emotional senses, the audience was to be maintained in a constant state of uncertainty,
leading to overwhelming catharsis (emotional release). Its emphasis is on `enclosed' and
`below' as it implies an audience both trapped and powerless in position. What Artaud
envisaged was the vortex, a circular and shifting shape into which the performance could
erupt, drawing the audience into total sensory identification with the show.
Artaud realised its power to engage an audience's inner sense.…read more


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