Richard Schechner And New Theatre Essay Research

Richard Schechner And New Theatre Essay, Research Paper

Richard Schechner envisions a ?new theatre? in three of his major essays,

?Happenings? (1966), ?Six Axioms for Environmental Theatre? (1968), and

?Negotiations with the Environment? (1968). He does not spend time

discussing his famed ?not not themselves? ideology of the performer or

ritual ecstasy; instead he discusses a new genealogical hybrid termed the ?new

theatre? by Allan Kaprow. Schechner uses the traditional theatre as a

comparison and first comments in ?Happenings? ?because it is unlike

traditional theatre, the familiar locutions of these arts, e.g., dance, music,

sculpture, painting cannot describe what?s going on or provide criteria for

which to evaluate it? (145). Still, Schechner does provide many a comparison

between the traditional theatre and this new form. Schechner recognizes that the

?theatrical event is a complex social interweave, a network of expectation and

obligation. The exchange of stimuli?either sensory or ideational or both?is

the root of theatre? (158). Knowing this, the author claims all theatre, both

traditional and new, is a set of related ?transactions? (changes in outlook

and situation). How these transactions occur is what defines the art form. For

example the traditional theatre ?works from an organic system of correlations

concerning character, story, and locale. Likewise, Susanne K. Langer states,

traditional theatre ?runs on a continuum of past and future as parts,? (147)

organic parts developing the situation.? It involves a series of

understandable transactions. However, the new theatre lacks this destiny of

time. ?There the referents to everyday life are purely functions of sounds,

textures, and images? (147). Schechner basically breaks down all the major

components of the traditional theatre in a comparison with the new theatre. To

start, the traditional theatre involves plot as a means of telling a story, but

the new theatre involves images/events. There are three kinds of new theatre as

Schechner describes in ?Happenings?: the technological, essentially

electronic event (a la John Cage concerts), the free-for-all happenings or party

gone wild in which the event is roughly sketched by the author, a group of

people are told to do something and another group is invited to

watch/participate, and the ?ceremony? (a la Kaprow) in which the

participants are given a set of instructions which they are not to improvise on

but simply do. ?All three kinds share autonomy and revitalization.?

?Disconnections are made so that the isolated event or image can be seen in

itself, seen as revitalized? (154). Schechner points out that the traditional

theatre is action whereas the new theatre is about activity. In ?Negotiations

with the Environment? he further makes the distinction that the activity is

usually ?self-documentational? (197). As well the traditional theatre

supports resolution, however the new theatre thrives on open-ended ness. For

this reason, ?shows tend to be often unrepeated and unrepeatable? (147)–

for how can you repeat something that will give you a very different result.

Likewise, the traditional theatre revolves around themes/thesis, however in new

theatre there is no pre-set meaning. ?When audiences exist they are left to

themselves to put together or make sense out of what?s happening? (148).

Therefore, the meaning can be almost anything, and everyone will most certainly

have a different impression. The traditional theatre is oriented around roles;

the actor is the most important figure. ?He ?becomes? a human being other

than himself? (149). The new theatre, on the contrary, is task oriented.

People are themselves simply doing something. Their job is not to build roles or

circumstances in which they are ?justified? (149). This lends itself to

intermedia performances in which ?the production elements need no longer

support a performance? (163). At certain times these elements are more

important than the performers and so a new term ?performing technicians?

(163) is created. The performers are then free to be treated ?as mass and

volume, color and texture, and movement?not as ?actors? but as parts of

the environment? (178). Like the set and text, they are a part of the piece,

not taking focus, but just facilitating. Schechner points out that the

traditional theatre revolves around a stage, which is not necessarily true of

the new theatre. The new theatre tries to reach beyond the boundaries of space.

Allan Kaprow is quoted in ?Negotiations with the Environment as saying, ?it

doesn?t make any difference how large the space is, it?s still a stage.

It?s pretty comfortable working in the middle, but as soon as you get to the

edges you have to stop, I didn?t feel like stopping? (181). Schechner, then,

in ?Axioms of the Environmental Theatre,? spends much time on two specific

axioms referring to Kaprow?s edges, ?all space is used for performance?

and ?the theatrical event can take place in totally transformed space or found

space.? Schechner remarks that in ?traditional theatre a ?special place?

is marked off within the theatre for performance, but in new theatre the space

is organically defined by the action? (165-6). ?Once one gives up fixed

seating and the bifurcation of space, entirely new relationships are possible?

(167) fostering a sense of shared experience among the group This experience can

be achieved through transformed space in which the participants, using whatever

materials are available and placing them wherever form the unplanned set (171)

where the action will take place or something called found space. Found space

involves the given elements of any space?its architecture, textural qualities,

acoustics, and so on are to be explored. The random ordering of space is valid.

The function of scenery, if used, is to point up not disguise or transform the

space. Lastly, the spectator may suddenly create new special possibilities

(172-3). Some have considered Freedom Marches examples of found spaces.

Schechner states in his ?Negotiations with the Environment,? ?a found

space was interesting; found people were found alive? (186). So then is the

traditional theatre found dead?–Perhaps dead in terms of new energies. In the

traditional theatre the actors go by a script and the result is a product,

however in the new theatre it?s free form, a process, one specific idea

isn?t beaten to death. The text need not be the starting point (axiom 6).

?You don?t do the play; you do with it?confront it, search among the words

and themes, build around and through it. . . and come out with your own thing?

(180). Whereas the traditional theatre places emphasis on flow and clarity, the

new theatre can be tangential and, somewhat chaotic, exploring many facets at

once, creating something entirely ?new?. Similarly, the traditional theatre

is single focused, showing the audience where they should cast their gaze. This

is not true of the new theatre where, according to axiom four, the ?focus is

flexible and variable? (175). ?Multi-focus will not reach every spectator in

the same way? (175). Again, the spectator is free to interpret what?s going

on. As well, using local focus only a fraction of the audience can see or hear.

However, ?real body contact and whispered communication are possible between

the performer and spectator? (176). Local whirlpools of action make the

theatrical line more complex and varied. The last comparison Schechner makes

between the two forms of theatre involves the audience. In traditional theatre

the audience watches, but in new theatre the audience participates or is

non-existent. Environmental theatre involves the art of participation, a

celebration of sorts (184). For Schechner and many others it can be a spiritual

journey in which all involved share the idea that if people would see again,

feel again?not as they did in the historic past, but as each one of us did as

a child?then things would get better (155). There are the ritual elements that

comprise Schechner?s work in Between Theatre and Anthropology. Is the new

theatre, then, more spiritual than the traditional theatre? That is not for me

to decide but for those involved. Certainly, the new theatre fosters new

involvements and new ideas?variations on space, time, and focus. Yet, we

cannot judge which is better for they are two very different art forms. The

theatre world is enhanced and enriched by new developments like the ?new?

theatre. Hopefully, both will be around for a very long time.



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