Artaud’s Frightening Theatre of Cruelty Techniques – 63 Explanations
What is Theatre of Cruelty?
Antonin Artaud (1896-1948) was a French dramatist, playwright, poet, actor and theoretician. He advocated an experimental theatre focusing on movement, gesture, dance and signals instead of relying primarily on text as a means of communication.
Much of Artaud’s writings are difficult to comprehend, including the manifestos on his Theatre of Cruelty in the collected essays The Theatre and Its Double.
While his theories and works were not fully appreciated in his lifetime, the influence of Artaud on 20th-century theatre has been significant. His followers included Irish playwright Samuel Beckett (Waiting for Godot) and English theatre director Peter Brook, among others. The Royal Shakespeare Company, under the artistic direction of Brook, even devoted its entire 1964 season to Artaud’s Theatre of Cruelty.
A largely movement-based performance style, Theatre of Cruelty aimed to shock the senses of its audience, sometimes using violent and confronting images that appealed to emotions. The text was given a reduced emphasis in Artaud’s theatre, as movement and gesture became just as powerful as the spoken word. Piercing sound and bright stage lights bombarded the audience during performances.
Artaud experimented with the relationship between performer and audience, preferring to place spectators at the very centre with the intention of trapping them inside the drama.
Thank you so much …this was very helpful . Please would you elaborate on the concept of cruelty as conceived by Artaud because I find it too intricate to be pin down and utterly philosophical
Hi Jamila, unfortunately, Artuad’s concepts for the theatre are quite difficult to understand and as you rightly pointed out, “utterly philosophical”. What I have in this post is as straightforward as I can explain his theories, however, I would recommend you get a hold of this out of print book “Artaud for Beginners“. I have provided the link to Abes Books who specialise in hard to find and out of print books. It is in graphic novel form. I found it very useful when first trying comprehend Artaud’s theories some years ago. – Justin
doing my solo presentation on Artaud. this was insanely helpful, thank you so so much justin.
That’s great, CC! Always good to get some feedback. Thank you.
Really helpful, thanks.
This has helped me thoroughly with my A-Level coursework, THANKS JUSTIN!
Greetings from Australia, Sasha! Thanks so much for your feedback. Glad this resource helped you in your studies. – Justin
thanks meant a lot hope one day i could meet up with him
the guy died like years ago.
As a KS5 Drama teacher this article has really helped my students consider their own work in relation to Artaudian ‘style’ and conventions. Thanks so much
Very well explained piece
I remember seeing an experimental film of sun ra performing which seemed to me to approximate the theater of cruelty in many ways. As the performer played, and was filmed in black and white, bright lights were shined directly into the camera, causing a strobe effect. The music was loud and the effect was disorienting, painful and ….well….cruel.
It’s helped me a lot!
I’m a professional theatre maker and I specialize in working in the Theatre of Cruelty, Epic Theatre, Theatre of the Poor and Theatre of the Oppressed. Reading The Theatre and it’s Double was like reading my own mind. I literally cried. It’s my favorite bedtime book.
Not going to lie you sound like the coolest person ever!!
Thank-you so much for this well-written, informative post! Would you be able to clear up for me why many people regard Theatre of Cruelty as an “impossible” form of theatre? What about it makes it impossible to produce?
Hi Meghan, thanks for your feedback. I think the difficulty with Artaud and his Theatre of Cruelty is that Artaud’s own writings are difficult to decipher in a coherent form and that may be why his theatre is considered by some as difficult to produce. Yes, it is avant-garde, but so is a lot of great theatre. Perhaps it is the holy, ritualistic, surreal, hypnotising, bombarding and movement-based elements of Artaud’s drama that make it a challenge for theatre-makers? I certainly enjoy teaching Artaud in the senior high drama classroom and my students always find his concepts for the theatre engaging, yet challenging.
I’m pretty sure I understand Artaud, Michael. I agree, his theatre was indeed a theatre of magic. The point I was making in this article is that Artaud’s concepts are often difficult to understand. Given that the target audience of this blog is high school drama/theatre teachers and their students, I’m sure you’d agree The Theatre and It’s Double is not exactly easy reading for a teenager. Hence the purpose of this post, aiming to break it down into a concise and coherent form. I wouldn’t bother writing about Artaud unless I believed his theatre was worthy of it.
You mostly write about how you don’t understand Artaud. Don’t write about Artaud if you aren’t ready to understand it. He is the completely rebellious artist — and took risks all his life to prove it. His theater goes against the precepts of Westernized theater. If you are stuck to that, then you will never understand. There are no yawns in Artaud’s audience. It’s a theater of magic.
This was a life saver, it’s very difficult finding such concise well written information like this. Thank you so much!
Thanks for the feedback, Molly!
Speaking as a writer, I find the current stage of much theatre abysmal…. admittedly there are a handful of writers and directors producing new and exciting work but they remain unrecognised and unacknowledged.Artaud other others showed what could be achieved in theatre, but hardly anyone these days wants to take up that challenge. With the advance of countless innovations in stage technology, you would think it would be now more than ever possible to produce a theatre which stuns and intruigues us… just as Artaud imagined. Alas , we seem to be afraid of the new , the dangerous.
Very helpful for my A-level drama piece acting in the style of Artaud, using the script of 100 for our stimulus. Thanks
Good to hear, Alex. Thanks for your feedback.
Thankyou this was really helpful.Just did a mock GCSE that explored Artauds use of drama.Then had to write and explain about Artaud in a devising log that was marked by an exam board.Really appreciate it.
Valuable feedback. Thank you Max.
Artaud has inspired me to create my own play
Excellent! Thanks for your feedback Beatrice.
Thank you this was very helpful for my Drama GCSE homework.
Nice work your research on Arturd’s theatre really helped me for my master exam. Derek
Thanks for your feedback Derek.
I’m really interested in this form of drama, I want to perform it, and I have many ideas, I am currently studying it in drama and it blows my mind away
Could you please recommend me a workshop idea to present to my class? It’s so hard of a project:(
Sam, try creating a workshop that focuses on assaulting the senses. Loud pre-recorded music, piercing sound, bright stage lights, invasion of personal space, lots of movement, running and intense physical activity, pulsating sounds via the use of the actor’s voice and body, creating a sense of eeriness, dreamlike atmosphere etc. This will all make sense with Artaud’s Theatre of Cruelty.
Hey, thanks a lot for the idea! I have to create a 45min – 65min long seminar for my class and I will need to go over the style of theatre thoroughly. More specifically I will need to include the : Biography on the practitioner(s), a detailed description of the elements, principles, and style of the genre, and a workshop (40-45 minutes) that exposes students to the style of the genre. For the workshop, what would you recommend me to ask my fellow peers to present. My class has 16 students in it (including my partner and I). I’m thinking of maybe splitting up the class into 7 groups of 2, but then what should I ask them to do? Should I give them all a scene or something to act out, or a theme, and ask them to try and portray that theme through the techniques you’ve learned through Artaud’s style of theatre?
Artaud was on occultist,comparriate of Crowley and devised this form of theatre as a early form of what would become large scale ritual performances intended to alter mental states.it was basically a predecessor of Mk ultra type mind control.he did predict the large scale rituals we have now any Grammy ceremony in recent years has had some type of occult performance.I’m not saying he’s bad I was risked hermetic but I’m telling you what your learning about is occultist Artaud was unable to handle the things he dabbled and delved into and drove him mad.I’m not saying occultism is bad, but I do think people should know before participating in his techniques.its designed to hit subconscious triggers that can open old trauma or pain thus making you open to influence and control.if you were raised hermetic you learn very early to loose fear because fear leaves you venerable to the things you try to harness if you fear it it will turn on you.that’s why theres rituals that must be performed in progression of training.Artaud and Crowley alike lacked discipline you can’t dabbled with these things.like Crowley trying to preforms the abramelin was his downfall Artaud wasn’t mentally able to cope and its something that can happen to others who participate in his ritual theatre.100 may try it and only one be effected but you never know how mass rituals will effect people performer or audience and I can tell you the exact grimoire he got this idea from, its an offshoot of the gotta.if someone truly harnesses magick.youll never know dabblers send addicts will publicize it true practioneers have no need of publicity and definitely dont want spotlight.its basically playing with live wires its unsafe the traditional protection for the performers are nonexistent.the 4corners north east south west above and below the set up is a ritual in itself so just coming together even unintentional activates the portal.
Food for thought, Brandon! Thanks for your detailed comment on the links between Artaud’s Theatre of Cruelty, ritual and the occult.
very helpful with my drama diary thank you
very helpful with my drama diary thank you (GSCE)
Hi, this is brilliant and has helped me so much. Was just wondering if you had a refference list available for this?
He influenced surrealists. You have the causation working the wrong direction.
Just used this for an essay for my interdisciplinary work for my degree, was very helpful thank you!
That’s great news, Cara! Thanks for your feedback.
So helpful with my GCSE Drama work
This alone has triggered many ideas to workshop and experiment with. …Great, concise explanation – thank you!