American Theater in the 1960's Summary


(American Culture and Institutions Through Literature, 1960-1969)

Before World War II throughout Europe and the United States, poets, philosophers, and artists questioned reality, the purpose of life, and the meaning of art. In New York, theater groups explored the same socialism that later netted participants accusations of being communist. Antonin Artaud, writing in the 1930’s in France, claimed that theater would allow humans to create the new impulses that were to arise out of the chaos of social repression. His Theater of Cruelty would force audiences to confront that which lay repressed in them. He taught that Western theater, which was language based, needed to look outside its traditions to Asian theater for its style. Germany’s theater thrived with innovations of dramatists such as Bertolt Brecht. After World War II, Eastern Europe, owing to the terms of the Warsaw Pact, labored under totalitarian communist governments in thrall to the Soviet Union. Britain was hearing from a new group of playwrights termed “Angry Young Men,” typified by John Osborne and Harold Pinter, who displayed the emptiness of British middle-class life. Although there had been Depression-era rebellion on the American stage, theater in the United States became cheerful and upbeat in response to World War II and after the war largely followed the model of Broadway blockbusters that gave rise to road companies performing popular shows in various cities across the nation.