An experimental performing artist whose major work has been compared to Pablo Picasso’s painting Guernica and Igor Stravinsky’s ballet The Rite of Spring (1913), and who has been characterized by Surrealist Louis Aragon as “a miracle,” Robert Wilson is considered by many to be the single most gifted and creative theater artist of the twentieth century. In scope, vision, imagination, and sheer size, Wilson’s marathon “operas” (as he insists on calling them) are giant panoramas of all the possibilities of the stage, physical and temporal (one environmental event in Iran lasted a whole week). His reputation in Europe as the modern theater’s most significant avant-garde director/playwright is not so universally acknowledged in his native country, the United States, but with the performance of major works on Broadway and at the Metropolitan Opera House, as well as the Brooklyn Academy of Music and the studios of Wilson’s theater group, the Byrd Hoffman School of Byrds , his place in the history of American contemporary theater, especially the strong and widespread experimental movement of the 1960’s and 1970’s, is assured.
Wilson has won several distinguished European awards for his work, including the Grand Prize for Einstein on the Beach at the International Festival of Nations in Belgrade in 1977. Others include the Premio Abbiati from the Italian Music Critic Association, two Italian Premio Ubu awards, and the German Theater Critics Award. Undoubtedly the greatest acknowledgement of Wilson’s artistry and global influence was his nomination for the Pulitzer Prize for the CIVIL warS. In the United States, an Obie Special Award Citation for Direction was presented to Wilson in 1974; he has held numerous Guggenheim and Rockefeller Foundation Fellowships. He was awarded the Dorothy and Lillian Gish Prize for lifetime achievement in 1996 and the Harvard Excellence in Design Award (1998).
Bigsby, C. W. E. Beyond Broadway. Vol. 3 in A Critical Introduction to Twentieth Century American Drama. Cambridge, England: Cambridge University Press, 1985. A full chapter on Wilson covers his life, his early work with speech-impaired individuals, and his association with the Byrd Hoffman School of Byrds, and describes Ka Mountain, GUARDenia Terrace, $ Value of Man, and other stage pieces. Behind his work, Bigsby says, “there lies a romantic conviction about continuity, a touching faith about the possibility of communication and the essentially holistic nature of experience.”
Byrne, David. “The Forest: A Preview of the Next Wilson-Byrne Collaboration.” Interview by Laurence Shyer. Theater 19 (Summer/Fall, 1988): 6-11. This interview with David Byrne discusses the nature of his collaboration with Wilson and contains many indirect Wilson quotations. Much on Wilson’s forming a Berlin company in the fall of 1987 to make this Gilgamesh version (The Forest). Includes a seven-act breakdown of images in photographs and text.
Croyden, Margaret. Lunatics, Lovers, and Poets: The Contemporary Experimental Theatre. New York: McGraw-Hill, 1974. A description of the Byrd Hoffman School of Byrds, its “aesthetic of the Beautiful,” and Wilson’s experiences with brain-damaged children who...
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