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Week 2

Absurdism and Postmodernism

The Absurdist Trend

This week we are taking a look at two different, but I would argue related topics that both develop from responses to World War II.

We’ll start with Absurdism. The term was coined by critic Martin Esslin in an essay where he looked at the output of a number of European playwrights and the kind of material that they were producing. Below, you’ll watch the Crash Course Theatre History on the topic. It is very important to note, however, that the characteristics of absurdism are also found in a number of North African and Latin American writers of the period in particular.

I’d like you to start by reading Romanianbon playwright Eugène Ionesco’s very short play, “Salutations” before you watch the contextual video. Ionesco is most well-known for his full-length play, Rhinocerous, and his one-act, The Bald Soprano.

The play can be found via the Internet Archive and you will need to ‘check the book out’ for an hour.

The play begins on page 165 of Hunger and Thirst, and Other Plays. Trans. Donald Watson. New York: Grove Press. 1969.

https://archive.org/details/hungerthirst0000unse/page/164/mode/2up

Having read this short absurdist piece, please learn a bit more about Ionesco and Samuel Beckett and the Theatre of the Absurd.

Osvaldo Dragún

Osvaldo Dragún was an Argentinian playwright and director of the Teatro Nacional Cervantes. Active from the 1950s through to his death in 1999, he worked in a number of styles. Most of his plays are political in some way, often responding to conditions in Argentina that could be very repressive for theatre makers.

Read

“The Man Who Turned Into A Dog.” This is an amateur-produced translation available online. The play was originally produced at the independent Teatro Popular Fray Mocho in 1957.

Samuel Beckett

Beckett remains an extremely important and influential playwright. Most well-known for his full-length play Waiting for Godot, Beckett was a prolific writer of short pieces.

Watch

“Not I” as filmed by the first actress to perform the piece, Billie Whitelow, as part of a series of Beckett plays that were filmed.

Read

Two VERY short plays: “Breath”(pg 10) and “Act Without Words II” (pg. 30) from Breath and Other Shorts. London: Farber and Farber. 1975.

https://archive.org/details/breathothershort00beck/mode/2up

Watch

6 Renditions of “Breath” (playlist)

Response

How did these different versions of “Breath” make you feel? Did you respond positively or negatively to any version in particular? What do you think the intention of the piece is? Does it vary? In general, what do you think of Beckett, Ionesco, Dragun, or Theatre of the Absurd?

9 thoughts on “Week 2

  1. These different versions of “Breathe” gave me a wave of emotions. I was confused, conflicted, a little worried, etc. For example, multiple versions had a baby crying. Why? It made me uncomfortable, but more confused. I supposed that might be part of the intention of absurdism, to be weird and confusing. Each piece felt like it was taking from the pervious piece and adding on to it. As they were all different but felt the same. There were some consistanies, such as the breathing and the baby crying.

    As for the reads and the other videos, I feel like I got a better understadning different types of adsurdism, and I dont think its for me. With the style of short responses made the plays feel extremely fast and sometimes hard to understand. I had an idea that they might just be saying the same thing over and over again but after a while I started to lose what was actually going on. I felt lost. I supposed that could be part of the reason on why this genre of theater was created, to share the feeling of lost. As per the crash course video, people did not feel happy or want to be happy during that time, and mistery goes best with company as the saying goes. I didnt get a postive emotion from these reads and videos. It was erie and unsettling.

  2. Breath…hmm… I’m trying to find kind descriptive words to explain what I felt, very difficult. Breath had a very uneasy–eerie feel to it. I can’t say I was lost or confused because I’ve come to understand how absurdism works within the theatre world. However, it was just unsettling. Random baby crying mixed in with the “running out of oxygen” breath sounds, creeped me out. Had I paid and gone to witness this show, I surprisingly wouldn’t have asked for my money back because it’s a new experience to explore. I would’ve just gone to a local bar to have a drink and think about what I actually pay for. To add, after watching the different variations of Breath I thought each one would be drastically different or get slightly better, but nope, they all rubbed me weirdly. Breath is the kind of show you need to be on drugs to understand its depths haha.

    When it comes down to the entirety of Theatre of the Absurd, I’ve gathered as the “don’t try to understand it because it’s not meant to make sense” notion. It didn’t make me feel good, nor disappointed. It’s like a place of limbo. Sort of an “in between” feeling I get reading and viewing the different pieces. Your mind so badly wants it to make sense, but it just doesn’t. The world of absurdism requires one to get comfortable with being uncomfortable.

  3. Throughout watching the different versions of the “ Breathe” video it gave me negative feelings and or moods towards it. These emotions were that of strange,scared,uncomfort and even unusual. While watching this video you have a sense of feeling that you want to stop watching the very second it is turned on due to the fact that the tone of it is just unwelcoming as there are strange noises which included that babies cried mixed with the unsettling breathing as if someone had no more oxygen left in them. This small clip in itself left me in unease and will definitely keep me up at night. While going to a theater performance I want to feel intrigued and feel as if I’m enjoying what I have paid for but if I would have gone to see this play live I feel as if I would leave the very second these parts of the play began as the sounds would make me feel as if I’m in a haunted house during the Halloween Season. All different versions of the play just gave me the same feeling of uncomfort.
    When it comes to the aspect of Absurdism in Theatre after reading with the information provided for me above it made me realize that not every aspect of theater is for me especially that of Absurdism as it was quite confusing for me to understand the whole concept and meaning behind the play. I feel as if they want you to feel confused and perceive the play you want to see it as and challenge you. With this form of theater they want you to see it as unearthly and hair-raising.

  4. All the versions of Breath shared the same ominous, unnerving feeling that is enhanced by the dimly lit piles of rubbish and audio of the jagged breath. However, the first version of Breath reminded me a lot of the same feeling and style of the American Horror Story, in how the choice of trash used and the sound of breath they chose is more closely related to a horror film or thriller. Watching some of the other versions of Breath, I thought it was interesting how the choice of the trash changes the tone. The second clip looked more like an abandoned hospital while the fourth clip was more reminiscent of something from The Walking Dead based on the placement of the piles. The breath audio itself, I was less responsive to the works that featured a baby crying as the “breath.” Beckett’s Breath seems to offer enough directions to allow structure and yet offer enough room for interpretation. This way, the various renditions of the piece are able to offer a similar feeling while allowing room for artistic creativity. In general I love how closely related Theatre of the Absurd is to existential philosophy, and is often misunderstood as nihilist or pessimistic, while it truly is more liberating in embracing the absurdities of life rather than fighting them.

    Some postmodern art, films, and plays I can think of are:

    Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf by Edward Albee
    Monty Python and the Holy Grail
    Taxi Driver by Martin Scorcese
    Pulp fiction by Quentin Tarantino
    Blade Runner by Ridley Scott
    Andy Warhol’s art
    Guerilla Girls – Do Women Have To Be Naked To Get Into The Met. Museum?
    Naked Lunch by William S. Burroughs
    I would also argue that Kurt Vonnegut’s Slaughterhouse Five and Breakfast of Champions could also be considered postmodernist, along with Hunter S. Thompson’s Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas.

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