Friday, March 22, 2013

The Black Arts Movement and the Tradition of Theatre

Something that I thought was very interesting in reading Baraka's works is the issues that we might face in categorizing theater from the Black Arts Movement. While we can clearly classify works as pieces of  the Black Arts Movement, can they also be categorized in a larger theatrical tradition? When discussing music, Baraka argued for the consideration of content and form as essential elements in appreciating a work. They rely on one another and are equally purposeful.

After reading "The Revolutionary Theatre," I found it surprising to then turn to Dutchman, which almost seems tame considering the language used in Baraka's essay. Dutchman is a fantastic play and its content is provocative, but its form isn't so unusual (we see a lot more manipulation of form in Slave Ship). The form used by Baraka (and the general framework of his piece) is something that we would consider pretty standard to see from playwrights today - the works of Albee, LaBute, Shaffer, and Mamet don't seem so out of place when laid alongside Dutchman. We would classify many of the works by these other playwrights as painful, personal, and intimate - something achieved by Baraka as well. The works of these playwrights do offer a break from standard theatre history though, as they are not the sprawling family dramas that we saw from artists like Eugene O'Neill.

So this becomes an issue whenever conceptualizing a tradition of theatre. Baraka made it clear in his essay that he doesn't intend to write the same thing that Albee is writing, but when it comes to form and a consideration of history, both men contribute something very important that has been carried forward to the present-day. Would Baraka disown the notion that he might be grouped with these other playwrights? Can we consider him part of more than just the Black Arts Movement and consider the advances he made in a Western tradition of theatre? Would he be interested in that role? And more importantly, can we distinguish the two in our own minds?

1 comment:

  1. I think to categorize Baraka outside of the Black Arts is contrary to the theoretical artistic space he is attempting to foster. A large part of his intervention into aesthetics is not merely to innovate for the sake of innovation, but to experiment with black means of artistic production toward radical ends. Baraka is explicitly rejecting the Western canon, and to categorize him in it performs a generic erasure on his politics.


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