30 Intriguing Theatre of Cruelty Resources

Antonin Artaud (1896-1948) was a French dramatist, poet, actor and theoretician who rejected Western theatre’s reliance on the spoken word, instead advocating an experimental theatre influenced by the East where ritualistic movement, stylised gestures and signals became paramount. Artaud’s physical theatre of cruelty was performed in non-traditional spaces with a weakened audience positioned at its centre. The spectator was assaulted with a total theatre experience involving shocking images, piercing sounds and bright white lighting. Artaud was briefly a member of the surrealist movement. – Justin Cash


Resources

Dozens of Theatre of Cruelty conventions and techniques from The Drama Teacher website: theory, text, movement and gesture, space and actor-audience relationship, stagecraft, acting and characterisation.

An excellent guide for students to create solo and devised ensemble pieces using Artaud’s techniques.

What is the Theatre of Cruelty?

Artaud called his dramatic theory the Theatre of Cruelty. He saw life and theatre as a “double”, one reflecting the other … Artaud defined cruelty as a psychological purging of man’s soul, freeing him from the bondage of logical and verbal experience. To effect reevaluation of our lives, Artaud used shocking, violent … techniques to stimulate a vision that reached beyond ordinary reality. He wanted the subconscious mind to probe the mysteries of existence.
Jerry l Crawford
Acting in Person and in Style

Exploration of Artaud’s theories from the British Library including a look at one of his ‘unstageable’ plays, Jet of Blood, and the famous production of Peter Weiss’ Marat/Sade, performed as part of the Royal Shakespeare Company’s 1964 theatre of cruelty season and directed by Peter Brook.

Excellent series of activities for students, prepared for the UK curriculum.

Teacher warning: very educational, but not suitable for younger students

Donald Gardner Comprehensive archived essay The Reinvention of the Human Face, discusses Artaud and his work.

Excellent interview with academic and Artaud author Dr. Ros Murray about Artaud and his lifetime of work in nine parts, with connections to IB, GCSE, AS and A level specifications.

Theatre of Cruelty Characteristics

Artaud felt that the Western theatre was a slave to words, to text, and to realistic imitation. Instead, he wanted the Western theatre to utilize aspects of the Eastern theatre and create a shock force which would jar audiences from the complacent conditions of everyday life. Artaud used mechanical devices to create visible and audible frenzy. Light, sound and physical movement and dance were used to tyrannize or assault the sensibilities of the audience. The overall effect was similar to the impact of Oriental theatre wherein gestures, signs, postures, and sounds were compressed and symbolized.
Jerry l Crawford
Acting in Person and in Style

Twelve handy flip cards for students on key aspects of Artaud’s theatre from The Drama Teacher website: ritual, space, total theatre, surreal, ensemble, spectators, experimental, movement, the double, communication, text, and emotions.

Theatre of Cruelty Examples

Unit of work on Araud’s theatre for students with exercises and activities leading to a performance.

Biography of Antonin Artaud from Encyclopaedia Britannica.

Theatre of Cruelty and Artaud

Theatre of Cruelty
Author: Y. Ivanko. Mos.ru, CC BY 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons.

Education pack for teachers and students exploring the link between Peter Shaeffer’s Equus and Artaud’s theatre (could be adapted).

Archived article discussing Artaud’s work and his influence on other practitioners such as Jerzy Grotowski and director Peter Brook.

Theatre of Cruelty Definition

Artaud was certain that his goals could not be reached through appeals to the rational mind. Rather it would be necessary to operate directly upon the senses and break down the audience’s defences. Artaud sometimes referred to his as a ‘theatre of cruelty’, since in order to achieve its ends it would have to force the audience to confront itself. Thus the cruelty he advocated is not primarily physical but moral or psychological.
Oscar G Brockett
History of the Theatre

Antonin Artaud’s First Manifesto where he explains his theories is today part of Artaud’s collected writings The Theatre and its Double.

Brief Encyclopaedia Britannica entry on Artaud’s form of theatre including its connections to symbolism and surrealism.

Theatre of Cruelty Performances

Biography and works of Antonin Artaud from Wikipedia.

Wikipedia entry on the style’s history, theory and legacy for 20th-century theatre.

Practical Theatre of Cruelty exercises for secondary school drama students.

Brief interview transcript of two academics discussing Artaud’s technique of fusing sound, movement and text into one.

Series of practical drama lessons for students on physical theatre exploring the techniques of Antonin Artaud and Steven Berkoff.

Performance of Artaud’s work Jet of Blood. Teacher warning: may be unsuitable.

A useful list of acting techniques in the style of Artaud’s theatre.

Biography of Antonin Artaud and his work from Encyclopedia.com.

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