« The genuinely postmodern work forces us to recognise that reality is something other than our formulations of it, and that those formulations are therefore constructs » (Jean-François Lyotard). Investigate and interrogate the urge in performance theatre to radically restructure audience perception and understanding of theatre/life. Focus your response through the analysis of at least two different practitioners or performance forms studied and work seen.
Postmodernism denies the idea of a true and unique reality. It questions it by using irony instead of metaphysics. It plays with the idea that there exists another reality, as Allan Kaprow (in Kirby ; 1965 : 67) explained in a letter sent to selected New Yorkers for the production of 18 Happenings in 6 Parts (1959), ‘In this different art, the artist takes off from life'. Thus, it forces us to question our sense of the world and reality and in placing the audience in this altered and parallel state, tries to offer new ways of seeing theatre and life.
The work of The Wooster Group, Robert Wilson, Shunt and Happenings challenge accepted intelligence and knowledge and modify our perception of reality by investigating other realities. Avant-garde performance theatre also exposes our constructed models of reality and theatre and in doing so, changes the traditional model of audience understanding and asks the questions, what is theatre? What is life? What is real? Does real exist?
[...] They created this parallel universe and were filmed evolving in it so that the audience would get a sense of what that world was. Willem Dafoe (in Savran 1986: 116) said, ‘with us, you're placed in a structure that makes you see, not really yourself, but feel something that you don't normally get to feel. And it's totally your own'. This applies to performance theatre in general, as it does not seek to tell you what to think and feel. [...]
[...] In Baudrillard's nihilistic scenario of contemporary mass media culture, the whole idea of theatre or any representational art, is completely inverted: the distinction between representation and reality has become irrelevant Therefore, avant-garde and postmodern work seeks to broaden and transform horizons, not necessarily replace the current forms, or versions, but show that there is something beyond the usual and the ‘real', in a sense broadening our sense of what theatre and life are. What postmodern work seems to say is that things have happened which we have no idea why or how and things happen everyday which we cannot plan or even describe when we see them. [...]
[...] Aronson, A American Avant-Garde Theatre: a History, London: Routledge, pp Auslander, P Presence and Resistance: Postmodernism and Cultural politics in Contemporary American Performance, Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press.p Baudrillard, J ‘Fatal Strategies' in Poster, M Jean Baudrillard: Selected Writings, CA: Stanford University Press, p in Broadhurst, S Bennett, A and Royle, N Introduction to Literature, Criticism and Theory. London: Prentice Hall, p Birringer, J Theatre, Theory, Postmodernism, Indianapolis: Indiana University Press, p Broadhurst, S Liminal Acts: A critical Overview of Contemporary Performance and Theory. [...]
[...] In Einstein on the Beach (1976), a speech by choreographer Lucinda Childs is repeated 43 times: I was in this prematurely air-conditioned supermarket and there were these air conditioned aisles and there were all these bathing caps that you could buy which had these kind of Fourth of July plumes on them they were red and yellow and blue I wasn't tempted to buy one but I was reminded of the fact that I had been avoiding the beach. While the lack of answers can be frustrating, the idea seems to be that all that matters is that she had been avoiding the beach. [...]
[...] Whereas in naturalistic work, a clear emphasis is placed on the conscious and the registering of information, dialogue, character background, cultural hints, historical facts, the postmodern work seems to place trust on the unconscious, so that it becomes a valid way of making sense of the theatre and human experience. It provides a very individual understanding because meaning is not fixed and they cannot be decoded in uniformity. It also leaves space for the audience to decide what they want to do, as in Tropicana where an envelope is left for us, leaving us to decide if we want to open it or not, if we want to play the game or not, like in Happenings. [...]
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