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May 28, 2006

Research Notes: The addictive synthesis in theatre

Follow-up to Research Notes: Rosi Braidotti on addiction and ethics from Transversality - Robert O'Toole

Our discussion of addiction with Rosi Braidotti led me to propose a positive, social and ethical form of addiction, which I will now call the addictive synthesis. The following day I discussed this with Jon Stevens of Theatre Studies, who has a wide ranging understanding of theatre, virtuality and actuality.

Theatre is a repetition without finality, a repetition/rehearsal (same word in French). The most effective theatre approaches the limit and retreats, taking the audience on that journey to the edge.

In the Spanish Tragedy, Hieronymo’s desperation to get his friends to understand his plight becomes so extreme that he actually cuts out his own tongue and throws it at them. Blood sprays across the front row. The horror seems real. The political implications (in the original staging) could well have seen this violence flood outwards from the stage and into a society seething with injustice and censorship. But the play drives on in its own narrative direction, pulling the players and the audience back from the edge of collapse.

Centuries later, when theatre has lost its ability to go to the edge and back, Artaud sought to recover this power (in his essay on theatre and the plague):

Above all we must agree that stage acting is a delirium like the plague, and is communicable. p.18

...conditions must be found to give birth to a spectacle that can fascinate the mind. It is not just art. p.18

The plague takes dormant images, latent disorder and suddenly carries them to the point of the most extereme gestures. Theatre also takes gestures and develops them to the limit. Just like the plague, it reforges the links between what does and does not exist in material nature. p.18

For theatre can only happen the moment the inconcievable really begins, where poetry taking place on stage, nourishes and superheats created symbols. p.18

Like the plague, theatre is a crisis resolved either by death or cure. The plague is a superior disease because it is an absolute crisis after which there is nothing left except death or drastic putrification. In the same way, theatre is a disease because it is the final balance that cannot be obtained without destruction. It urges the mind to delirium which intensifies its energy. p.22

Most importantly, this theatre is a mobile plague, sweeping across the country. The movement of the travelling company from one city to another is not incidental. The programme of repetitions/rehearsal is repeated in a new setting each time, a new audience, a new set of reactions and interactions. As the reputation of the players builds and preceeds them, the audience becomes even more receptive and superheated, in expectation of becoming infected. Imagine what it must be like for the players, repeating their words and moves, and each time anticipating the differences both subtle and extreme.

Now consider street theatre, even more an addiction played out in varying circumstances. And the theatre of cruelty – the programme of repetitions melds with the stage and its agents, a single exposed body stripped bare and made mobile.

The addictive synthesis is the life and drive within theatre.

July 11, 2005

Research Notes: Artaud, the theatre and its Body without Organs

As a break from Deleuze and Guattari, and as input for a proposed research network on virtuality and performance, i've been reading the collection of essays by Antonin Artaud, The Theatre and its Double. This contains some fascinating schizoanalysis of theatre and its Body without Organs, biological life. Here's some killer lines from the essay on Theatre and the Plague:

Above all we must agree that stage acting is a delirium like the plague, and is communicable. p.18
…conditions must be found to give birth to a spectacle that can fascinate the mind. It is not just art. p.18
The plague takes dormant images, latent disorder and suddenly carries them to the point of the most extereme gestures. Theatre also takes gestures and develops them to the limit. Just like the plague, it reforges the links between what does and does not exist in material nature. p.18
For theatre can only happen the moment the inconcievable really begins, where poetry taking place on stage, nourishes and superheats created symbols. p.18
Like the plague, theatre is a crisis resolved either by death or cure. The plague is a superior disease because it is an absolute crisis after which there is nothing left except death or drastic putrification. In the same way, theatre is a disease because it is the final balance that cannot be obtained without destruction. It urges the mind to delirium which intensifies its energy. p.22