Austere, Moral, Mythic, Ceremonial

Thursday 31 October 2013


A while back I read this collection, Sartre on Theater, and I noted especially the following passages from his lectures, interviews, and articles. I want to share them with you, since you are thinking about theater much of your waking hours–on the trains and buses, the Harlem streets, before you fall asleep, as you daydream about the projects you could do in Saint Louis (perhaps put on a production of The Condemned of Altona?), as you organize other people’s chaos (a miracle before their amazed eyes), and as you remember that handful of NY performances that matter most to you–as actor, audience member, citizen, human being.

Thank you for our time together in Saint Louis: Chouteau front porch, Cafe Ventana, Amy’s Bakery Cornershop, and a night at the theater.  You will always be… Maestra.


The most moving thing the theater can show is a character creating himself, the moment of choice, of the free decision which commits him to a moral code and a whole way of life. The situation is an appeal: it surrounds us, offering us solutions which it’s up to us to choose. And in order for the decision to be deeply human, in order for it to bring the whole man into play, we have to stage limit situations, that is, situations which present alternatives one of which leads to death. 4

The theater, therefore, seems to us a sort of ring in which people battle for their rights. 14

Theater of situations: our aim is to explore all the situations that are most common to human experience, those which occur at least once in the majority of lives. 36

Dramas are short and violent, sometimes reduced to the dimensions of a single long act…, dramas entirely centered on one event—usually a conflict of rights, bearing on some very general situation—written in a  sparse, extremely tense style, with a small cast not represented for their individual characters but thrust into a  conjunction where they are forced to make a choice –in brief thus is the theater, austere, moral, mythic, and ceremonial in aspect…. 42

As far as I am concerned, I now have nothing more to say to the bourgeois. 50

Action: 1. An initial situation directly or indirectly endangers an individual or a social group. 2. The individual or the social group plan for a means to cause external changes so that the danger shall no longer exist.  3. The action is everything brought to bear on the external world and thereby on the individual or group themselves in order to achieve this end by specific means. 61

As Brecht sees it, our inner contradictions and the contradictions between us and other persons are never accidental; fundamentally, they express the contradictions of society. 63

… I confess I was astounded, the true value of classical discretion—you must not show everything.

It is at such moments that an audience comes to collaborate with an author: when it recognizes itself, but in a strange guise as if it were someone else; it brings itself into being as an object before its own eyes, and it sees itself, though without playing itself as a role, and thus comes to understand itself. 74

The Flies: How does a man behave toward an act committed by him, for which he takes the full consequences and full responsibility upon himself, even if he is otherwise horrified by his act?  187

The real drama, the drama I should have liked to write, was that of a terrorist who by ambushing Germans becomes the instrument for the execution of fifty hostages.  188

… the political tone of The Flies was not calculated to please the critics, all of whom were collaborating with the Occupying Power.

… a play for performance must be precisely the opposite of an orgy of rhetoric; that is to say, it must be the fewest possible words bound together irreversibly by an irreversible action and unremitting passion. 190

“Don’t write the words, write the situation.” 191

In it I was saying to my fellow Frenchmen: You do not have to repent, even those of you who have in a   sense become murderers; you must assume your own responsibility for your acts, even if they have caused the deaths of innocent persons. 194

To think only of that past, to torment oneself day and night even, is a sterile feeling, a purely negative feeling. 195

Faced with the gods, faced with death or tyrants, we still have a single certainty, whether triumphant or agonized: that of our freedom. 206

You cannot be in politics—of any sort—without getting your hands dirty, without being forced to compromise between the ideal and the real. 207

I do not take sides. A good play should raise problems, not solve them. 208

The theater’s job is not demonstration or solution. It thrives on questions and problems. 209

Contrary to what has generally been supposed, my sympathies in Dirty Hands are with Hoederer, the militant, rather than with Hugo. Hugo is a young bourgeois idealist who does not understand the imperatives of concrete action. 228

The theater today belongs wholly to the bourgeoisie. 251

If you want to make an audience understand what returning from a war and remembering that one has committed atrocities in it means, you have to make the audience identify with your hero. It must take him as an incentive to its own self-hatred. 259

What you have to show, on the contrary, is people afterwards. They have been torturers and killers and assented to it. How are they going to live with it or be unable to live with it? To me the ideal subject would have been one that showed not only the return of the man who has made himself what he is, but also his family around him, around his silence. 261

Shakespeare himself, indeed Shakespeare especially, does not describe from the outside; his characters are intimately bound up with the audience. That is why his plays are the greatest example there is of people’s theater; in this theater the public found and still finds its own problems and re-experiences them. 265

Verfredungseffetkt = distancing effect

It is my belief that the world makes man and man makes the world. 271

But in the bourgeois society in which we live it is very hard for an author like me to write anything but critical realism. 271

People’s theater should be above all a theater of action, abounding in events and sparing of words, the meaning emerging from the whole of the play silently, as it were, instead of being expounded within it. 319

Anouilh, Antigone
Antonin Artaud
Calderon, Life is a Dream
Jean Genet, The Balcony
Ibsen, The Doll House
Ionesco, Rhinoceros
Ionesco, The Bald Soprano

jean-paul-sartre theater

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