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The Absurdist Impulse in our Time

It is no secret to anyone that I have particular fondness for the absurdist theater, and recently I’ve heard a lot of talk about the power that absurdist theater can have in this current political climate. For example, in the short span of two weeks Howlround has put out not one, but two different pieces highlight the power this theater can have in today’s world. (here and here)

Clearly there is something here that is resonating with people, when we look back at how various manifestations of absurdism reacted to their respective political climates, we seem to feel a bit of a kindred spirit with them. We seem to have a similar gut reaction to reveal the absurdities of our moment, and perhaps on a larger level, our existence.

However, what must be acknowledged, is that while a lot of the themes that the absurdists touch upon on are universal and resonate with us today,  they are also reacting to a very specific moment in time, and some, such as Havel, to a very specific political structure.

And while it is certainty useful, and even powerful to look at these absurdists of the past and relate them to our time, it is also important to note that we should make an effort to foster and manifest this powerful way of making theater within our own time and context.

The question that begs to be answered then is, does the current systems that are in place for developing new plays, really allow this form to thrive?

Don’t get me wrong, there is no doubt in my mind that there are many many playwrights out there, ready and willing to embrace channeling this theatrical tradition, but the question remains, what and how many significant structural forums exist, that can support this artistic impulse that seems to be manifesting.

The fear that a lot of the new play development that happens in this country homogenizes plays, has larger ramifications now more then ever. If this re-ignited interest in the absurd is any indication, it is that some of the more traditional story telling structures that are perpetuated by this homogenization, are becoming unsatisfactory in terms of making sense of the world around us.

However, this post is not a lament. This post does not exist (hopefully) for the purposes of shouting angerly into the void about the flaws that exist in American new play development. Rather, I want to note something in a tangible way. This impulse feels powerful to me, and a question that I have in regards to it is not only, does this impulse necessitate a shift in the way we tell stories on a larger scale, but also does it potentially provide an avenue to do so? Does this impulse resonate strongly enough that it shifts the way we think about the stories were telling? Or is this a gut reaction that doesn’t really grow, and it gets reduces to merely a link that we can intellectually see, but doesn’t change the artistic impulse of our collective cultural conscious?

I don’t know, and I can certainly hope we can draw from the absurdists in the way we think about story telling within our own contexts. This new impulse excites me, and I’m am curious to see what art will, or will not, come out of it.




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