95 Sentences About Theatre

1. The theatre needs to take up its true mantle again, that of the religion of the senses.

2. Theatre abhors the marginalising label, even those of tragedy and comedy.

3. That said, movies and media fill the needs of the comic sensibility more readily than those of the tragic.

4. The tragic holds a place for a laughter that recognises the wonders of ecstasy and surprise.

5. The comic mode can't contain, however, the wounded scream.

6. Every comedy, therefore, undermines its own optimism in any true laughter it may provoke; this is its value.

7. No ecstasies possible without tortures; this is the lesson of the saints, religious and theatrical.

8. In recognition of the wound, tragedy purges innocence of the puritanism that the community attaches to it.

9. And purges guilt of shame.

10. Theatre's sole educational value is that it teaches the means of tracing the dynamic of the will through the body and the spoken word; beyond this it is useless as a pedagogical tool.

11. The presence of the audience, the hivemind: theatre's job is to destroy the collective consciousness, to give each individual the courage to feel and decide for herself in the midst of the mob.

12. Community abhors solitude, fearing its possibilities.

13. Community abhors love, mistaking affection and consensus for it.

14. Theatre welcomes the self-aware, draws the self-aware to it, as a kindred spirit.

15. The flatfooted heavy tread of the man, the tender woman walking carefully, teetering on her heels along the edge of the abyss; she is aware of her womb.

16. Theatre reifies as its only valid metaphor the wonder and pain of identities lost in the midst of ecstasies.

17. The minimal theatre is in its essences environmentally sound; no matter the number of objects on the stage, if the audience member sees these objects' amorphous relationships to the bodies around them as necessary rather than baroque decoration, they have served their purpose.

18. And then there is the theatre of the mess: toys scattered, never to be recognised or used, like the playpen of a dull infant.

19. Our contemporary mayas are the two-dimensional images of the computer, television and movie screens; but it is in society's interest to use its technology to render those screens unbreakable.

20. In taking into the theatre the languages of mass culture, of advertising and marketing, we prove we have fallen in love with our screens.

21. Screens sparkle with explosions and fakery, an expensive, ideologically-driven fakery which enchants: this is the materialist, capitalist elitism that drives popular mass culture.

22. Theatre exists to destroy enchantment and substitute for it the proprietary illusion which lies behind the enchanting ideology; the wonder can be created by each individual spectator on his or her own, in his or her own body; this is truly democratic.

23. Should we not stop pretending that in allowing the corporate mind to enter the theatre space we are questioning it? Our acceptance of it precedes its very entry.

24. For some, theatre is not merely a brand of comfortable, soft toilet paper, and can't be marketed.

25. Any more than can be marketed the theatre I discuss: the disorganized, unorganized religion of the senses, which creates its own discipline and theology, every night.

26. What's missing in Beckett: where he located a feminine élan vital in his late work, he was never able to find expression for a masculine élan vital, finding only the cruelty of What Where and How It Is; he left the project half-finished; perhaps he too read too much Schopenhauer; but given he was a man who admitted that he had never been properly born, he was honest and we can understand.

27. Children's theatre: how much theatre is covered with that blanket term, by a culture that treats its citizens as children; and the children who allow it.

28. The ephemerality of performance is a brief shining of life in death, as is the ecstatic body.

29. The stage therefore surrounded by darkness, the audience, the community, trapped in that darkness, as the performer is trapped in life.

30. The language of the stage must lose its stammer.

31. The language of the stage must find a way to form itself into sentences and paragraphs again.

32. Language is eroded, from the inside, so that it can again be built to meaning, from the inside.

33. In so far as language can contain a discernable "meaning" on the stage, in the body, this can only be found from the sinews and electric shocks of the senses; then, properly, it is a language of description.

34. Description that resides in narrative, a sequence of events that draws the self closer to the brink, the self making meaning of the ecstatic terror of nearing the abyss, is the heart of monologue.

35. Dialogue: are hands joined, together, to look down, and discuss the possibility of the fall?

36. Performance and tragedy require the artist to have the courage of his own consciousness.

37. Shame is the bacteria; a questing doubt is the treatment.

38. An acted word, a gesture accompanied by the lyrical voice, is a leap into the abyss, a bodied experience of it; the poem an essential anatomy of the body.

39. The great reward of risking all is the ability to start again from the root, with nothing.

40. Parmenides: "And it is all one to me / Where I am to begin; for I shall return there again."

41. An audience is fascinated with its own anatomy; it is the appeal of an exploration of the body from the inside out, through its own flesh; it needn't be given coloring books.

42. Reestablish tradition: the stoa and the lobby the place for debate, not the theatre itself.

43. In a gesture of love, tragedy reflects the audience's own self-hatred, and offers it succor and a tender hand in this recognition.

44. The attempt to market and sell theatre is as useful a concept as an attempt to market and sell air.

45. A dead theatre can market only numb apathy; the number of stages is limited, they are as much a natural resource as any other; we should recognise the tight space of our cities; we need a new environmentalism of theatre, in which the resource is conserved, not wasted or ruined for a moment's convenience or vacuous amusement.

46. The facile ironies of contemporary theatre provide plausible deniability as they denigrate the spirit: the easy ironic pop-cult reference exemplifies its triviality: just a joke and an excuse for drinking, the mind and spirit drowned in ephemera.

47. Theatre is the bodied, gestured nexus of philosophy and poetry, and contains all in its practice; at its most effective, there is no difference among the three.

48. So intellection on stage and in life is the most sensual, tragic, and erotic discipline of the race.

49. A theatre which seeks a moral and ethical closure and compromise between the poles of pain and pleasure that it represents is no art, but a pulpit; of pulpits we have more than enough, of theatre only one.

50. Bataille: "Eroticism is assenting to life even in death": theatrical performance an investigative demonstration.

51. For all this a new stage language must be forged, contemporary but Jacobean in its imaginative sweep: as spare as possible for a world which has no time for unending floods of linguistic trivia, an end to this world all too visible on the horizon. (See: Donne, Shakespeare.)

52. The blood and flesh of the word is only suggestible, as theatre (as all art) is mere simulacrum of an original which has no existence, as Baudrillard posits (as with his reference to the word "simulacrum" itself in Ecclesiastes, this source itself non-existent); and why not play then with costume and light? rendering all material a textile for shaping the body within it, offering new play and suggestions for perception.

53. Actors: You speak to a man, a woman, alone in a dark room, possibility of fleshed contact; you unknowingly seduce; how much more influence you would have if you did so knowingly, as your eyes met.

54. An old world ends at the door of the theatre, a new world is created therein.

55. Revelation, even apocalyptic revelation, need be no more than two hours of whispering in the night.

56. All that I write is practice, even when it is deepest in theory.

57. The grammar of the written word its written gesture, as the sound of the spoken word; also, movement the grammar of the spoken word, breaking grammar's rules in pursuit of new enlightenments.

58. Spoken language: the scalpel and speculum of the art of theatre, the setting the operating theatre; written language: the scalpel and speculum of the art of drama; call playwrights "poets" again.

59. In so far as a drama is written, it is imagined in the reader's mind: in the theatre one imagines with the word and its setting, the way the speaker is dressed, setting its context; personal imagination becomes external, the self-consciousness of spoken and seen representation.

60. The daring of theatre, of tragedy, is its opening of the writer's skull to the world; what one finds there, resonances of recognition.

61. Daily politics a virus which infests the consciousness; tear it out, for the op-ed pages; instead, find the timeless qualities of terror, ecstasy, hate, love; the groupmind would prefer to hold the imagination in the thrall of its desiccated moralisms, its frightened puritanism.

62. Pinter's lesson, that oppression consists earliest in words that dictate behavior; the gun follows.

63. Theatre finds that in moving bodies all blood, through history, is red: spoken and enacted language, as Herbert Blau had it, is theatre's "blooded thought."

64. Insist on elemental essences as those which are sharpest.

65. All that I write is practice, even when it is deepest in theory.

66. The appeal of Willy Loman to theatre artists: They want, so desperately, to be well-liked.

67. To that end, they pretend that the night in the New Haven hotel room never happened; they insist that they are incapable of it.

68. In fear that they are, they form the self-regulating tribe, dissolving all autonomy; all aesthetic and cultural police power devolves upon this so-called "body" (in abstract name only); for the rest, they are convinced their community puritanism will save the race; for this they choose a scapegoat (the intellect, the artist, the poet); for the rest, see Shirley Jackson's story "The Lottery."

69. The typical member of the community does not throw the first stone; but he eventually reveals his ego, if not his self; he throws the fifth or sixth, then gleefully jumps around, telling everyone that he was the first.

70. The collective's hatred of the autonomous self manifests in the liberal, progressive, communitarian theatre mind as it hates, shuts out the strange and multivalent passion: the passion of erotic tragedy undermines the certainty of the ameliorist, the community which exists in mass delusion of its own good intentions; eroticism and tragedy can never be anything but qualities of the wounded individual, who remains alone, the scapegoat himself.

71. Unless he finds in love a healing salve for his peculiar wound; and it rarely happens, solitary torture its likely end; but this love is always the erotic Other, never the flaccid group.

72. Theatre artists stand for more mawkishness, mediocrity, irrelevance and imprecision in the sacred space that they poison with their shameless begging for the audience's approval than any self-respecting poet would ever stand for in his work.

73. The ameliorist theatre: Its hoped-for ends (profit and acclaim) always known to its creators from the first day of rehearsal.

74. The ameliorist theatre: That which denies all culpability and responsibility for the bloody crimes of the race; unending calls of "not me."

75. The ameliorist theatre: In the purity of its political and ideological self-righteousness it performs on stage an elaborate circle jerk, then asks the paying audience to join in; this bland, blind machine-like orgasm is then attended to as "wonder" and "magic" (and this latter always David Copperfield's: empty illusion).

76. To the spectator, the rictus of ecstasy is indistinguishable from the rictus of terror, as it should be for the performer.

77. The performer renounces the act of decision as to whether her face expresses one or the other; all possibilities are kept in play for the contemplation of the spectator.

78. Sublime ecstasy, like sublime terror, exceeds the morality of the polis and its ability to impose a single meaning on experience: this was the threat of the tragic poet to Plato's Republic, and the threat of the tragic poet to our own; it leaves only the bodied awareness of the tragic wound.

79. The oscillation of the theatrical experience between Apollinian restraint and Dionysian expansion of gesture.

80. Neither can restraint contain the Orphic body in its full possibility; pleasure and terror course and recourse in Apollinian restraint, interiorising ecstasy and torture.

81. Restraint and discipline narrow the river of passion through the flesh: so the smallest gesture and the word that approaches silence possess a razor's cutting edge: the smallest tremor that promises orgasm.

82. The history of the body and the word contain all of these experiences, through the unwritten history of the race: the same blood that coursed through the veins of Oedipus, Medea, Hecuba, courses through ours.

83. No stories left to be newly told, only entered and reentered, through new portals of our own history.

84. Both the poet and the performer body the same word.

85. Their bloods commingle as well.

86. The paradoxes of tragic theatre: word as metaphor for body; costume for flesh; sound for silence; light for darkness: and no metaphors.

87. Why darkest night must surround the theatrical moment: repudiation of entertainment and enlightenment for knowledge and the shaking ground, opening beneath the feet, and a fall together into the isolation of night.

88. Tragedy does not want the sop of the ameliorist theatre: a polka-dotted band-aid soaked in antiseptic, pasted over a growing cancer.

89. Tragedy will gladly give the ameliorist theatre what it wants: access to the halls of institutional power, theatre schools, the pages of the New York Times, the cameras of the movies and television; that seems to be what the ameliorist theatre wants; tragedy will keep for itself the night, because night can't be legislated out of existence through a majority vote, and can't be contained within the six-star rating system of Time Out magazines.

90. The spectator is aware that there is no truth in art, and is rightfully insulted when artists tell them that there is, and impose the outright lie of meaning beyond the sensation.

91. Not truth, but experience -- in the theatre, the senses, and the word.

92. Not closure, but the trembling before possibility; it can be seized and embraced, for the sensation it offers, or ignored and ridiculed.

93. Not the gross face of the mass, but the finely-turned face of the individual, viciously fought for, for all that it's worth.

94. Success is a meaningless term in tragedy: always failing, failing better, because the fall of the tragic subject is into a bottomless void.

95. Jetzt fängt die Arbeit an.

By George Hunka is a playwright and the artistic director of theatre minima, and has also written about theatre for the New York Times, Time Out New York, and other publications. A member of the Dramatists Guild (which in July 2007 named him one of "50 to Watch" in its magazine The Dramatist), he is a 2007 recipient of an Albee Foundation Fellowship and lives in New York.