World Library  
Flag as Inappropriate
Email this Article

Experimental theater

Article Id: WHEBN0000853806
Reproduction Date:

Title: Experimental theater  
Author: World Heritage Encyclopedia
Language: English
Subject: Solomon Nikritin, Astor Place Theatre
Publisher: World Heritage Encyclopedia

Experimental theater

Experimental theatre is a general term for various movements in Western theatre that began in the late 19th century with Alfred Jarry and his Ubu plays as a rejection of both the age in particular and, in general, the dominant ways of writing and producing plays. The term has shifted over time as the mainstream theatre world has adopted many forms that were once considered radical. It is used more or less interchangeably with the term avant-garde theatre. Experimental theatre is what it is, namely trying something new.

Like other forms of the avant garde, it was created as a response to a perceived general cultural crisis. Despite different political and formal approaches, all avant-garde theatre opposes bourgeois theatre. It tries to introduce a different use of language and the body to change the mode of perception[1] and to create a new, more active relation with the audience.

Relationships to audience

Famed experimental theatre director and playwright Peter Brook describes his task as building "… a necessary theatre, one in which there is only a practical difference between actor and audience, not a fundamental one." [2]

Traditionally audiences are seen as passive observers. Many practitioners of experimental theatre have wanted to challenge this. For example, Bertolt Brecht wanted to mobilise his audiences by asking them questions and not giving them answers, thereby getting them to think for themselves; Augusto Boal wanted his audiences to react directly to the action; and Antonin Artaud wanted to affect them directly on a subconscious level.[3] Peter Brook has identifies a triangle of relationships within a performance: the performers' internal relationships, the performers' relationships to each other on stage, and their relationship with the audience.[2][4] The British experimental theatre group Welfare State International has spoken of a ceremonial circle during performance, the cast providing one half, the audience providing another, and an the energy in the middle.[5]

Aside from ideological implications of the role of the audience, theatres and performances have addressed or involved the audience in a variety of ways. The proscenium arch has been called into question, with performances venturing into non-theatrical spaces. Audiences have been engaged differently, often as active participants in the action on a highly practical level. When a proscenium arch has been used, its usual use has often been subverted.

Audience participation can range from asking for volunteers to go onstage to having actors scream in audience members' faces. By using audience participation, the performer invites the audience to feel a certain way and by doing so they may change their attitudes, values and beliefs in regard to the performance's topic. For example, in a performance on bullying the character may approach an audience member, size them up and challenge them to a fight on the spot. The terrified look on the audience member's face will strongly embody the message of bullying to the member and the rest of the audience.

Physically, theatre spaces took on different shapes, and practitioners re-explored different ways of staging performance and a lot of research was done into Elizabethan and Greek theatre spaces. This was integrated into the mainstream, the National Theatre in London, for example, has a highly flexible, somewhat Elizabethan traverse space, a proscenium space and an amphitheatre space (the Olivier) and the directors and architects consciously wanted to break away from the primacy of the proscenium arch. Jacques Copeau was an important figure in terms of stage design, and was very keen to break away from the excesses of naturalism to get to a more pared down, representational way of looking at the stage.[6]

Social contexts

Some groups have been prominent in changing the social face of theatre, rather than its stylistic appearance. Performers have used their skills to engage in a form of cultural activism. This may be in the form of didactic agit-prop theatre, or some (such as Welfare State International) see a performance environment as being one in which a micro-society can emerge and can lead a way of life alternative to that of the broader society in which they are placed.[5]

Augusto Boal used the Legislative Theatre on the people of Rio to find out what they wanted to change about their community, and he used the audience reaction to change legislation in his role as a councillor. Experimental theatre encourages directors to make society, or our audience at least, change their attitudes, values and beliefs on an issue and to do something about it.

Methods of creation

Traditionally, there is a highly hierarchical method of creating theatre - a writer writes a script, a director interprets it for the stage, the performers perform the director and writers collective vision. Various practitioners started challenging this and started seeing the performers more and more as creative artists in their own right. This started with giving them more and more interpretive freedom and devised theatre eventually emerged.

Within this many different structures and possibilities exist for performance makers, and a large variety of different models are used by performers today. The primacy of the director and writer has been challenged directly, and the directors role can exist as an outside eye or a facilitator rather than the supreme authority figure they once would have been able to assume.

As well as hierarchies being challenged, performers have been challenging their individual roles. An inter-disciplinary approach becomes more and more common as performers have become less willing to be shoe-horned into specialist technical roles. Simultaneous to this, other disciplines have started breaking down their barriers. Dance, music, visual art and writing become blurred in many cases, and artists with completely separate trainings and backgrounds collaborate very comfortably.

Physical effects

Experimental theatre alters traditional conventions of space, movement, mood, tension, language, symbolism, and other elements.

Key figures



List of Experimental Theater


  • Experimental Theater (NCPA)


United Kingdom

  • Forced Entertainment
  • Complicite
  • Welfare State International
  • The Gecko
  • The Danuki Ensemble


  • The Kadozuke Kollektif
  • Segment 3
  • The Irondale Ensemble Project Canada

United States

Australia and New Zealand

  • TropicSun Theatre
  • Free Theatre Christchurch
  • Binge Culture


  • Bibhaban-The Experimental Theatre Company
  • Hypokrites


  • Holy Stage


  • Fanny & Alexander
  • Motus
  • Opera (Vincenzo Schino)
  • Ricci/Forte
  • Societas Raffaello Sanzio
  • Teatrino Clandestino
  • Teatro Valdoca
  • Teatro Potlach


  • Marttah Viktoria Robles


  • Transversal Theater Company
  • Orkater


See also

  • Speculations: An Essay on the Theater
  • Mac Wellman
  • The Flea Theater
  • Performance art
  • Elizabeth LeCompte
  • The Wooster Group
  • Ontological-Hysteric Theater
  • Richard Foreman
  • Richard Schechner
  • Happenings
  • Allan Kaprow
  • Fluxus
  • Intermedia
  • Dick Higgins
  • Marina Abramović
  • History of theatre
  • Post-modernism
  • Physical theatre
  • VestAndPage


Further reading

  • Arnold Aronson: American Avant-Garde Theatre: A History (Theatre Production Studies), Routledge, 2000, ISBN 0-415-24139-1

External links

  • Experimental Theatre Organization
This article was sourced from Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike License; additional terms may apply. World Heritage Encyclopedia content is assembled from numerous content providers, Open Access Publishing, and in compliance with The Fair Access to Science and Technology Research Act (FASTR), Wikimedia Foundation, Inc., Public Library of Science, The Encyclopedia of Life, Open Book Publishers (OBP), PubMed, U.S. National Library of Medicine, National Center for Biotechnology Information, U.S. National Library of Medicine, National Institutes of Health (NIH), U.S. Department of Health & Human Services, and, which sources content from all federal, state, local, tribal, and territorial government publication portals (.gov, .mil, .edu). Funding for and content contributors is made possible from the U.S. Congress, E-Government Act of 2002.
Crowd sourced content that is contributed to World Heritage Encyclopedia is peer reviewed and edited by our editorial staff to ensure quality scholarly research articles.
By using this site, you agree to the Terms of Use and Privacy Policy. World Heritage Encyclopedia™ is a registered trademark of the World Public Library Association, a non-profit organization.

Copyright © World Library Foundation. All rights reserved. eBooks from Project Gutenberg are sponsored by the World Library Foundation,
a 501c(4) Member's Support Non-Profit Organization, and is NOT affiliated with any governmental agency or department.