The world is but a canvas to the imagination. – Henry David Thoreau
Theatrical visionaries always share a few things in common:
1. They steal from the past and from other great artists and movements
2. They create in reaction to their boredom with the status quo
3. They create with what resources they have.
This post focuses on number one–stealing from other artists and movements.
I am a huge fan and advocate for the creation of new theatrical aesthetics. Now, what is an aesthetic? It is a form. The most popular theatrical aesthetic is realism, as made popular by Stanislavsky. This is the aesthetic of TV and film acting, where actors pretend to be as naturalistic as possible, to hold a “mirror up to nature”. In other words, actors attempt to mimic “real life”.
Many students of theatre graduate from school, believing that theatre IS realism, that that represents all of theatre (everywhere).
However, various world cultures practice theatre in many different ways and often, realism plays no role in other cultures’ aesthetics, the forms through which they tell their tales and create their theatrical experiences.
At The International Theatre Academy Norway, TITAN Teaterakademi, we have considerable focus on theatrical aesthetics. It is our hope that our artists will redefine theatre in their lifetimes. So, we look at who the visionaries were, past and present. What did they create? Is their a vocabulary to the form? What were the times from which it was created (socio-political, etc.). What other forms grew from it or were inspired by it? These visionaries…who were they? What did they respond to in creating their new form? What were their sources of inspiration (there are typically many and they are often cliche–ex. Chinese opera and Commedia dell’ arte. It seems most western theatre visionaries have found interest in these forms).
Why do we play with forms? The purpose of playing with theatrical forms is not to be “different” or to “look innovative”, but rather, good use of form can help a director tell their story. Creating a defined (and sometimes heightened) theatrical aesthetic, a director sometimes finds freedom of expression and can better create the experience they envision and want to share with the audience.
Julie Taymor is a good example. The trained eye can look at her work and see where she is stealing from: Chinese Opera (Chinese), Commedia (Italian), Bunraku (Japanese), Wayang Kulit (Indonesian shadow work) Topeng (Balinese ritualistic theatre), etc. She steals from what interests her. She then applies her own imagination, utilizing ancient tools, and creates something “new” with them. Julie Taymor’s work has made a significant impact on theatre and consciousness around theatre. Her production of “The Lion King” is breathtakingly beautiful and is a theatrical and visionary triumph. It has toured the world and likely inspired countless other artists.
If we understand how forms are built, we can build forms. If we understand how visionaries have had their visions, we can build vision.
Vision and the creation of strong and resonate new forms can enable a director to make a sizable impact on their communities and cultural theatrical offerings, as potentially help define and contribute to a director’s career goals. Sometimes, too, the creation of new theatrical forms helps the medium of theatre to progress and evolve, to grow and change. Every art form must change to stay relevant over time.
Jim Hart is the founder of The International Theatre Academy Norway (TITAN Teaterakademi or TITAN Theatre Academy).