Experimental Theater

During the 1920s, European theater had become too tame and predictable. Bertolt Brecht decided to try new experiments: for example actors would "break the 4th wall" and ask the audience questions. His critique of hypocrisy in church, business, and government caused protests by the rising Nazi movement. Fleeing for America, he worked with director Fritz Lang on a noir film about the assination of Heydrich, chief architect of the Holocaust. Ever since Brecht, experimental theater has been associated with social justice.

During the 1960s, experimental theater was used by groups to aid the civil rights movements. For example, the Puerto Rican Traveling Theater performed in both English and Spanish, traveling around the boroughs of New York City to give voice to immigrant families struggling with unfair practices. In the 1970s, theatre practitioner Augusto Boal created a Theater of the Oppressed in Brazil, using techniques similar to Brecht's to turn spectators into "spect-actors" that allowed the audience to explore social transformations.

Today's experimental theater incorporates a wide variety of technology-based special effects, strategies, and techniques. For example, Radio Healer is a Xicana/o and Native American led art collective in Phoenix, Arizona. They describe themselves as “hacker-artists who create Indigenous electronic tools.” They cite examples such as the low-rider chop shop, or the “making do” repairs common to native communities, to show that technology/culture mash-ups are just as much a part of their histories as pow-wows and quinceañeras. Many of their performances reimagine traditional ceremonies as spaces in which the public is invited to reflect on issues such as obsolescence, consumption, border control, and surveillance. On the other side of the Atlantic, historian, writer, and performer Dr. Edson Burton is preparing the first AfroFuturist theater production in Bristol, England: The Last Blues Song of a Lost Afronaut. It will use 3D sound, shadow capture, and digital projection to make alien environments a vivid presence to the audience, and interactive components will using optical and auditory sensors to trigger other effects.

Fritz Lang working on Brecht's movie script.

The Puerto Rican Traveling Theater.

Radio Healer's unique mix of Indigenous and high tech artifacts.

Set from Edson Burton's immersive play Last Blues Song of a Lost Afronaut