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Modernist Art - A New Approach in Theatre

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In his pamphlet discussing the various forms of radical theatre, Richard Walsh identifies three distinct approaches to modern theatre that can be generally classified as aesthetics defining politics, politics defining aesthetics, and aesthetics obscuring politics – “the social and political dimensions of theatre were truncated to allow an exploration of the encounter between the theatrical medium and the individual perceiving mind.During the nineteenth century and the advent of the modern, theatre took on shapes and forms that would not be recognizable today as realistic despite their claims to the contrary.7 Advances in stage set design that included more and more realistic trompe l’oeil encouraged a greater degree of naturalism in the acting performance, all set within the proscenium-arch picture frame of the stage.8 Realism throughout the nineteenth century and into the early portions of the twentieth century was heavily influenced by the new sciences that were emerging, taking the emphasis off of rationalism or melodramatic displays of emotion. “The terms of Zola’s naturalism required the actor to perform as though completely unaware of the existence of an audience, presenting a fragment of that character’s physiological existence as a series of symptoms that exposed his social and biological history.”9 These changing approaches to acting in light of a changing world contributed to the development of the modernist movement, which was initiated in theatre in the early twentieth century by essentially four men – Stanislavsky, Meyerhold, Brecht and Artaud – who each focused in different ways upon the idea that theatre is always symbolic. “It assumes that everything that happens on stage stands for something else. This is true even of the most naturalistic piece.”10 While each of these men placed emphasis on different aspects of their productions and the importance such emphasis had on the final outcome, each recognized the essential nature of the actor in this process. “Each helped to open up acting and to liberate it from old traditions. Each saw the actor as a creative artist in his own right.”11 Their influence on theatre opened up new ideas for theatre and helped pave the way for Peter Brook to bring forward his own modern approaches.Brook’s approach to the actor built off of the ideas of the earlier Modernists, yet brought
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