Playwrights Can’t Scream

Playwrights Can’t Scream


Artaud insisted that the playwright or the text should not be the final authority in the collaborative process. As Derrida highlights in his essays on Artaud, the essence of his stance was against the actors’ presence being subservient to the prompter’s (text) presence. The prompter is even more insidious than just that sneaky little whisperer in his dark dank box off stage but is attached directly to the ears of the actor.  “Good inspiration is the spirit-breath [souffle] of life, which will not take dictation because it does not read and because it precedes all text.” [Derrida, La Parole soufflee)

Artaud states clearly his argument against the authority of text in No More Masterpieces.

recognize that what has been said is not still to be said; that an expression does not have the same value twice, does not live two lives; that all words once spoken, are dead and function only at the moment when they are uttered, that a form, once it has been served, cannot be used again and asks only to replaced by another, and that the theatre is the only place in the world where a gesture, once made, can never be made the same way twice.

Theatre, like other art forms, sometimes produces artifacts. We call these textual artifacts scripts or plays or dramatic literature. The prejudice is usually to conflate these artifacts with theatre itself. But Artaud would be with Genet when he said, “plays should be performed one night and one night only, in a graveyard.”

So, given this mandate of No More Masterpieces, how does one approach a production of To Have Done with the Judgement of God, especially in this case, where we have not only Artaud’s text, but also the actual audio recording meant for radio broadcast?  First instruction: “a form, once it has been served, cannot be used again and asks only to replaced by another.”  So although we wish to utilize the pirate radio broadcast as an element of mise en scene, the main focus will be on the butoh performers.

The originator of butoh, Tatsumi Hijikata, possessed the bootlegged tape of Artaud’s broadcast, employing it almost as a talisman to endow his work. He would eventually choreograph the dancer Min Tanaka in a performance using Artaud’s radio play  as soundscape. When Hijikata played the tape for Susan Sontag in 1986 she remarked, “That’s the voice I expected.” Sontag, like many critics and commentators on Artaud, knew of the rumored bootleg tape but had never actually heard it. The “Artaudian Scream” became a critical reference for primordial theatre without anyone imagining an actual audio recording of it existed.

Herbert Blau refers to the scream in his critical tome, The Audience:

Artaud speaks in a later manifesto of actors who have forgotten how to scream. Without the old totemism of beastly essences, the false theatre of mimesis has forgotten more than that. For the scream would seem to be an effraction of memory–the break, the tear, the rending–which is the definitive trace of theater’s birth in the primordial rupture of things.

Mimetic representation… in the theater as in our dreams, creates the part of the audience and subordinates sound to sight. It’s as if the scream has been cut off in full cry… (The Audience p.106-107)

Meanwhile the inverse, subordinating sight to sound, the “silent scream” has become an almost emblematic gesture in butoh.

Hijikata seems to have found more in Artaud’s French vocalizations than others. He would invent a method of choreography known as butoh-fu, whereby he would speak words and phrases to his performers that as text resembles poetry but in fact were used to evoke body movements. The other aspect of butoh-fu was Hijikata’s vast collection of reproductions of artwork which he used to inspire dance and communicate choreography to his performers.

We can correlate butoh-fu to the script of a play, especially as it is inherited and communicated through the notes and memory of Hijikata’s student, Yukio Waguri. We too easily forget that the Shakespeare play does not really exist except in a similar vein, a document organized by and subject to the actor’s memory and (re)enactment. So here’s the horse in front of the cart, where it belongs.

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