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20th Century Post War Theatre


It suggests a stable moment of truth that is always already real, because it is in a state of existing in the present. Eugene Ionesco (1912-1994) ... – PowerPoint PPT presentation

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Title: 20th Century Post War Theatre

20th Century Post War Theatre
  • 1945-1975

Historical Background
  • World War II left many haunting questions
  • How could a civilized world engaged in a war that
    resulted in over 35 million deaths?
  • How could rational societies undertake genocide?
  • Would the atomic bomb result in annihilation of
    the human race?
  • Is humanity as rational as civilized as
    philosophers claimed?
  • Could God exist and allow the destruction of so
    many innocent human beings?
  • Are individuals responsible for group actions?

  • Individual human beings are understood as having
    full responsibility for creating the meanings of
    their own lives
  • A central proposition of existentialism is that
    existence precedes essence, that is that a human
    being's existence precedes and is more
    fundamental than any meaning which may be
    ascribed to human life man defines his reality
  • Life is meaningless except I choose ___________
  • The fact that we exist is more important that any
    of the essences that we choose do define it with
  • We can choose to behave ethically or unethically
    to anyone we meet

Theatre of Cruelty
  • Antonin Artaud believed that western theatre
    needed to be totally transformed
  • Theatre was a sensory experience viewers senses
    should be bombarded
  • Theatre is a double, a copy of life and realism
    is a double of everyday ordinary existence,
    people in families, going about their daily
    tasks, but that is not important
  • When we go through life, we are hiding what is
    really going on
  • What is really going on is much darker, a wild
    uncontrolled, seething mass of passions, fears,
    insecurities, loneliness, violence

Artaud says
  • Without an element of cruelty at the root of
    every spectacle, the theater is not possible. In
    our present state of degeneration it is through
    the skin that metaphysics must be made to
    re-enter our mindsAntonin Artaud, Theatre and
    its Double
  • Theatre should be a double of that life, not real
    life it should be cruel, but cruel only to be
    kind, only to force those feelings out because
    the fact that everyday life wants to paper over
    real life and all it does makes it worse
  • Theatre needs to be a purging, take life
    underneath life to bring it up to the surface
  • If not purged, when this explodes its going to
    be worse than anyone imagined
  • What would lead a person to hack up their
    neighbor? They exploded, the pressure built up
    by trying to make everything seem fine when it
    was not fine

  • Martin Esslin British journalist who was
    observing Beckett, Ionesco, etc, and noticed
    similarities in their writings dubbed them
    Theatre of the Absurd
  • The Purpose of Absurdism is to convince us that
    some abstraction or another is absurd/meaningless
  • The play then becomes the objective correlative
    of their argument the play is the point
  • Metaphorical, outside the range of our existence
    and question things that we always think about

Absurdist Characteristics
  • Belief that much of what happens in life cannot
    be explained logically
  • Attempt to reflect this absurdity in dramatic
  • Plots do not have traditional climactic or
    episodic structure
  • Frequently nothing seems to happen because the
    plot moves in a circle
  • Characters are not realistic and little
    information about them is given
  • Setting is a strange, unrecognizable location or
    a topsy-turvy realistic world
  • Language is telegraphic or sparse dialogue
    seems to make little sense and the characters
    fail to communicate
  • Mr. Smith Take a circle, caress it, and it will
    turn vicious.
  • Mrs. Smith A schoolmaster teaches his pupils to
    read, but the cat suckles her young when they are
  • Mr. Smith Nevertheless, it was the cow that gave
    us tails.

Samuel Beckett (1906-1989)
  • Dramas deal with the dullness of routine, the
    futility of human action and the inability of
    humans to communicate
  • Plays
  • Waiting for Godot (1953)
  • Endgame (1957)
  • Krapps Last Tape (1958)
  • Play (1963)

Waiting for Godot (1952)
  • The plot concerns Vladimir (also called Didi) and
    Estragon (also called Gogo), who arrive at a
    pre-specified roadside location in order to await
    the arrival of someone named Godot. Vladimir and
    Estragon, who appear to be tramps, pass the time
    in conversation, and sometimes in conflict.
    Though they make vague allusions to the nature of
    their circumstances and to their reasons for
    meeting Godot, the audience never learns who
    Godot is or why he is important.
  • They are soon interrupted by the arrival of
    Pozzo, a cruel but lyrically gifted man who
    claims to own the land they stand on, and his
    servant Lucky, whom he appears to control by
    means of a lengthy rope.
  • After Pozzo and Lucky depart, a boy arrives with
    a message supposedly from Godot, which states
    that Godot will not come today, "but surely
  • The second act follows a similar pattern to the
    first, but when Pozzo and Lucky arrive, Pozzo has
    inexplicably gone blind and Lucky has gone dumb.
    Again the boy arrives in order to announce that
    Godot will not appear. The much-quoted ending of
    the play goes as follows
  • Vladimir Well? Shall we go?
  • Estragon Yes, let's go.
  • They do not move.

Interpretation of Godot
  • The intentionally uneventful and repetitive plot
    of Waiting for Godot can be seen as symbolizing
    the tedium and meaninglessness of human life
  • The audience never learns who Godot is or the
    nature of his business with Vladimir and Estragon
  • Waiting for Godot is not a play about nothingness
    or nothing happening, per se, but rather is about
    the idea that true meaning exists in the present
    moment of the act.
  • It suggests a stable moment of truth that is
    always already real, because it is in a state of
    existing in the present.

Eugene Ionesco (1912-1994)
  • Often turned his characters into caricatures and
    presented comic characters who lose control of
    their own existence
  • Concerned with the futility of communication
  • Plays
  • The Bald Soprano (1949)
  • The Lesson (1951)
  • The Chairs (1952)
  • The Rhinoceros (1959)

The Lesson (1951)
  • A male teacher teaches a lesson to a young female
    student who is good at addition and
    multiplication but can not subtract, so he kills
  • The message is that your teachers are trying to
    kill you education is trying to force peoples
    minds to do things they cant do and you wont
    succeed, and it will kill you
  • Trying to show how people in an education setting
    are forcing them to change their minds
    education is about coercion

The Bald Soprano (1949)
  • The Smiths are a traditional family from London,
    who have invited another family, the Martins,
    over for a visit. They are joined later by the
    Smiths' maid, Mary, and the local fire chief, who
    is also a friend and possibly former lover of
    Mary's. The two families engage in meaningless
    banter, telling stories and relating nonsensical
    poems. As the fire chief turns to leave, he
    mentions "the bald soprano" in passing, which has
    a very unsettling effect on the others. Mrs.
    Smith replies that "she always wears her hair in
    the same style."
  • The Bald Soprano appears to have been written as
    a continuous loop. The final scene contains stage
    instructions to start the performance over from
    the very beginning, with the Martin family
    substituted for the Smith family and vice versa.
  • Many suggest that the theme expresses the
    futility of meaningful communication in modern
  • The script is charged with non sequiturs that
    give the impression that the characters are not
    even listening to each other in their frantic
    efforts to make their own voices heard.

Harold Pinter (1930- )
  • Comedy of Menace frighten and entertain at the
    same time
  • Feels no need to explain why something happens or
    who a character is
  • Characters lack explanation of backgrounds or
  • Introduction of menacing outside forces
  • Dialogue captures pauses, evasions, and
    incoherence of modern speech
  • The Pinter Pause
  • Pinter is known for use of unbearable silence,
    with many meticulously considered and immensely
    significant pauses written into his scripts.
  • What the characters don't say is just as
    important as the words that do pass their lips.
  • Pinter actually writes silence. When played
    correctly, Pinter's pauses can be as eloquent as
    his dialogue.
  • Plays
  • The Dumb-waiter (1957)
  • The Birthday Party (1957)
  • The Homecoming (1965)

The Birthday Party (1957)
  • Taken at face value, the play concerns Stanley, a
    failed piano player, who lives in a boarding
    house (run by Meg and Petey), in a British
    seaside town. On his birthday, Stanley is visited
    by two men, Goldberg and McCann. A supposedly
    innocent birthday party quickly becomes a
    nightmare as Stanley is psychologically tortured,
    Meg is strangled, and Lulu is sexually assaulted.
  • It is quickly learned that very little of the
    expository information can be taken at face
  • In Act I, Stanley describes his career saying
    "I've played the piano all over the world. All
    over the country" and then after a pause simply
    "I once gave a concert."
  • Much of the plot revolves around the fact that
    Meg is planning to celebrate Stanley's birthday
    a fact that he denies several times throughout
    the play. (Meg claims he doesn't know that it's
    his birthday because she's keeping it a secret.)
  • Although Stanley at one point of the birthday
    party begins to strangle Meg, she has no memory
    of it the next morning, quite possibly because
    she had drunk too much the night before.

  • Non-structured events that occurred with a
    minimum of planning and organization
  • The idea was that art should not be restricted to
    museums, galleries or concert halls, but can
    happen anywhere
  • Street corners, grocery stores, bus stops

Selective Realism
  • Type of realism that heightens certain details of
    action, scenery, and dialogue while omitting
  • The play is set in a realistic world, but
    contains unrealistic elements
  • Example having a narrator or flashbacks
  • Playwrights
  • Arthur Miller
  • Tennessee Williams

Arthur Miller (1915-2005)
  • Focuses on failure, guilt, responsibility for
    ones own actions, and the effects of society on
    the individual
  • Plays
  • Death of a Salesman (1949)
  • The Crucible (1953)

Death of a Salesman (1949)
  • Often classified as a modern tragedy of the
    common man
  • Willy Loman has been a traveling salesman for
    thirty-four years. He likes to think of himself
    as being vital to the New England territory. He
    asks his wife Linda about his sons, who are home
    for the first time in years. Willy has trouble
    understanding why Biff, his thirty-four year old
    son, cannot find a job and keep it. Biff is
    attractive and was a star football player in high
    school with several scholarships however, he
    could not finish his education, for he flunked
    math. When Biff went to Boston to find his father
    and explain the failure to him, he found Willy in
    his hotel room having an affair with a strange
    woman. Afterwards, Biff held a grudge against his
    father, never trusting him again.
  • Willy explains to his sons that the important
    things in life are to be well liked and to be
    attractive. While Biff plans to start his own
    business with his brother Happy, Willy goes to
    his boss where he is told that he cannot even
    represent the firm in New England any more. This
    news turns Willy's life upside- down. Suddenly
    unemployed, he feels frightened and worthless.
  • Biff admits that he is tired of living a life
    filled with illusion and plans to tell his father
    not to expect anything from him anymore. Biff
    tries to explain to Willy that he has no real
    skills and no leadership ability. In order to
    save his father from disappointment, he suggests
    that they never see one another again. Willy
    still refuses to listen to what Biff is saying
    he tells Biff how great he is and how successful
    he can become. Biff is frustrated because Willy
    refuses to face the truth. In anger, Biff breaks
    down and sobs, telling Willy just to forget about
  • Willy decides to kill himself, for Biff would get
    twenty thousand dollars of insurance money to
    start his own business and make it a decent
    living. At Willy's funeral, no one is present. He
    dies a pathetic, neglected, and forgotten man.

Tennessee Williams (1911-1983)
  • Common theme running through his works is the
    plight of societys outcasts
  • Outsiders trapped in a hostile environment
  • Characters are usually victims who are unable to
    comprehend their world
  • Uses lyrical and poetic language and symbolism to
    create compassion for characters
  • Plays
  • The Glass Menagerie (1945)
  • A Streetcar Named Desire (1947)
  • Cat on a Hot Tin Roof (1954)

A Streetcar Named Desire (1947)
  • Set in the French Quarter of New Orleans during
    the restless years following World War Two, A
    STREETCAR NAMED DESIRE is the story of Blanche
    DuBois, a fragile and neurotic woman on a
    desperate prowl for someplace in the world to
    call her own.
  • After being exiled from her hometown of Laurel,
    Mississippi, for seducing a seventeen-year-old
    boy at the school where she taught English,
    Blanche explains her unexpected appearance on
    Stanley and Stella's (Blanche's sister) doorstep
    as nervous exhaustion. This, she claims, is the
    result of a series of financial calamities which
    have recently claimed the family plantation,
    Belle Reve.
  • Suspicious, Stanley, a sinewy and brutish man, is
    as territorial as a panther. He tells Blanche he
    doesn't like to be swindled and demands to see
    the bill of sale. This encounter defines Stanley
    and Blanche's relationship. But Stanley and
    Stella are deeply in love. Blanche's efforts to
    impose herself between them only enrages the
    animal inside Stanley.
  • When Mitch -- a card-playing buddy of Stanley's
    -- arrives on the scene, Blanche begins to see a
    way out of her predicament. Mitch, himself alone
    in the world, reveres Blanche as a beautiful and
    refined woman. Yet, as rumors of Blanche's past
    in Auriol begin to catch up to her, her
    circumstances become unbearable.

  • Broadway has always been traditionally oriented
    to plays that usually appeal to popular tastes,
    which is why most of the popular productions
    since World War II have been MUSICALS

Famous Musicals from this era by
  • Rogers and Hammerstein
  • Oklahoma! (1943)
  • South Pacific (1949)
  • The King and I (1951)
  • The Sound of Music (1959)
  • Annie Get Your Gun (1946) by Irving Berlin
  • Kiss Me Kate (1948) by Cole Porter
  • Guys and Dolls (1950) by Frank Loesser
  • My Fair Lady (1956) by Alan Jay Lerner and
    Frederick Loewe
  • West Side Story (1957) by Leonard Bernstein and
    Stephen Sondheim
  • Hello, Dolly (1964) by Jerry Herman
  • Fiddler on the Roof (1964) by Jerry Bock and
    Sheldon Harnick
  • A Chorus Line (1975) by Marvin Hamlisch and
    Edward Kleban

  • Movement developed in the late 1940s as a
    reaction to Broadway commercialism
  • Primary goal was to provide an outlet for
    experimental and innovative works
  • Dedicated to introducing new playwrights and
    reviving significant plays that had been
    unsuccessful on Broadway
  • Also popularized intimate playhouses that did not
    take the traditional proscenium-arch form
  • Usually seated about 200 people
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