Surrealism

The word surrealist was first used by Guillaume Apollinaire to describe his 1917 play Les Mamelles de Tirésias (The Breasts of Tiresias), which was later adapted into an opera by Francis Poulenc.

Antonin Artaud, an early Surrealist, rejected the majority of Western theatre as a perversion of its original intent, which he felt should be a mystical, metaphysical experience. He thought that rational discourse comprised “falsehood and illusion.” Theorising a new theatrical form that would be immediate and direct, that would link the unconscious minds of performers and spectators in a sort of ritual event, Artaud created the Theatre of Cruelty, in which emotions, feelings, and the metaphysical were expressed not through language but physically, creating a mythological, archetypal, allegorical vision, closely related to the world of dreams.

The other major theatre practitioner to have experimented with surrealism in the theatre is the Spanish playwright and director Federico García Lorca, particularly in his plays The Public (1930), When Five Years Pass (1931), and Play Without a Title (1935). Other surrealist plays include Aragon’s Backs to the Wall (1925) and Roger Vitrac’s The Mysteries of Love (1927) and Victor, or The Children Take Over (1928). Gertrude Stein’s opera Doctor Faustus Lights the Lights (1938) has also been described as “American Surrealism”, though it is also related to a theatrical form of cubism.

Edward Isser (Archived) Academic paper ‘The Semiotics of Acting: From Hieroglyphs to Ideograms’ that discusses (among other things) Antonin Artaud’s role in the Surrealist movement, his involvement in Symbolist theatre and his Theatre of Cruelty. Artaud’s beliefs and theories here are clearly explained.

Wayne S Turney Very useful article by a theatre dramaturg that includes a discussion on the impact of surrealism as a theatre movement.

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