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  • Writer's pictureJOE WOODWARD

Liminal Surrealism a Theatre Direction

The incredible abstraction of being ...

I always loved the title of Milan Kundera's novel "The Incredible Lightness of Being". I love the book and enjoyed the movie. The beautiful thing about it was that I never understood what the writer was trying to say and what the movie was really about. On the surface it was about very petty people living slavishly very petty lives ... and I hated them. Yet it was more!

Yet the title stayed with me.

That connection between self and literature or self and art is a very personal relationship. Personal! Yet the only connection that is worth anything in the universe! The love one shares is at best ephemeral like the relationship between the audience and the actors in a live performance. It dies at the moment of its creation. The sex that drives the human race to propagate its species is simply part of the necessary drive that moves individuals to fuck, rape, devour each other and eat the psyche of one and other to the point of genocide.

The Russian theatre guru "Stanislavski" has been coopted as an American to legitimize its cultural hegemony through film and cinematic style. The heroes of the 1950s, a decade of sanctification of American domination throughout the known universe, have been banded on to the skin of theatre practitioners ever since. The American aesthetic of theatre arts has never questioned the iconic reverence towards Marilyn Monroe, James Dean, Marlon Brando et al. However, very talented people does not equal a system of signifiers. American playwriting, American films and American acting techniques do not summarize the potential for living representations in art.

Stanislavski might have provided the basic theoretical platform for film acting. But the most significant element of Stanislavski' was his doubts about his work as exemplified in Meyerhold's influence through the later moments in his life. The horrible intrusions into the Russian Stanislavski that were seen in American appropriations of his work have permeated into the Australian theatre scene. The glib referencing of Stanislavski in theatre is obscene. Stalin had Meyerhold murdered. Stanislavski might well have been also killed but died meantime. But now the mediocre minds of Stanislavski followers have created a messianic style attachment to their hero.

So in our highly programmed and technological age is it possible to create paradigms for performance that don't simply signify and promote the dominant paradigms of our proclivities as citizens within communities and extended families?

While film makers like Peter Greenaway certainly challenge the predominant world views, it is difficult to see where creative talents have challenged the strait jackets of cultural and agenda-based creative outputs in cinema and theatre.

If per chance you want to do this: ie. challenge the cultural domination of arts and artistic practice, then Antonin Artaud is a valuable starting point as is Shakespeare's fool (in King Lear) OR Thersites in "Troilus and Cressida. Both these "fools" work as oppositional figures drawing attention to the absurdities of the powers that be around them. Artaud's defiance of socialist and communist masters through his break with the Surrealist movement epitomizes the individual's "fool" contrasting his own generalized attachment to the cultural milieu of his time. It was a source of much condemnation and accusations of individualism; Artaud was probably closer to forms of anarcho-syndicalism than socialism of the 1920s; although I am sure Artaud would scream at me for suggesting such a thought!

But the artist isn't the one responsible for making the social contract; the structuring of resources and the shaping of society. So the artist doesn't need the whole picture. The artist makes a poor politician. The artist does need to be constantly dissatisfied with the way things are; the only balance one can achieve is in the struggle to SEE and to shape that perception in a form that can be communicated. Such form and such shape may very often be antagonistic and critical. The actor takes a text or an idea for a text and gives physical shape to a sculpture in a space; a sculpture that might well be interacting with other sculptures ... if not, then with an audience. The designer, director, writer assist in the construction of realities that give vent to the actor's potential to shape and jolt the known cultural and social perceptions.

The actor cannot be afraid of liminality; that ambiguous in-between state that exists between stages of development; even between the actor and the act or the self and the character or the performance and the audience ... etc. And this is where Antonin Artaud is significant. The total theatre concept blasts through separations and demarcations whilst acknowledging all of them. Surrealism acknowledges the very specific and subjective nature of all reality; dreams influencing reality and the subjective craving for personal significance within an absurd and insignificant world. Yet it also takes on the pain of real suffering as a result of this absurdity and the lies that contribute to static structures of control that bend human spirit to mediocre wills and base perceptions. As art it uses the liminal state of the actor and act to try and upset the equilibrium of oppression and authoritarian controls ... No wonder much of the offering is quite dark in delivery; why its main enemy might well be the US affirming world of Disney and Nero's "Bread and circuses"!

Joe Woodward


You are tired of seeing English and American Affirmations through their theatre offerings and their Australian surrogates? Want to experience something refreshing ... and yes, this isn't acting training for untalented or the talented ... it's liminal experience ... perhaps linked to some of Antonin Artaud's thinking ... but will take place on Fri 10 February at 8.00pm. I won't tell you WHERE until you let me know you are interested in this Shadow House PITS offering ... Only can take a handful of participants ... so if you are keen on the idea of liminal performance and perhaps surrealism ... just email shadowhousepitswrite at


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