Gertrude Stein as a precursor to postdramatic theatre

“Gertrude Stein was (and still is) considered to be ‘unplayable’ – which is true if her texts are measure by the expectations of dramatic theatre. Asking how ‘successful’ her texts were on stage, one would have to attest her unequivocal failure as a theatre author. Yet in the forms of her texts, too, a dynamic force declares itself, which eventually dissolves the tradition of dramatic theatre. /…/
Stein’s texts were hardly produced and became more effective as a productive provocation /…/ When Gertrude Stein speaks of her idea of the Landscape play’, it appears as a reaction to her basic experience that theatre always made her terribly ‘nervous’ because it referred to a different time (future or past) and demanded a constant effort on the side of the viewer contemplating it. Instead of following it with ‘nervous’ – we may as well translate this as ‘dramatic’ – tension, one ought to contemplate what was happening on stage as one would otherwise contemplate a park or a landscape. Thornton Wilder remarked: ‘A myth is not a story read from left to right, from beginning to end, but a thing held full in-view the whole time. Perhaps this is what Gertrude Stein meant by saying that the play henceforth is a landscape. /…/
Gertrude Stein simply transferred the artistic logic of her texts to theatre: the principle of a ‘continuous present’, of syntactic and verbal concatenations that mark time seemingly statically (similar to the later ‘minimal music’) but in reality continuously create new accents in subtle variations and loops. /…/
Just as in her texts the representation of reality recedes in favour of the play of words, in a ‘Stein theatre’ there will be no drama, not even a story; it will not be possible to differentiate protagonists and even roles and identifiable characters will be missing. For postdramatic theatre Stein’s aesthetics is of great importance, although more subconsciously so outside America.”

Hans-Thies Lehmann: Postdramatic Theatre


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