The Theatre of the Absurd began in Paris in the early 1950s with a number of European playwrights. Influenced by Jean-Paul Sartre’s notion of existentialism, Absurdist plays commonly consisted of illogical dialogue, cyclical plots that ended where they began, characters who lacked motivation, and a strong sense of timelessness. Most of the conventional rules of theatre were deliberatley, sometimes shockingly broken. The existential view of man’s meaningless existence out of harmony with the world (in essence, “absurd”) was visibly portrayed in works of the movement, most notably in Samuel Beckett’s Waiting for Godot (1953). – Justin Cash
Useful overview of theatre of the absurd for students from The Drama Teacher website, including background, theory, plot and structure, acting and characterisation, movement and dialogue, stagecraft and notable works.
Essay on Theatre of the Absurd discussing the movement’s effect on both Eastern and Western societies.
Theatre of the absurd classroom activiites for students, developed by Sydney Theatre Company.
Existentialism refers to a particular view of the nature of man’s existence. The existentialist believes that man starts life with nothing. His life is made up of acts; through the process of acting man becomes conscious of his original nothingness. By choosing to act, man passes into the arena of human responsibility which makes him the creator of his own existence. However, the existence inevitably ends with death. Man returns to his original state of nothingness. This existential notion eliminates the Western concept of man’s exalted nature. Life becomes meaningless and useless – a condition which is in essence “absurd”. Man’s only freedom in this condition is the exercise of his conscious mind. However, consciousness means conflict – between man’s awareness of the absurdity of his existence and his need for justification of his human action.
J. L. Crawford, Acting In Person and in Style
Excellent theatre of the absurd classroom activities for drama students from Shake & Stir Theatre.
Albert Camus’ explanation of ‘The Myth of Sisyphus’ defining the futility of human existence and influencing the absurdist movement.
If you’re up for a bit of a read, a lot can be learned from this 1966 Masters thesis on the theatre of the absurd.
Excellent essay explaining the theory of existentialsim (archived).
Comprehensive analysis of the absurdist movement, including origins of the movement, themes, style, and more.
From the man who coined the term Theatre of the Absurd, Martin Esslin’s academic paper on the movement from the Tulane Drama Review, May 1960.
They (absurdist plays) are living proof that the magic of the stage can persist even outside, and divorced from, any framework of conceptual rationality.
Martin Esslin, The Theatre of the Absurd
Article from the British Library on the theatre of the absurd, showcasing works in their collection on this movement.
Wikipedia entry on theatre of the absurd including a list of major productions.
Article titled ‘Godotmania’ by English theatre director exploring the reaction Samuel Beckett’s play Waiting For Godot had when it first arrived in the early 1950’s and the profound impact it has since had on world theatre.