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After an early career in commercial French theatre, Antonin Artaud became one of the foremost promoters of the Surrealist movement, along with Roger Vitrac. His pivotal theoretical contribution, the publication of essays collectively entitled The Theatre and Its Double, argued that theatre was much more than entertainment, but was rather a venue for social and philosophical change. He advocated a theatre that would disturb the spectator on a visceral level, not merely with verbal language but with gestures, sound, and movements (he had been greatly affected by some visiting Oriental theatre Balinese productions in 1931). The most provocative essay in the collection, “The Theatre and the Plague,” is a protracted analogy of theatre and the Plague, both of them violent changers in history and liberators of human rationality, moving humanity back to its primitive state. He felt that theatre could be the instrument to reveal man’s subconscious to himself, and to drive humanity to a new, freer consciousness. The plays he wrote to try to effect such a freeing were not popular with the masses, but his essays became must-read manifestoes for the avant-garde theatre movements of the 50’s and 60’s throughout the world.
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