Thursday, February 02, 2006

More on In-Yer-Face Theatre

Several people have taken issue with my attack on the seeming lack of theatre history evidenced on the "In Yer Face Theatre" website section defining the style. And George is right: I have not read Sierz's book, nor do I find it listed as being in my library, nor in the library of the other two universities that serve as our interlibrary loan system. Nor has the book been reviewed in Theatre Journal, the leading academic journal in America. Apparently George assumes that I, "as a teacher of theater and drama at a major state university" should be aware of every book written on theatre. I would assure him that at my small (3000 student) public liberal arts college, where my teaching load is far higher than my colleagues' at the major research universities in the state, and where I also serve as the administrator of a general education program, time for reading every British tome that happens to be reviewed in New Theatre Quarterly is not possible.

Perhaps Sietz is aware of theatre history. Fine. Nevertheless, his definition doesn't exhibit much awareness, since it claims as unique things that have been done ad nauseum over the past century.

That question aside, I ask anyone who'd care to respond just what the value is of "In-Yer-Face Theatre"? What does it hope to accomplish? Why is such an approach effective in accomplishing it? How does it add to our understanding of the world in which we live? How does adding more violence, brutality, objectification, and crudity add to the art or to the world?

8 comments:

Devilvet said...

What does it hope to accomplish.

The answer is simple -

Catharsis.

As our world becomes more complex, fragmented, violent, etc.

So shall much of the art.

Alison Croggon said...

Scott - I was just surprised that so much steam was coming out of your ears (and so many furious words were spent) over a website that you clearly had not looked at very closely. You asked if Sierz had even heard of Jarry or Artaud, when they are explicitly mentioned as fore-runners of the kind of theatre Sierz is talking about. Etc. But now I'm beginning to wonder if you're familiar with any of the playwrights that he mentions.

As I hinted briefly, I am not enamoured of all the writers captured under that banner. But I can see a lot of value in Sarah Kane's work, or David Harrower's, which certainly to my mind "adds to our understanding of the world in which we live". I'm not up to defending this kind of work, which has been done much better by others, but I will say that qualities I admire in these writers are their poetic language and - yes - ethical truthfulness. What does it seek to accomplish? Theatre, I think...

George Hunka said...

Instead of contributing to comment clog, Scott, I've responded at my own blog here.

Abe Goldfarb said...

The whole controversy here seems to somewhat ignore a basic tenet of art: that what something is about is nowhere near as important as HOW it is about it. A case can be made for or against, say, extreme sadomasochistic violence or realistically grubby language, or explicit sexual acts on stage. What matters, what makes "In Yer Face Theatre" matter, is not that it has license to show all these things, but that it has something to say about them, that it makes the content part of the message. Mark Ravenhill I personally don't care for (I think he's a bit vapid), but you cannot argue seriously that Philip Ridley or Sarah Kane have nothing to say. Or that their profoundly shocking content has nothing to do with it.

MattJ said...

i left a longer comment on superfluities, but to state another thought...

you say: "What does it hope to accomplish? Why is such an approach effective in accomplishing it? How does it add to our understanding of the world in which we live? How does adding more violence, brutality, objectification, and crudity add to the art or to the world?"

We have so much to say as artists. Society is constructing walls in front of our voices. We must break through. This is simply another tactic. These people want to shock people into looking in the mirror through visceral means and use theatre as a place to do something other than just stage some play that's really pretty that you've wanted to do for years.

As for the violence, brutality, etc. It reminds me of Stephen Colbert's tactic on his new show where, as a huge liberal, he plays a hardcore, america-loving, right wing nut... by doing so, he becomes a living satire, and exposes that which he wants to condemn by living inside of it.

As far as it being "the same" as Jarry, Artuad, etc. There is definitely a similar impulse and aim... but why say that we can still do traditional shakespeare or Sophocles, or even tried and true Neil Simon... but we can't go back to the avant-garde's roots? You can't condemn them for repetition...

Joshua said...

I dunno, Scott, I've often been accused of being crude, obscene and confrontational in my work (I can be civilized in person) as have many of the political writers from the past whom I admire. In the past, some artists were vilified for obscenity whom we now admire and say, they were ahead of their time, so it's really relative, isn't it? It's not the crudeness or the confrontational that matters, but what you accomplish with it that counts.

Alison Croggon said...

This discussions reminds me of a comment I read recently by (I think) Howard Brenton, who met an ex-IRA Provo studying drama after doing his time in prison. When he asked this man why, he said, "because theatre is harmless".

It seems to me incredibly important to remember that violence in the theatre (or any art) is not the same as violence in real life, by a long stretch. It is and does something else. And the kind of condemnation it often attracts mystifies me, especially in theatre, where to put something on stage is already to engage metaphor, to summon imagination - the representation of awful realities seems sometimes to attract more outrage than the real-life situations they are drawn from. None of Kane's most shocking scenes are worse - they don't even approach it - than things that happen daily in your favourite war zone. It's only art, after all...by which I mean a strength, not a dismissal.

Ben Ellis said...

After a day of researching the use of phosphorous weapons in the current Gulf war, I'd have to agree with Alison here. Nothing in Sarah Kane's work compares to the real violence of war. The actors tend to be able to live after a performance.

From my experience, you'll find Sierz's book on the shelves of just about every Literary Manager or Dramaturg's office in Australia or Britain. And they will refer to it in discussions. If it's not being used in a teaching institution, then perhaps that goes to reinforce the distance between practice and the academy as regards theatre today.

As for the question of why put violence on-stage, I'd like to put another question. Why do the critics who desire so much to see affirmations of the "hero" or of a generalised good in the human spirit react with such violent vitriol to such representations?

One of the questions often of young playwrights asked in the world of bad dramaturgy is, where's the hope? To paraphrase Berger, the hope is in the expression of the voice itself. We can only hope that the expression is crafted or artful. Why would there be artful monuments to the Shoah if every representation had to display some kind of triumph of the will?