November 8 - The Auteur and the Theatre of Images


Primary Sources

Tadeusz Kantor, "The Theatre of Death: A Manifesto," in Twentieth Century Performance Reader p. 249-59 (reserve book)

Tadeusz Kantor, "My idea of Theatre," (from Cricoteka website) - (also in Theatre and Performance Design p. 211-4)

Tadeusz Kantor, "The development of my ideas concerning staging techniques. Terminology" (from Cricoteka website) - (also in Theatre and Performance Design p. 211-4)

Richard Foreman, "Visual Composition, Mostly," in Theatre and Performance Design p. 215-7 (reserve book)

Richard Foreman interview with interview Charles Bernstein

Robert Wilson, "Speech Introducing Freud," in Theatre and Performance Design p. 386-9 (reserve book)

Robert Wilson, "Interview," in Twentieth Century Performance Reader p. 420-33 (reserve book)

Robert Lepage, "Robert Lepage in Discussion with Richard Eyre," in Twentieth Century Performance Reader p. 279-88 (reserve book)

Secondary Sources

Michal Kobialka, "The Quest for the Other: Space/Memory," in A Journey Through Other Spaces p.311-64

Arnold Aronson, "Scenographic Scene," and "Richard Foreman as Scenographer," in Looking into the Abyss, pp. 81-96, 161-81

Guy Scarpetta and Jill Dolan, "Richard Foreman's Scenography: Examples from His Work in France," in The Drama Review: TDR 28, no. 2 (July 1, 1984): 23-31.

Maria Shevtsova, "A Working Life," "Methods, Elements, and Principles," and "Einstein on the Beach," in Robert Wilson, pp. 1-118

Greg Giesekam, "Electric Campfires: Robert LePage," Staging the Screen, pp. 218-244

NY Times, "Techno-Alchemy at the Opera" about LePage's La Damnation de Faust at the Metropolitan Opera.


Tadeusz Kantor

Wielopole, Wielopole and Dead Class available on DML Media Viewing Station

Richard Foreman

Ontological-Hysteric Theatre Company Web Site

Robert Wilson

Robert Wilson Web Site

Einstein on the Beach: The Changing Image of Opera (1985)

Robert Wilson, Tom Waits & William S. Burroughs - The Black Rider (1992)

CDs of audio of Einstein on the Beach available in DML. Albums also in Media Viewing Station iTunes Library

Robert Lepage

Ex Machina Web Site

Audio Slide Show accompanying NY Times article

Metropolitan Opera Website, “The Auteur of Opera”, Q&A with Robert Lepage

Video of La Damnation from the Metropolitan Opera's website

Trailer for Lepage's Ring cycle

Excerpt from The Image Mill created for the 400th anniversary of Quebec City in 2008

Motivator Post and Images

Motivator 1: Casey

During Wielopole and The Dead Class I picked up on ritual performance and repetition- in a recurring tune, a repeated phrase- that reminded me of Hindu chanting, recurring dreams; and which achieved the autobiographical “drone” of Kantor’s life and childhood memories that he created through his actors. I identified the putty faces of the soldiers and the doubles of the priest with the mannequins he describes in the reading “The Theater of Death” in which the mannequins become models for death and the dead.

I noticed throughout the readings a sudden concern with identifying what genre the main figures were working in: was it still theater, or was it opera, performance art, or none of the above? I began to wonder what were the differences between these formal categories and how were the main figures and their critics defining those categories and fitting their work within them? Robert Wilson calls Einstein an opera because it wasn’t a painting, it wasn’t a play, there was music, but there wasn’t dance. Kantor’s Wielopole is identified as “performance art” in a NYT review from 1982. Wilson calls Freud a “dance play.” Without delving too deeply into semantics, my inclination is to say that the rise of performance art as such in the 1960s and 70s was part of this trend, and artists were willing to risk calling these non-linear, surreal productions whatever they wanted- from something as institutionalized as opera to performance art and its seemingly boundless associations.

Fragmentation and non-linearity were recurring themes. Foreman states in “Visual Composition, Mostly” that his texts become fragmented to echo the truth of psychic life. He desired scenery that was in many places at once like the mind, and which became evocative for the viewer because they gave concrete form to the tension between different levels of reality. Kantor’s narratives involve a process of parallel actions and events folding back on themselves, and incorporate recurring melodies and familiar scenes inserted non-diagetically into later scenes (In The Dead Class pews full of dead children appear in a field in the foreground of the shot).

In addition to fragmentation, there is another common concern in the structure of layers and in decipherable zones of reality. Coming back to scenography, the multi-dimensional realities prevalent in the works of Kantor, Wilson, and Foreman were all tangibly presented through their set designs. Wilson speaks of retroactivity and reversals in Freud in which he is attempting to go back to the space and time of an indefinable memory that is too hazy to specify in exact particulars. Creating “visual correspondences,” as Wilson calls them, makes it possible for the scenographer to most effectively convey the layered structure of simultaneous experience to the audience. Wilson identifies his stagecraft for Freud as very human, with a majority of the action being concerned with the mundane, ritual aspects of daily life- details like small talk, running, sitting, dancing- in order to convey an ordinary depiction of a man commonly conceived of as a mythical, untouchable theorist.

Similarly for Kantor, human imagination is more profoundly moved by a “decalage of life’s realities,” in which happenings and ready-made realities constructed from life events are conveyed through gesture and ritual, than it ever was by surrealistic abstractions. I fell as though abstraction and realism have found a common ground of sorts in the work of these three auteurs: extremely specific- even cliche- motifs (Einstein’s suspenders) used to connote something obvious were combined with non-diagetic text snippets, repetitive movement, and monotonous tones and melodies that connoted something else very specific but unrelated to the previous motif. Seemingly random pieces of reality are layered to purposely create discord and clash in order to evoke multi-dimensional reality in which conscious and subconscious thoughts mingle freely. It’s no accident that Wilson chose figures who either studied the subconscious or relativity as the subjects of his plays. These auteurs were not far off from what the Symbolists were trying to achieve with dream plays, although I’m sure all three have/had a strong reaction to late-nineteenth century drama.


I also picked up on a strong concern with the bodily/kinesthetic. Kantor desperately wanted to break out of a concrete, architectonic space in which the actor was the only object, and their movement was the primary means of communication with the audience. Wilson’s female characters in the Einstein Knee Plays recite the same lines over and over again until they become an indecipherable mantra. There is little to no variation in delivery due to Wilson’s tight choreography that is evidenced by rehearsal scenes from the documentary “The Changing Image of Opera,” in which the director scrutinizes every movement of the actors’ bodies. Wilson compared the work of playwrights like Tennessee Williams who convey meaning in text, and choreographers like Merce Cunningham who convey meaning through visual movement. He sees his dance play as having the visual emphasis of dance without being concerned with movement, and without having the reliance on text like a play, so that it is a hybrid of both genres while simultaneously not using the traditional means of communication of either: “The focus here is neither verbal nor concerned with specifying the physicality of people in virtual space. It’s simply more visual.” I can only think that Wilson’s emphasis on the “simply more visual” was a product of the intense experience he describes in The Changing Image of Opera of adopting a deaf, mute child and the revelation that he thought in images and not in words.

I haven’t mentioned LePage, mostly because he doesn’t seem as relevant to the issues discussed above, but also because I felt my discussion of The Damnation of Faust for the comparison assignment covered some of the major bases in his work.

Motivator 2: