Sunday, May 22, 2011

Theatrical Avant Garde - What is it anyway?

The Village Voice interviewed some theater artists about what Avant Garde means today, or if such a thing even exists:

Nick Jones, Playwright

Anybody truly radical is probably working on the fringe. And by the fringe, I don’t mean Downtown; I mean outside of theaters entirely, in contexts where no one is pursuing a career, and there are no reviewers (and possibly no audience). There is a huge DIY culture of performance in the United States, and it’s probably the closest thing to avant-garde that exists, in that it’s beholden to nothing and no one.

Mike Daisey, Monologist

Does a theatrical avant-garde still exist? I can think in the space of three minutes of a whole list of things I could say from stage when the lights come up at my performance this evening that would result in a riot: an exquisitely detailed, loving description of how I recently raped a child who was asking for it, an honest accounting of how pleased I am pissing into my lover's mouth. Over time you find how words can can still achieve disruption but be less outré—the right epithet, landed precisely, a choice or unchoice image that opens up the subconscious.

You can read more from such artists as Rude Mechanicals, Elevator Repair Service and Young Jean Lee here.

Over at The Playgoer blog, Garret Eisler has some thoughts on the Voice's collection of quotes:

Indeed, is the term still appropriate? "Front ranks" of what? Are weirdo artists necessarily always "ahead" of everyone else? As for "experimental"--what's the experiment? (And what's the "result"?)

Many of those surveyed say it all basically comes down to taboos and norms--i.e. breaking them. But I'm not sure the main difference between something you see on Broadway and something at St Anne's Warehouse is that one might have more naked people or audience participation than the other.

And breaking one set of conventions doesn't mean you don't have conventions of your own. A performance at Dixon Place might ignore some taboos--but aren't there a different set of rules in their place? A moment of unabashed sincerity or tearjerking sentimentality for instance, might be pretty "rule breaking" at a Radiohole or Wooster Group performance!

An event with no rules is not necessarily "edgy" theatre--it's actually not theatre.

He ends with a pretty funny quip about Richard Foreman.