Postmodern theatre, like other postmodern art forms, discards many of the ideas of modernism. Theories of modern theatre propose that access to universal truths can be achieved through artistic representation of life. Postmodern theatre, however, rejects the notion of make-believe and instead sees theatrical performance as a real life event or happening in which the audience participates. Devices like standard plots and character development are minimized. This type of theatre embraces human experience in various forms and takes its inspiration from history, culture, and social issues. David Hare’s Stuff Happens is a good example of these ideas.
To some degree, modern theatre is based on concepts developed by Aristotle, who proposed that drama could reveal universal truths. Theories about modern theatre suggest that access to universal truths can be achieved through formal devices like plot, cause and effect, and character development. In postmodern theatre, however, there are many possible truths, depending on the point of view. Playwrights, actors and audience members all lend their perspectives to the creative process.
Postmodern theatre forces the audience to reevaluate the boundaries between art and reality, and it discards the idea of theatre as a representation of life. Plays are intended to be events, as much a part of life, as any other event. The outcome of a play might change from performance to performance. For those who are accustomed to the neat development of plots and characters in drama, this can be an unsettling experience.
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An audience is something that performers act upon according to theories of modern theatre. In postmodern theatre the audience members are participants, often with actors and audience interacting and creating the theatre experience together. In addition, postmodern theatre theory recognizes that every individual experiences theatre through the filter of his or her own unique feelings and life experiences, so arrival at a single universal truth is pretty difficult.
Postmodern theatre embraces ideas from culture, society and history. David Hare’s Stuff Happens, which is about the war in Iraq, illustrates these principals. Stuff Happens premiered in 1 September 2004 at the National Theatre in London. The play, which Hare calls a history play, is a documentary-like production with the main characters being George Bush, Donald Rumsfeld, Colin Powell and Tony Blair, the British Prime Minister, among others. While much of the play is based on Hare’s imagination, he also uses some real media comments and speeches as part of the dialogue for the play.