The Playgoer: Quote of the Day

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Wednesday, October 05, 2005

Quote of the Day

"In theater, there has been a movement in recent decades away from word-driven narrative. Grotowski was a pioneer of a theater that digs deep into subconsciousness. In their vastly different ways, Lee Strasberg, Robert Wilson, Peter Sellars and Julie Taymor also transcend overt narrative. Theater today - interesting theater, not formulaic Broadway commerciality - is as much about movement and image and multimedia and even song as the actorly articulation of text. Not that words still aren't central to the art, but they've lost their arrogant monopoly."

-John Rockwell, today's NY Times

I'm as much a "text" man as anyone. But acknowledging this shift away from theatre-as-recitation is crucial to any understanding of the modern theatre post-1960.


Anonymous said...

Hunh? "Arrogant monopoly?" Ummmm, almost all of the significant plays of the last twenty years fit snugly in the western tradition of text. The avant-garde is an interesting and limited phenomenon.

George said...

Actually, though Rockwell is right, so is anonymous: it's not that theater has streamed one way or another, to or from text, but that there's an unhealthy separation between these two streams. I've written myself about this here, actually, when I was trying to figure out just why this was. Might be of interest.

The Playgoer said...

Thank you both for two excellent responses. First, George, thanks for your link to your extensive and deeply thought through essay. Your cause is that of The Playwright, clearly and your quibbles with Rockwell and his ilk may be over the definition of "playwright" itself. I feel the issue Rockwell raises is that the very activity of playwriting has changed recently. And that no longer is it assumed that the chief essence of a "play" is spoken text--an assumption that clearly formed the model of years past and is clearly held by many in the audience to this day.

As to Anonymous's point, I actually read that as a tautological statement. In other words, to even refer to "all of the significant plays of the last twenty years" IS to refer, by definition, to works written "in the western tradition of text". I would argue that a list of the top 10 "plays" of the last twenty years would not necessarily be the same as a list of the top 10 "theatre events" or "performances".

Actually, I bet looking at any such top 10 list from recent times would tell us a lot. "Angels in America" is hardly a "tradtional" text (though completely text-based). I posit that any such list would show a radical rethinking of what a dramatic text is. And that the most important dramatic "events" didn't bill a traditional "playwright" at all...

John Branch said...

Am I broadening the perspective too much if I recall Nietsche's proposal that Western tragedy arose out of music and dance and Wagner's attempt to return those elements to the theater (or rather return the theater to them)? And what of the various efforts in developing nonlinear and imagistic theater from the first half of the 20th century? (This is something I haven't thought about in a few decades, but Gordon Craig is one name that still comes to mind.) All of this seems to me a bigger and older story than Rockwell's quotation or the other comments allow for.