The Avant-Garde Tradition in Literature

By Richard Kostelanetz | Go to book overview

The New Theatre

Michael Kirby

Since the turn of the century, most art forms have vastly expanded their materials and scope. Totally abstract or nonobjective painting and sculpture, unheard of in 1900, is practiced by many major artists today. Composers tend to discard traditional Western scales and harmonies, and atonal music is relatively common. Poetry has abandoned rhyme, meter, and syntax. Almost alone among the arts, theatre has lagged. But during the last few years there have been a number of performances that begin to bring theatre into some relation with the other arts. These works, as well as productions in other performance-oriented fields, force us to examine theatre in a new light and raise questions about the meaning of the word "theatre" itself.

In discussing this new theatre, new terms are needed. A few have already been provided by public usage, although they need clarification and standardization. Others will have to be created. Accurate nomenclature is important — not for the sake of limitation but to facilitate easy, accurate, and creative exchange among those concerned with the work and its concepts.

It is clear, however, that perfect definitions are almost impossible to derive from actual recent theatrical productions. Just as no formal distinctions between poetry and prose can be made in some cases, and passages of "prose" are published in anthologies of "poetry," and as traditional categories of "painting" and "sculpture" grow less and less applicable to much modern work, so theatre exists not as an entity but as a continuum blending into other arts. Each name and term refers only to a significant point on this continuum. Definitions apply to central tendency, but cannot set precise limits.

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Reprinted from The Art of Time ( Dutton, 1969) by permission of the author.

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