The stage is a concrete physical place which asks to be filled, and to be given its own concrete language to speak. I say that this concrete language, intended for the senses and independent of speech, has first to satisfy the senses, that there is a poetry of the senses as there is a poetry of language, and that this concrete physical language to which I refer is truly theatrical only to the degree that the thoughts it expresses are beyond the reach of the spoken language. These thoughts are what words cannot express and which, far more than words, would find their ideal expression in the concrete physical language of the stage. It consists of everything that occupies the stage, everything that can be manifested and expressed materially on a stage and that is addressed first of all to the senses instead of being addressed primarily to the mind as is the language of words...creating beneath language a subterranean current of impressions, correspondences, and analogies. This poetry of language, poetry in space will be resolved precisely in the domain which does not belong strictly to words...Means of expression utilizable on the stage, such as music, dance, plastic art, pantomime, mimicry, gesticulation, intonation, architecture, lighting, and scenery...The physical possibilities of the stage offers, in order to substitute, for fixed forms of art, living and intimidating forms by which the sense of old ceremonial magic can find a new reality in the theater; to the degree that they yield to what might be called the physical temptation of the stage. Each of these means has its own intrinsic poetry.
Theater of cruelty means a theater difficult and cruel for myself first of all. And, on the level of performance, it is not the cruelty we can exercise upon each other by hacking at each other's bodies, carving up our personal anatomies, or, like Assyrian emperors, sending parcels of human ears, noses, or neatly detached nostrils through the mail, but the much more terrible and necessary cruelty which things can exercise against us. We are not free. And the sky can still fall on our heads. And the theater has been created to teach us that first of all.
Drama is based on the Mistake. I think someone is my friend when he really is my enemy, that I am free to marry a woman when in fact she is my mother, that this person is a chambermaid when it is a young nobleman in disguise, that this well-dressed young man is rich when he is really a penniless adventurer, or that if I do this such and such a result will follow when in fact it results in something very different. All good drama has two movements, first the making of the mistake, then the discovery that it was a mistake.
We need a type of theatre which not only releases the feelings, insights and impulses possible within the particular historical field of human relations in which the action takes place, but employs and encourages those thoughts and feelings which help transform the field itself.
For my part, I confess I seldom listen to the players: one has so much to do, in looking about and finding out one's acquaintance, that, really, one has no time to mind the stage. One merely comes to meet one's friends, and show that one's alive.
There was a time when all these things would have passed me by, like the flitting figures of a theatre, sufficient for the amusement of an hour. But now, I have lost the power of looking merely on the surface.
I had learned to have a perfect nausea for the theatre: the continual repetition of the same words and the same gestures, night after night, and the caprices, the way of looking at life, and the entire rigmarole disgusted me.
To save the theatre, the theatre must be destroyed, the actors and actresses must all die of the plague. They poison the air, they make art impossible. It is not drama that they play, but pieces for the theatre. We should return to the Greeks, play in the open air; the drama dies of stalls and boxes and evening dress, and people who come to digest their dinner.
-Minnie Maddern Fiske Mrs. Fiske: Her Views on Actors, Acting and the Problems of Production, ch. 1, by Alexander Woollcott (1917)
...I have never known a movement in the theater that did not work direct and serious harm. Indeed, I have sometimes felt that the very people associated with various uplifting activities in the theater are people who are astoundingly lacking in idealism.
-Minnie Maddern Fiske Mrs. Fiske: Her Views on Actors, Acting and the Problems of Production, ch. 4, by Alexander Woollcott (1917)
It is in the irony of things that the theatre should be the most dangerous place for the actor. But, then, after all, the world is the worst possible place, the most corrupting place, for the human soul. And just as there is no escape from the world, which follows us into the very heart of the desert, so the actor cannot escape the theatre. And the actor who is a dreamer need not. All of us can only strive to remain uncontaminated. In the world we must be unworldly, in the theatre the actor must be untheatrical.