Aleatoric Theater

Back when it was fashionable to do so, I once saw a play in which actors drew their lines from a hat before declaiming them. I’ve spent better evenings. Works that make a single point seldom entrance me even when I like the point, but this time the point was wrong too. The play set out to show the value of the aleatory, the randomness art needed if it was to imitate the universe, but it really showed through negative example that the arrangement of the action was more important than diction, spectacle, thought, music, or even character, all of which might, at least in part, survive a good shuffling.

Belknap, Robert L., Plots (Leonard Hastings Schoff Lectures) 

Medieval Mystery, Folk, and Morality Plays – Introduction to

Not long after drama reappeared in the unlikely home of European churches, the church decided again it didn’t like theater. And so, the budding dramatic scene was kicked out into the harsh elements of the outdoors. So, they started having plays outdoors. Today we’ll learn about mystery plays, cycle plays, pageant wagons, and how medieval European theater moved from being a religious phenomenon to a secular one.

The other important medieval genre is the morality play, which Hildegarde of Bingen started. The most famous morality play is “Everyman,” which is still performed annually and often updated. Morality plays have one simple message: YOU GONNA DIE. So you’d better get your act together, because all that love and wealth and fun aren’t gonna follow you six feet under.

The Value of the Theater

But no matter how frustrated I get, if I can say it, if I do it in front of an audience, I get some relief. In other words, theater keeps me sane. For me, it is medicine for a toxic environment of electronic media mind-pollution. All that machine/profit-oriented info is poisonous to my inner machinery.

Theater clears my head because it takes the subtextual brainwashing of the media madness and SHOUTS that subtext out loud. (“You are shit compared to the fabulous creatures out there in star-world.” Or “You are ineffectual because the world is too big for you to make a difference.” Or “The solution to your misery is money, money, money!!!” Etc.) Somehow, when I really examine the boogeyman of my inner thoughts, he’s not so scary. (“You are going to lose your job and end up homeless. Toe the line. Toe the line. Toe the line.”)

Theater is ritual. It is something we make together every time it happens. Theater is holy. Instead of being bombarded by a cathode ray tube, we are speaking to ourselves. Human language, not electronic noise. Theater is laughter, which is always a valuable commodity.

Above all, theater is empathy as opposed to voyeurism. All good theater is about imagining a walk in someone else’s shoes. All theater asks the same question: What would I do if were me up there?

I’m pretty sure about all this. What I don’t know, I put in my shows. There’s alot I’m confused about. But one thing I know: Theater remains at the frontier of the greatest mystery – what it means to be human.

Eric Bogosian, from the introduction to, Pounding Nails in the Floor WIth My Forehead.

Waiting for Godot, San Quentin

On the night of November 19, 1957, Rick Cluchey was locked in a cell in San Quentin Prison serving a life sentence for armed robbery and kidnapping (though the circumstances had been questionable).

At that same time members of the Actor’s Workshop from San Francisco were preparing to perform Samuel Beckett’s Waiting for Godot in the prison’s massive dining hall, their stage erected, ironically, on the spot where the prison’s gallows once stood.

Alan Mandell, then a lanky young man in his late 20s, was the company’s manager.

“There were about 1,500 inmates there,” Mandell remembers.

“So the play began and it was amazing; you could hear a pin drop. Herb Blau (the company’s principal director) had explained to them that the play was about what we do while we’re waiting—waiting for Godot—which for some people represents the end and nothingness; for others it may be God and salvation. Well, these guys really understood what waiting was about. At the end there were screams and shouts and applause. It was astounding.”

Farber, Jim. 2016. “Samuel Beckett In Prison”.

Grand Guignol


The Theatre du Grand Guignol, for years one of the leading tourist attractions of the French capital, was the classic shock theatre, specializing in productions designed to horrify and sicken.

Historian Mel Gordon, in The Grand Guignol: Theatre of Fear and Terror (1988), recounts some of the plots:

The innocent Louise is unjustly locked in an asylum with several insane women. A nurse assigned to protect her blithely leaves for a staff party as soon as Louise falls asleep. The insane women decide that a cuckoo bird is imprisoned in Louise’s head and and one gouges out her eye with a knitting needle. The other crazy women are freaked and burn the gouger’s face off on a hot plate.

via The Straight Dope