Artaud: un portrait en décomposition @ SummerWorks


TheatreRUN’s theatrical portrait of the life and times of Antonin Artaud comes to SummerWorks for six performances!


August 7, 2012 Media Release – for News and PSA listings

TORONTO, ON… TheatreRUN‘s Artistic Director Adam Paolozza (SPENT, The Double) and Coleen MacPherson star in Artaud : un portrait en décompostion, TheatreRUN’s new French-language theatrical portrait (with English surtitles) of the life and poetry of Antonin Artaud opening August 10 – 19 at the SummerWorks Theatre Festival. Directed by Theatre Smith-Gilmour’s Michele Smith (SPENT, Chekhov’s Shorts, As I Lay Dying), and lighting design by Kim PurtellArtund returns to Toronto after its original run, a co-production with Théâtre Français de Toronto, and a run at the ACT International Theatre Festival in Shanghai, China. Using docudrama, verbatim theatre and poetry performance, Artaud: un portrait en décomposition brings Artaud’s tumultuous and misunderstood life to the stage in a sensitive, physical, image-driven style for which TheatreRUN is known.

Through Artaud’s poems and letters and the memories of his closest friends, the play presents an unflinching theatrical portrait of the surrealist, poet and theatre artist. A seminal figure in 20th century art and theatre history, Artaud’s theories contained in his 1933 manifesto, The Theatre of Cruelty, are credited to have inspired generations of world-class theatre artists such as Polish director Jerzy Grotowski, British director Peter Brook, Belgian director Jan Fabre, Italian director Romeo Castellucci and Canadian director Daniel Brooks.

“Artaud is a complicated figure, not just because of the audacity of his ideas but because of his madness,” says Paolozza. Artaud, a life-long opium addict, was a silent film star in the 1920’s, most notably in Carl Dryers masterpiece The Passion of Joan of Arc. “He was thrown out of the Surrealist camp for being more Surrealist than all the Surrealists,” continues Palozza, “He suffered from mental illness, spending nine years in various mental asylums, undergoing over 51 therapeutic electroshock treatments. Was he a mad-genius, or genuine madman?”

Paolozza wonders: “How can we accept this artist’s work as part of the cultural cannon when so often he violently attacks the very idea of culture itself? How can we assimilate a body of work, culturally and intellectually speaking, when it so often takes us towards the limits of what is commonly referred to as normal and sane? As a writer who was extremely controversial in his own time and who is now taught at universities all over the world, Artaud’s place in the history of art is a very ambiguous – and exciting – one.”

Collaborating on the play about the life of Artaud are two generations of Toronto theatre artists, Michele Smith and Adam Paolozzo, both of whom trained at the world-renowned theatre school, École Jacques Lecoq, in Paris, France: Sophie Percel, TFO, says: “I was completely amazed by the work of Adam Paolozza and Michele Smith…they go very far into the genius and madness of Artaud… it’s extremely beautiful… it’s really very rare… a choice of texts that navigate us through all the complexity of his personality and through the dazzlingly beautiful and terrifying aspects of his madness… it’s the kind of work we want to see more of.”

Recognized as a pioneer of theatre performance in Canada, Michelle Smith (along with Theatre Smith Gilmour Co-Artistic Director Dean Gilmour) has created over 32 original creations in over 30 years of work in theatre. She has received multiple Dora Mavor Moore Awards and nominations, and has toured all over the world and inspired generations of theatre artists both as an actor and director.

Adam Paolozza is recognized as one of the most exciting new actors and directors of the new wave of independent theatre companies emerging across Canada. He has received five Dora Mavor Moore Award nominations for the international hit SPENT, and for The Double. He has toured all over the world, taught all across Canada and is the current Urjo Kareda Resident Artist at Tarragon Theatre.

Joining Paolozza in the cast is Coleen MacPherson, a multi-talented theatre artist: playwright (The Selfsame Hour); installation artist (Pocketologyisan, an ongoing urban storytelling project seen in Toronto, Chicago and Paris), and director. She has also assisted Daniel Brooks on Divisidero and his upcoming Civilities project. Next year, MacPherson will travel to Paris to continue her theatre studies at École Jacques Lecoq.

Artaud: un portrait en décomposition‘s performances are on Friday, August 10, 7:30 p.m., Sunday, August 12, 12 p.m., Monday August 13, 7:30 p.m., Thursday, August 16, 5 p.m., Friday, August 17, 10 p.m. and Sunday, August 19, 5 p.m. All performances are at the Scotia Bank Studio Theatre at Pia Bouman’s School for Ballet and Creative Movement, 6 Nobel Street, Toronto.

The one hour (60 minutes) show is in French with English surtitles.

For more information and to buy $15 per person tickets, visit  HERE or call the SummerWorks Box Office at 416.915.6747.

In addition to the six performances of Artaud at the Scotia Bank Studio Theatre, there will also be an Artaud Symposium, a free event hosted by Adam Paolozza, on August 14, 7 p.m., at the Tarragon Theatre. Paolozza will lead a discussion of Artaud’s ideas with a panel featuring Richard Rose (Artistic Director of the Tarragon),Jacob Zimmer (Artistic Director of Small Wooden Show), Tatiana Jennings (Artistic Director of the Kadozuke Kollektif), Marc Lemyre (poet) and Aaron Rotbard (psychotherapist).

For information about the play or the symposium, please send an email to, or visit FACEBOOK 

Media Contact:  Adam Paolozza

Description in French:

Artaud : un portrait en décomposition
 est la nouvelle collaboration entre Adam Paolozza (directeur artistique de TheatreRUN) et Michele Smith (de Theatre Smith-Gilmour) qui sont tous deux co-créateurs du très célèbre spectacle, SPENT, nominé pour 3 DORA MAVOR MOORE et gagnant pour du prix DORA en tant que « meilleurs acteurs ».

À travers ses poèmes et lettres ainsi que par les mémoires de ses amis proches, Artaud : un portrait en décomposition présente une image humaine d’Antonin Artaud. Surréaliste, poète, homme de théâtre, – l’expérience de la poésie d’Artaud nous amène aux frontières de la folie. Artaud : un portrait en décompostion tente d’incarner la vie tumultueuse d’Antonin Artaud, génie-fou ou fou-génial.

“La vie est de brûler des questions.” – Antonin Artaud


We are on the Toronto Star’s TOP 10 SummerWorks show list HERE

Interview with Adam Paolozza about creating Artaud on HERE 

BlogTO’s top shows to see HERE

Interview with Adam Paolozza on SummerWorks website HERE

Comic Video of Adam being interviewed by SummerWorks mascot Sunny HERE

A Note from director MICHELE SMITH:

When I discovered Artaud I lived in France. I was 14 and a friend gave my sister and I a recording of “Van Gogh, le suicide de la Societe” and “Le Rite des Tutuguri.” The great texts were spoken by Maria Casares and Roger Blin, extraordinary French actors. We were struck! We would listen and listen, not really analyzing, just struck by beauty, scandal and great art. So two years ago when Adam Paolozza asked me to co-write and direct Artaud: Un Portrait en Decomposition, I remembered all the hours we spoke Artaud’s poetry along with Maria Casares and Roger Blin. Thank you Adam for asking me. It’s a beautiful show.

Note par Adam Paolozza – Directeur artistique de TheatreRUN

Il y a longtemps que je veux créer un spectacle qui traite d’Artaud. Sa vie d’une grande tristesse m’a toujours beaucoup inspiré. Les images d’Artaud dans sa jeunesse, particulièrement le portrait pris par Man Ray en 1923 et les images d’Artaud dans le film Jeanne d’Arc de Carl Dreyer, montrent un très bel homme, sérieux avec une force vitale et une intelligence qui se communiquent par son regard. Mais parmi les images d’Artaud dans les années 1940, suite à sa sortie de l’asile de Rodez, on voit un visage fatigué, ravagé par la vie, plein de rides et sans dents, resultat des éléctrochocs qu’Artaud a subis pendant son séjour à l’asile entre 1937 et 1946. Je suis toujours frappé par la détérioration physique d’Artaud dans sa brève vie. Comme son ami, Jean-Louis Barrault, a dit:

«Il avait été particulièrement beau mais son feu intérieur le calcinait.»

Pour moi l’expérience poétique d’Artaud, ainsi que celle de sa vie, est une expérience qui nous mène vers la folie. En vue de cette situation il est très important pour nous aujoud’hui  de réevaluer l’oeuvre d’Artaud. Ce qu’Artaud a écrit et ce qu’il a vécu (je fais allusion ici aux 9 ans qu’il a passés dans plusieurs asiles et à la thérapie éléctrochoque qu’il a subie pendant ce temps) nous oblige à poser certaines questions: Quelle est la place de la folie dans la société ? Quel est le rôle de l’artiste en tant que critique de sa société et en tant que témoin d’une autre expérience de la vie ?  Quelle est l’affinité entre le fou et l’artiste selon les expériences d’Artaud ?

L’oeuvre d’Artaud est comme un garde-fou pour la culture ; en assimilant l’expérience extrême d’Artaud la culture est obligée de  remettre en question non seulement ses jugements éthiques et moraux quand elle est confrontée à la folie mais aussi ses structures du pouvoir (structures gouvernementales et morales), basés sur un rationalisme toujours secoué par les artistes, comme Artaud, qui en exposent la fragilité et l’arbitraire.

De ce point de vue, la folie, comme le très célèbre artiste belge Jan Fabre le dit, à propos d’Artaud, est une forme de protestation.

in English:

For a long time I’ve wanted to make a piece about Artaud. I was always inspired by the sadness in his life. The images of Artaud in his youth, particularly the portrait by Man Ray in 1923 and the images in Carl Dreyer’s film Joan of Arc, show a handsome young man, serious and with a look that communicates the vital energy within. But among the images of Artaud in the 1940’s, after he left the asylum at Rodez, we see a tired face, ravaged by life, wrinkled and toothless, the result of the electro-shock therapy Artaud suffered while he was interned in various asylums between 1937 and 1946. I’m always struck by his physical deterioration in such a short span of time. Like his friend Jean Louis Barrault said:

“He was particularly handsome but his inner fire calcinated him.”

The poetic experience of Artaud draws us towards madness. It is very important today that we reevaluate Artaud’s works. What he wrote and what he suffered (I’m alluding here to the 9 years he spent in various asylums and the electroshock therapy he received during that time) obliges us to ask certain questions: What is the place of madness in society? What is the role of the artist in so far as s/he is a critic of society and a witness to another kind of experience of life? Artaud’s work is like a safe-guard for culture; in assimilating Artaud our culture is obliged to put into question its ethical and moral judgements regarding madness and furthermore we must also question the prevailing structures of power (state and moral structures), which are based on a rationalism forever challenged by artists, like Artaud, who expose their fragile and arbitrary nature. Seen from this point of view madness, like the Belgian artist Jan Fabre has said regarding Artaud, is also a form of protest.


EARLY LIFE : Born Antoine Marie Joseph Artaud in Marseille, France in 1897. His parents had given birth to nine children, however only Antonin and one sister survived infancy. When he was four years old, Artaud suffered a severe case of meningitis, leaving  him with a nervous, irritable temperament throughout his adolescence. He also suffered from neuralgia, stammering and severe bouts of clinical depression, which was treated with the use of opium – resulting in a life-long addiction.

1920’s : Artaud was active in theatre, literature and cinema in the 20’s. He acted with Chalres Dullin’s company and in films by Abel Gance (Napolean, Artaud played Marat) and Carl Dreyer (Jeanne d’Arc, Artaud played a monk), to name a few. He was a member of the Surrealist group for a brief time, editing the third issue of La Révolutionn surréaliste. He wrote poetry all through the 20’s and his first published work was his correspondance with Jacques Rivière, editor of the Nouvelle Revue Française. Other collections of writing were L’Ombilic des limbes (The Ombilicus of Limbo) and Le Pese nerfs (The Nerve Meter).

1930’s : Along with Roger Vitrac Artaud formed the Théâtre Alfred Jarry and they put on several plays with a  distinctive anti-bourgeoise flavour. He continued to act in films to make money and he started to formulate his theories about theatre that would eventually be published as The Theatre and It’s Double. This was a seminal work of theatre theory for the 20th century and contained Artaud’s manifestoes for his theatre of cruelty as well as essays about Theatre and the Plague and the Balinese theatre. With the failure of his play The Cenci (due in part to sabotage from Andre Breton and the surrealists), he moved further away from the theatre. During this period he gave «performance lectures» which were supported by Dr. René Allendy, also his psychoanalyst. During this time Artaud had a brief, ardent affair with Anais Nin. Towards the end of the 30’s his mental and physical health was deteriorating. He took a trip to Mexico, on a French government grant, to lecture about theatre and participated in peyotl rituals. Afterwards he voyaged to Ireland to return a cane in his possession that he claimed had belonged to St. Patrick (and originally to Lucifer and to Christ himself). He was deported from Ireland for vagabondage and was put in a straight jacket on the voyage back to France after he became violent. In 1937 he was interned and would spend the next nine years in various asylums.

1940’s : In the early 40’s Artaud’s mother and Robert Desnos, a friend from the Surrealist years, had him transferred out of the Occupied Zone (where mental patients nearly died of starvation under the Nazi rule) to the asylum at Rodez. Rodez was run by Dr. Gaston Ferdière, who associated with the surrealists in his youth. Ferdière submitted Artaud to 51 electroshock sessions, during which Artaud lost most of his teeth and fractured a vertebrae in his back. However, the therapy did rescue Artaud from imminent psychosis and after the sessions, however violent they were, he began to write and draw again with a new passion (he would write more than he had in his entire life during his last 3-4 years). At the intercession of his friends he was released from Rodez in 1946 and lived in relative independence at the Clinic Ivry just outside of Paris. After his liberation he performed at an evening organzied by his friends at the Theatre Sarah Bernhardt where he read several poems and recounterd the story of his life. Among the audience was Andre Gide, Picasso, albert Camus, Jean-Louis Barrault, Jean-Paul Sartre, and many other prominent French intellectuals and artists. He won the St. Beuve Prize for his book Van Gogh: The Man Suicided by Society and he was commissioned to record a radio play for Radio France, To Have Done With the Judgement of God, which was banned before it aired causing a scandal. In 1948 Artaud was diagnosed with rectal cancer and died of an accidental overdose of chlorophyl. He died at the foot of his bed, his shoe in his hand. He left his estate to Paule Thévenin, who took care of him in the last years of his life. Paule Thévenin subsequently oversaw the publication of his complete works, published by Gallimard in 24 tomes.

photo by Erin MacPherson

photo by Marc Lemyre

photo by erin MacPherson

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