Initially, of course, ‘avant garde’ was synonymous for ‘esoteric’ or ‘incomprehensible’. Despite the (scandalized) public attention attracted by their work, Alfred Jarry and Antonin Artaud remained on the theatrical fringes of their time. Indeed, like Oscar Kokoschka or the dadaists, they consciously chose the role of social outcast as ratifying their counter-culture status, an attitude shared by almost all the members of the movement. But, as we have seen, Jean-Louis Barrault mounted an avant garde takeover of the epitome of establishment theatre; and in some ways his career typifies the avant garde as a whole.
By the 1950s the productions of leading avant garde directors were already being classed as major cultural events. The Shiraz Festival in Persia under the Shah became an avant garde showcase, giving wide publicity to Peter Brook and Eugenio Barba’s Odin Teatret despite the reactionary politics and distant location. Jerzy Grotowski moved rapidly from a tiny back-street stage to world-wide tours in the mid-1960s, and performances at the Edinburgh and Parisian Théâtre des Nations Festivals, as well as at the Cultural Olympics in Mexico. A work like Brook’s Mahabharata was not only produced at the Avignon Festival and on Broadway as well as in Glasgow, but has also been shown around the world on television. In the following generation, the leading avant garde directors gained this sort of public position almost immediately. Robert Wilson’s work—which was also first given international exposure at the Shiraz Festival, always demanded the resources of main-stage theatre, and has been mounted in Paris, Berlin and New York. Ariane Mnouchkine’s stagings of Hélène Cixous’ scripts and of Shakespeare have not only attracted large audiences from all levels of Parisian society, but have also been presented at Festivals in Avignon, Venice, Brussels, Madrid, and at the Los Angeles Olympics. With the exception of those who withdrew from the theatre altogether like Grotowski or the Becks, the whole avant garde has made this transition. It is noticeable that even though there may be