Thursday, 27 April 2017

The Death of Dramaturgy: Don't Be Absurd.

While Brecht was giving it the Bob the Builder routine, another bunch of playwrights had noticed that, actually, the USA had dropped a nuclear bomb and, as Dr Carl Lavery will tell you, the environment itself had gone deadly. The absurdists went all emo, sat in the corner and whispered that all this fuss about existence was meaningless. The universe is absurd, nothing is solid, nothing has worth and the best bet is just... whatever.

After World War II, in Germany, the absurdists made a great deal of sense. Interestingly, Waiting for Godot was big hit in America's prisons. Futility, boredom, chaos (but not the fun chaos the Romantics spotted in a thunderstorm) were self-evident. Having a message - like in Brecht's parable plays - was straight up dishonest. The only message possible was that there is no message.

Beckett is a great example for this. While dramaturgy pays attention to the structure and form of a production, and places it at the service of the content, Waiting for Godot has no concern about what happens: it's the structure that matters, and the structure is telling the audience that life just goes on and on in a big pointless circle. Endgame's another: half the time, the characters are pointing out that this is a play. The content is placed at the service of the form, and the form is empty. This is an anti-dramaturgy. Reason can just piss off. And as for political engagement... well...

Left-wing critic and the first man to say 'fuck' on TV, Kenneth Tynan, had a square go with Ionesco, accusing him of ignoring the political potential of theatre. Ionesco was like, no. The existential condition trumps the political. Tynan said that buying cigarettes was a political action, before smoking himself into an early grave. Ionesco nearly wrote a play for Tommy Cooper. Is that true? Does it matter? Not in the context of the universe's complete lack of interest in Mankind. 

The absurdists didn't kill dramaturgy, they just negated its ambition. Naturalistic touches were out, reason was just another way of wasting time and as for political theatre... 

In all of this, dramaturgy (meaning 'strategies for producing theatre') did not die. But the Lessing-Diderot vision was being occluded. But let's jump forward to 1992, Atlanta. Then we can really kill the beast.

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