Theatre director Artaud serves as inspiration for many contemporary directors perhaps because his ideals were never fully developed, leaving thus room for further investigation.
In his writings and some of his productions where he worked as an actor or director one notes an element of despair, of illogical presentation, but also the worry to force the audience to share the same moment (and space) of the actors on stage, whether they liked it or not. Artaud was not only interested in the unforgiving Theatre of Cruelty, but deep inside all he wanted was a Holy Theatre, searching for a kind of out-of-body experience, almost like a paranormal one, following the designs of the spiritual world. Through pain comes salvation. The only problem is that he could not find an exact formula to do so, but still he created in his performances a weird, sometimes even scary atmosphere beyond the text-based play filled with frenzied screams, cries, bizarre sounds but also ‘telling’ silences which mattered very much. This was part of the sound plot that together with light design and objects larger than life would give the atmosphere that he was looking for in the theatre: of a strange dream, similar to the Surrealists in painting.
Despite Artaud’s influence in today’s theatre directors, I long for seeing something really disturbing in theatre, and by that I do not mean only a violent performance like Medea, Titus Andronicus or even the musical Evil Dead, where blood is abundant on stage. But I am looking for something in the weird direction of Ghost Sonata, but just way scarier – psychologically speaking, the kind of play that would haunt me forever. I could think of a play made only by physical theatre, nature sounds (not music!), an elaborated lighting design even if this designs consists only of fire with a specific purpose, and unspoken words, but just cries and mumbling sounds. Peter Brook always speaks of the universal language that he looks for – far away from his Orghast – so perhaps a performance with communication without words would be it. Pain is universal. Some might argue that love is universal, too, but there are ways of giving words to the sentiment, whereas by pain it is more restricted.
I am certain that anyone more instructed than me would give me a list with names of scary performances that I so long for, but still if one wonders the eye in the theatre programs of big cities worldwide, one will note that such performances are not welcome or rarely produced, not even in Fringe Festivals like Edinburgh and Avignon. Even a little more blood than usual like the Globe’s Titus Andronicus scared people away. But should a director do what the audience want, or should he assault it?
Suggestions are welcome on what to watch that could fit my description, but in the meantime I will open up my spiritual channels and try to receive any tips from Artaud himself on how to mount the one of a kind production that would leave the world scared for life: scared for themselves as living human beings and scared as living souls beyond this world, and this because again, it is through pain that comes salvation.
Luciana B. Veit