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PAJ: A Journal of Performance and Art 29.1 (2007) 126-138

Manifesto for a New Theatre
Pier Paolo Pasolini
Translated by Thomas Simpson

Pier Paolo Pasolini (1922–1975): poet, novelist, screenwriter, director, essayist, militant, pedofile, excommunicated communist, atheist who authored films on the Gospel of Matthew and Saint Paul. Murdered in 1975, his reputation as artist and social prophet spreads ever wider.

Struck by an ulcer and hospital-bound in 1966, Pasolini wrote six verse tragedies modeled on Sophocles and the Platonic dialogues. They were rarely performed and never successfully. What follows are a speech and three scenes, Epsiodes I, V and VI, from Affabulazione, a queer, reverse Oedipus tale combined with bourgeois comedy of manners, presenting the drama of a Milanese industrialist who becomes sexually obsessed with his own son.

Pasolini published the "Manifesto for a New Theatre" in Nuovi Argumenti in 1968, while preparing to direct Orgia, another of his six tragedies. While betraying his personal dissatisfaction with his own theatre work, the Manifesto mercilessly dissects Italian theatre into two types and exposes the presumption and uselessness of both. Certain of his observations may not be without relevance for the state of theatre in the U.S. under the Bush regime. Other comments are specific to their time and place: he analyzes the linguistic hypocrisy of bourgeois Italian theatre and sketches a plan for an alternative. Later in 1968, when his production of Orgia in Turin is received with hoots of derision, Pasolini will take the blame upon himself and renounce theatre, saying, "My fault. I tried to achieve that famous shift that vaults over the rules decreed by mass culture. But to do that, you have to commit yourself like a pioneer, for a lifetime. Otherwise you might as well give up entirely."

("Manifesto for a New Theatre" is from Pier Paolo Pasolini, Teatro. Milan: Garzanti 1988.The selections from Affabulazione are from Pier Paolo Pasolini, Tutte le opere: Teatro, Mondadori, 2001.) [End Page 126]

* * *
(To the Reader)
  1. The Theatre you expect, even if you expect total novelty, can never be what you expect. If you expect a new Theatre, you do so necessarily within the confines of the ideas you already hold; if you expect something, in a certain sense that thing is already there. None of you, facing a text or seated at a play, can resist the temptation of saying, "This is THEATRE," or, "This is not THEATRE," which means you already have an idea of THEATRE deeply rooted in your head. But the new, as you well know, never arrives in an ideal form; it is always material. Therefore, its truth and necessity are always shabby, annoying, disappointing. The new either goes unrecognized or, by talking about it, people drag it back into their old habits.

    Today, therefore, you all await a new theatre, but you already have in your heads an idea of it, born within the old theatre. The following notes are written in the form of a Manifesto, because anything new they express is declaredly, and perhaps even tyrannically, presented as Manifesto.

    (Throughout this Manifesto, Brecht will never be mentioned. He was the last man of theatre to be able to unleash a theatrical revolution within theatre itself, due to the fact that in his time, the hypothesis was that traditional theatre still existed [which, in fact, it did]. Now—as we shall see in this manifesto—the hypothesis is that traditional theatre no longer exists [or is ceasing to exist]. In Brecht's day, it was still possible to talk about reform, even radical reform, without putting theatre itself into doubt; in fact, the goal of reform was to render theatre authentically theatre. Today instead, theatre itself is up for discussion; the goal of this manifesto, therefore, is paradoxical: theatre should become what theatre is not.

    In any case, this much is certain: the days of Brecht are gone forever).

    (Who will be the audience of the new theatre)
  2. The new theatre will not be directed...


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