Revitalizing Theatre through new forms

Lately I have been thinking a lot about form. How can the form of a play help to tell its story? How is changing form vital to keeping theatre relevant? This is something that I’ve been contemplating recently as a playwright and something that I think is also relevant to dramaturgy, as the dramaturge must fully understand the world of the play and the reasons for the choices that the playwright has made in order to be an advocate for the Piece. Also, the dramaturge must push for theatre to affect its audience as much as possible.
For our last class we read Mac Wellman’s adaptation of Antigone. He uses unconventional, poetic text layered with movement to tell his story. He encourages collaboration from everyone involved. He gives suggestions for dances but leaves it to the company to choreograph them, he provides imagistic stage directions rather than literal ones that can be read aloud or not as the director/ other collaborators see fit. He provides a tapestry of wonderfully specific images for those creating the piece to work with. He engineers that the text is but a layer in the performance. Interestingly the word text, which we now think of as only words, comes from the same root as textile, or a weaving together. Mac Wellman owns this concept in his work. His embracing of this concept involves everyone fully in the creation process in an engaging way. He ends his play by declaring that it is the end, but acknowledging that “Some may not think so.” Thereby inviting the audience to be collaborators in their own experience. In fact he demands this of them throughout by providing specific, visceral images, but requires that the audience create a way to string them together, they must play close attention to connect them all. In his interview with Carrie Hughes, Wellman discusses how the gods are not an actual concept for us the way that they were for the ancient Greeks. He declares that now we believe in logic as the given, so he uses the play’s form to upend our logic, thereby providing a potentially similar experience to the Greeks having their notions of god upended and examined. So although Wellman’s form is radically different from Sophocles’, perhaps he reaches modern audiences in a way that is very faithful to the original.
Mac Wellmans’ Antigone is a very important play to me because of its engagement with the audience. I feel like in today’s world theatre makers/ artists need to be very specific about the things that are vital about theatre that film and TV cannot capture. What is unique and necessary about live performance? To me, a large part of the answer is direct and active engagement with the audience: The shared experience of engaging, analyzing, being emotionally or mentally effected, and creating community through and because of these things.

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