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New realism art

Drama, like all literary and artistic genres, is in a constant state of flux, forever working to reflect human actions in the cultural milieu of its particular origin, attempting to present perspectives on “truth” in such a way that its culture can digest that “truth. ” Conse-quently, dramatic form must maintain a dynamic posture, surging forward so as to be able to present new perspec¬tives and stretch the imaginations of playwright and playgoer alike. The 20th century alone has seen the form move from the styles of Chekhov and Ibsen to the German expressionists to the French absurdists, etc. , continually reaching new limits of presentation and interpretation.

But this search for the new had its penalties. Each dramatic expression has met with conventional disapproval and has often alienated drama from the audience that it should most want to maintain an alliance with – the general pub¬lic. Dramatic expansion and exper¬imentation is necessary for a healthy theatre, even though it is inevitable that change will be met with resistance. In this effort to move forward, theatre has utilized two processes:

1) the revolutionary approach, such as Ibsen and Shaw used, where the leaps are pronounced and notice¬able (though, perhaps, long in the coming) and the reac¬tion equally pronounced and noticeable; or 2) theatre can more quietly evolve, digesting new concepts and introduc¬ing them through means that have, to a degree, been pre-established . This evolutionary approach was and is being used today in American theatre. There is little sense of moral disgust or outrage over perceived formal or aesthetic violations.

As a matter of fact, this quiet transformation has produced the opposite effect, namely a critical concern that theatre is dying and that there is a need of a “new fix” to revolutionize it. Many once thought that the revolutionary “happenings” of the 60’s were the answer, and many, Robert Wilson and Richard Fore¬man to name the most notable, are following that path today. Others look for a “little theatre” uprising, as occurred in the early part of the century.

But it seems that, without sensation, a new group of American play¬wrights has taken a form that the American public is com¬fortable with and have adopted it to fit their needs and visions. That form is realism or, since it has gone through important transformations, it is perhaps better to call the form “new realism. ” The term “realism” is one many claim to understand but few have been able to define, a fact that often hurts its advocates and has played into the critical hands of its opponents.

Part of the reason for such confusion is the simple fact that “realism” as a term is difficult to define, especially when it encompasses such a wide variety of uses. Given this dilemma, Eric Bentley, for example, in The Playwright as Thinker, argues, “such terms [as real¬ism] are useful enough to those who know their limita¬tions. The rule here is to use them only where they clar¬ify more than mystify” (Bentley, 1967).

Creating what he calls a “rough definition,” he claims that realism is “the candid presentation of the natural world,” explaining, “It is exact and detailed” (Bentley, 1967). Such revitalized interest in realism among playwrights suggests two important points. The break from naturalism has uncovered the flexibility of realism and has proven to each of these writers that “new realism” is a form that can be used efficiently in presenting any num-ber of new perspectives and that can effectively handle a variety of contemporary concerns on a variety of intellec¬tual levels.

And the relative success of these creators of realist drama indicates that there is a substantial (and perhaps growing) audience interested in having its own skills of understanding realistic material utilized by these writers in their efforts to communicate to the pub¬lic. Realism can indeed be the form, that so many are looking for, that can both introduce modern concerns and perspectives while at the same time hold the interests of something more than an elitist, coterie audience.

Carol Gelderman, in an article entitled “Hyperrealism in Contemporary Drama: Retrogressive or Avant-Garde,” addresses many of the issues raised in this study concern¬ing the perception of the realist movement in drama, con¬centrating, however, on British and Continental drama in her essay. She notes that the term hyperrealism has sev¬eral synonyms, terms the artworld coined to identify a new brand of realism – “New Realism, Realism Now, Sharp-Focus Realism, Photographic Realism, Hyperrealism, the Realist Revival, Radical Realism” (Gelderman, 1993,p. 357).

Her essay points out the same growing interest in realism in the theatre world that has evolved in the more avant-garde circles of painting and sculpture. In answering the question in her essay’s title-concluding that “new realism” (or whatever term is preferred) is avant-garde – she fails to include any of the American playwrights included in this study. In fact, oftentimes these writers are completely excluded from such discussion, with the occasional exception of Sam Shepard (ex. Zinman’s “Sam Shepard and Super-Realism”).

Such exclusion is very likely the result of the fact that these American playwrights have yet to fully establish them¬selves beyond American borders, but whatever the reason, it is unfortunate. And it’s not unfortunate simply because their talents have been overlooked, but because the overall effect of new realism in America and resulting conclusions of that effect have been overlooked. References Bentley, Eric. (1967). Playwright as Thinker. New York: Har-court, Brace, and World, Inc. Gelderman, Carol. (1993). Hyperrealism in Contemporary Drama: Retrogressive or Avant- Garde? Modern Drama 26, pp. 357-367.

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