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Spurt of Blood: An experience in theater itself

Michelle Fordice | Tuesday, September 23, 2008

When most people read Antonin Artuad’s surrealist play “Spurt of Blood” they consider it an academic exercise. For all the influence Artuad has had on modern theater, this play is considered to be unstageable and unproduceable. But not all people work that way. Two years ago now-senior Jackie Dineen discovered “Spurt of Blood” during Dr. Mark Pilkinton’s Theater, History and Society class. She remarked in an e-mailinterview that, “he had us read the play out loud in class as an academic exercise and briefly mentioned how it has always been considered unstageable due to many of the surrealist and absurd characteristics of the show.  I immediately became interested in what it would take to faithfully translate Artaud’s vision onto the stage.” This week, under her guidance as dramaturge, her interest has come to full realization as the Film, Television, and Theater department take on one of theater’s most difficult works. The show is part of her honors thesis for the department, which will focus first on the practical aspects of translating Theater of Cruelty, an overarching theme of Artuad’s work, to a modern stage and audience and second on Peter Brooks, the first person to bring the play to the stage. Taking “Spurt of Blood,” which is a very short play filled with surrealist imagery, and turning it into a physical performance is not an easy task, both conceptually and physically. The audience is not given much text and no plot to react to and there are events that are difficult to express within the limits of a stage: stars collide, the hand of God reaches down, and things turn transparent. Dineen remarked, “once you read the play you immediately realize how incredibly challenging it is to translate to a modern audience.  It has so many surrealist and absurd characteristics like objects falling with a ‘despairing slowness’ or characters catching on fire. The brevity of the play also tends to leave the reader a little shocked and feeling like nothing was explained.” In his introduction to the play, director Dr. Mark Pilkinton wrote, “‘Spurt of Blood’ challenges the traditional Aristotelian concept of theatre.”The cast and crew worked hard to make “Spurt of Blood” a reality, especially under a short three week production schedule. In an e-mail interview, Kathleen Hession, the assistant director and one of the actresses remarked, “being completed entirely by Theatre Majors, this production highlights the immense talent that exists on this campus. I just wish people could have seen the insane amount of work that was put into the three weeks that preceded this performance.” Dineen remarked, “the first few days of rehearsal took a lot of patience just in deciding what ideas we could use and what we couldn’t.  Everyone helped in all areas of the show like acting, designing, and staging which really added to the mentality that this is a Company production.” Of course, while the company did their best to remain true to the spirit of the play, not every one of Artuad’s directions was able to be followed. Dineen explained, “it was important that we tried to stay as true to Artaud’s concept as possible, but some things will always have to be changed based on the resources you have.” The question on most people’s lips is, of course, what is this play about? Before audience members walk in, they need to recognize that there isn’t a plot or a theme in the way we have come to expect them. Dineen said the play, “…is about the concept and the method of production not necessarily the story,” and expanded, “the play doesn’t have a traditional plot line or your typical characters that audience members relate to, but it does show exactly what Artaud thought theater should be.” She said, “it’s important that everyone try to see what Artaud believes is broken in our typical theatre performances.  The surrealism that runs throughout the show is there to tell the audience that there are more important things in theatre than just the spoken word.  Theatre of Cruelty isn’t about violence; it’s about focusing on what makes us human, which is more than just talking.” With “Spurt of Blood” Artuad is challenging the audience to drop their preconceptions and approach theater anew. Hession remarked, “when you enter the theatre and the show begins focus more on the style of the production and less on the text. Allow yourself to be taken over by the production and just have fun with it. Not everything has to be explained … surrender to the madness!” She explained that the show is in a way attempting to turn a passive audience into an active one, startling their senses so that they cannot just sit back and absorb. This was not only a challenge for the audience, but the actors as well. Hession explained that the actors had to remember that, “the text is not what should be placed at the center of this production. Rather it is the style of the play that we try to highlight.” She continued, “once you convince yourself that you can let go of that stress the entire process becomes much easier and you focus more on simply being constantly present.” Attendees of FTT’s production of “Spurt of Blood” are certain to be exposed to a new theater experience.