Into Cotemporary Theatre Essay, Research Paper
The very essence of Contemporary Theatre is that is such a diverse realm of performance art. Many different playwrights have contributed to this post World War Two theatre that instead of keeping to just one narrow genre it was able to branch out to cover all aspects and views of an ever transitional modern society. Theatrical pieces from this time period have ranged from Existentialism, pioneered by Jean Paul Sartre, to the Theatre of the Absurd, which was precedented by Samuel Beckett, and all along the way a myriad of performance genres sprung up to support this new post-war society. Most plays of the contemporary theatre tended to focus up on one single aspect of theatre, though a group of men formed a performance troupe that would ever change such a notion. Monty Python?s Flying Circus revolutionized the stage performance, incorporating many aspects of modern day theatre; such as realism, surrealism, futurism, existentialism and of course Theatre of the Absurd, for no Python sketch was sans an eccentric dash of absurdity.The very roots of Monty Python lay in the humble beginnings of six men, five British and one American, who took to the stage in college and never looked back. The six Pythons; Graham Chapman, Eric Idel, Michael Palin, Terry Jones, John Cleese, and Terry Gilliam, began their acting drudgeries before the footlights but not without a struggle. Much of their work was initially considered too risqu? for college theatre, though eventually, but a few years down the road, after several stints with other performance acts one of the greatest comedic troupes to ever be born of the British Theatre were gathered for their first show on October 5, 1969 to a mediocre crowd at best. Michael Palin said it best when he claimed that ?their first viewers were insomniacs, intellectuals, and burglars? (Howard xxiv). Though many failed to realize it, it was that initial audience that was attracted, the combination of such extremes that would come to make up many of the Troupe?s future fans. It is theorized that it might have been their middle class upbringing, either in the States or in England, which lead to form a structure up on which to base their comic stylings, societal attitudes leading them to become exposed to society and in turn gave them something to rebel against. From such humble beginnings, and a rather slow start ratings wise, Monty Python?s Flying Circus did gradually become a veritable phenomenon all through-out the entire world, and not just it?s home country of England. Though Python almost wasn?t a hit in America. On the initial introduction of the troupe to the United States while appearing on the Johnny Carson show, they were greeted with less that mediocre appreciation by the audience and were fairly doomed in America for the next two years until their premier film was released, Monty Python and the Holy Grail. After the first airing of an episode in America it was blatantly obvious that Python did not appeal to a mainstream audience, on the otherhand it tended to attract more esoteric and intelligent viewers.What made Python so accessible to people all over the world was the topics that were covered were easily able to be related to by all different classes and cultures. Many of the famous skits that were performed revolved around the satirization of society, the government and politics, finance, and day to day life. John Cleese commented on Python?s tackling such taboo subjects as saying ?one thing we did manage to do was to put up on the screen some archetypes that people seem to recognize no matter what their culture or generation? (Howard 365). The Pythons performed this material on a level that made it accessible to many types of people the world over, much like William Shakespeare did by having his plays relate to all the classes on one level or another. Such simple skits such as The Silly Walk and Argument Clinic sums up the intelligent, sophisticated, repressed British character brought starkly into contrast with total absurdity while both sides work in perfect harmony. Much of the Python?s television programming did resemble live theatrical productions with the music, audiences and quick costume changes. ?It was much more like theatre than television because we had a limited amount of time. There was a wonderful theatrical feeling,? (Howard 46) says Hazel Pethig, a former costume director for the show.As the show progressed it?s structure began deviating further and further away from the concept of conventional form of theatre sketches which had a beginning, middle, and an end, episodic, another likening to Shakespeare?s style. By deviating from such set standards the troop did pave the way into contemporary theatre for such topics, that just ten years earlier would have never have gotten past the initial idea stage. Python set the way for following sketch comedies such as Saturday Night Live and Kids in the Hall and television shows such as Cheers and Faulty Towers. Many of the sketches that were performed were considered taboo subjects to be discussed, let alone visually acted out, on British television which lead to many arguments concerning censorship between Python and the BBC. Many say that the shows, not merely just television episodes but theatrical shows, were a triumph of style over substance, ?it should be noted that the group broke new comedic ground in their use of such less than traditional themes such as cannibalism, royalty, and dismemberment? (Howard xvii). The material presented in the Python bits are solid in their material and represent one of the high points in British comedy and even more important is the way that Python aided in shaping and changing performance comedy for a new generation of viewers.The exact influence that Monty Python has had on contemporary theatre as well as television is rather ambiguous at best, although wherever avant garde, anarchic, or innovative comedy appears a Python influence is a strong possibility. An online dictionary even states the word Pythonian as anything involving satirical humor and comedic ingenuity. Monty Python not only set precedents for television production but also for the theatre stage, once the show ended its four year television fun on December 5, 1969 the comedic troupe took their satirical perspectives back to the theatre stage where the cast began their careers.Ingenuity ran rampant with the transition from screen to stage. The cast involved the audience in many of their skits while bring the acting right into the very rows besides the few fervently dedicated members that chose to dress in costume as their favorite character from a skit. Since the television program was interluded with snippets of animation that also was brought to the stage by the aid of giant screens set up stage left, stage right, and center stage. The screens would project the important animation during costume and scenery changes, even lyrics to follow along to the songs with, and even the actors faces would appear on those screens so that those sitting in the back of the theatre were able to view the facial expressions. Monty Python could almost be considered vaudeville in the way that it relied not only on the words of its actors but also the physical and emotional actions as well.As well as conquering the stage and screen, the Python troop set out to conquer the fabled silver screen with three major motion pictures of their own; Monty Python and the Holy Grail, The Life of Brian, and The Meaning of Life. A central topic in the trio of films seems to be religion, another of those controversial subjects that the troupe enjoyed to tackle. Such usage of material called for a ban placed up on the secondary film, The Life of Brian, in many of the southern states even though it was heralded by film festivals and critics alike. Protesters felt that the film was sacrilegious to the Christian religion for the main character?s life paralleled that of Jesus Christ. Though the band of actors only seemed to feed off of such publicity, negative as it was. What was overlooked what the impact of the film, the intelligently savvy and highly sardonic way that the characters were portrayed. In on scene, the character Stan decides that from then on he wishes to be called ?Loretta? because he wants to be a woman and make babies. Many non-Python fans just brushed aside that scene as just trash, ignoring the following lines of ?How about we agree that you have the right to have babies ? (The Life of Brian, August 1979). In The Meaning of Life, the second scene of the film, a song entitled ?Every Sperm is Sacred? attacks the Vatican?s stance on birth control, scores on every possible level, from comedy sketch to the ever present societal satire to a rather Broadway-like production. The Meaning of Life takes aim at a greater variety of targets than the preceding Life of Brian. The film covered the spectrum of birth to death and all that is in between. With the troupe giving it?s own little jab at narrow-minded society with the usual unprecedented opinions up on the functioning of humans in the world.Though some scenes in all three of the films were viewed either being blasphemous, crass, or just down right disgusting, the main goal of such performances wasn?t just for the entertainment value. Monty Python found way to infuse current political and societal issues with entertainment to present them to an audience for not only the sole sake of entertainment of also knowledge and the imbibement of intelligence. Such risqu? topics such as were covered in the television programs, theatrical films and as well as the live stage show all helped in aiding to break down the bans of censorship placed up on entertainment production. Many of the methods of performing that Python did use are imbedded back into the bottom structure of theatre. They were able to use the Comedy of Manners in Monty Python and the Holy Grail when a peasant was approached and later abused by King Arthur and where also Seneca?s influence was seen in the violent battle between King Arthur and the Black Knight, they used the Comedy of Class in The Meaning of Life when the father comes home from the mills only to tell his family that he has lost his job and will have to sell his children for scientific experiement, and much of the Theate of the Absurd was highly visable, in almost each and every sketch, with such far fetched ideas as ?Hells Grannies?, ?Death by the Comfy Chair?, and ?Killer Sheep?.Whether before the cameras or before the footlights, a constant accompanyment that went with Monty Python were the songs that were sprinkled through out each performance. Such songs as the classic ?Spam? song sung by Vikings, the ?Lumberjack? song sung by a transvesite lumberjack, ?Always Look on the Bright Side of Life? which was played in the finale crucifixion scene of The Life of Brian, and leave it up to the Python boys to make humor out of the least expected, such as songs about Oliver Cromwell and Henry Kinssinger. The Python songs were as much as a part of the shows as the lines were to be acted. And regardles of their singing and dancing talents, it was the cutting edge humor that preceded all. With the ingenious blend of wry, dry British wit and oftentimes over-dramatically executed skits Monty Python set precedents from the initial year of the program in 1969. Many of the sight gags, set designs, and even style of humor seen in entertainment in the modern day have a touch of the twisted Python flavor imbedded in them. Contemporary theatre, whether it be live theatre or even movies in our modern society do have those pieces of Python influence in them with each stabbing satirical remark about the government or sexual innuendos. Actor Kevin Klein had once said that much of his own comedic style was rooted in the Pythonian way of visual comedy, not only audible. Lorne Michaels the creator of Saturday Night Live has oftentimes given credit to Python for setting the standards for sketch television as well as theatre. Though the actual birth of Monty Python?s Flying Circus was up on the sound stage of a television studio the live theatre roots were imbibed into each performance. Leave it Monty Python to find a way to make sketches about the Spanish Inquisition, Death, buying a dead parrot, and a song about Lumberjacks more than just highly amusing. The comedic team was a tight knit netting of brilliance matched with humor, which has in turn kept the troupe going strong still more than thirty years later and still appearing to the new generations with what would be otherwise considered outdated humor. A true indication of permanant influnce is time, and Monty Python?s Fling Circus has certainly got that decades later.
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