Theater, Circus, Variety - Tim Cole Studio
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Theater, Circus, Variety

This is a response to the essay entitled, “Theater, Circus, Variety” by Laszlo Moholy-Nagy. The piece was originally published as a part of a book entitled “Theater of the Bauhaus” in 1924. To understand the importance of the piece I believe a brief overview of the Bauhaus school and their charter would be appropriate.

Bauhaus was a school in Germany that combined crafts and the fine arts. It was unique for its approach to design and functionality. The Bauhaus style, also known as the International Style, was marked by the absence of ornamentation and by harmony between the function of an object and its design. The most important influence on Bauhaus was modernism, finding its roots in Russian constructivism. It was founded with the idea of creating a "total" work of art in which all arts, including architecture, would eventually be brought together.
László Moholy-Nagy was a Hungarian painter and photographer as well as professor in the Bauhaus school. He was highly influenced by constructivism and a strong advocate of the integration of technology and industry into the arts.

Moholy-Nagy’s essay “Theater, Circus, Variety” was his concept of a new form of theater practice in which we find common themes of the usage of form and space. We find in traditional theater that the human form is centralized, whereas Nagy relinquished the human form of centrality and placed it on equal footing with all the facets of theater being light, sound, movement, form, color, and shape.
Moholy-Nagy's idea of the "Theater of Totality," which he deems to be the theater of the future, puts man "on an equal footing with the other formative media" in contrast to the theater of today. He insists that one cannot simplify man to having definable meaning, and neither can you boil down other aspects of the theater. They should instead be a complex organism. Man in this scenario should be free to express in other ways than literary, but only in ways that are unique to man in order to make good use of his specialization.

In the pursuit of a theater of abstraction, or Theater of Totality as Moholy-Nagy called it, he denounced, like the Futurists, the primacy of the "logical-intellectual " literary text. Here the written word, and by extension the physical presence of the actor, was given equal footing in the larger interplay and integration of lighting, music, and stage design. The influence of machine technology, so prominent in Moholy-Nagy's work in painting, photography and film, led to the concept of the "Mechanized Eccentric," in which the centrality of the human body in traditional theater was ultimately incorporated in a mechanical rendering and abstract play of stage action and movement.
He envisioned fantastic mechanical devices moving across the multi-planed stage, an architectonic reorganization of theatrical space that would literally immerse spectators in 3-dimensional action. At this point of interpenetration, The Theater of Totality called for an end to the passivity of the audience, a theater which will "let them take hold and participate and actually allow them to fuse with the action on the stage at the peak of cathartic ecstasy."


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