“In the contemporary theatre there are directors who overtly strive to create ‘Total Theatre’. These are, generally, also directors who create the work they stage – frequently supplanting the playwright – choreograph the movements, design the setting and plot the lighting, and sometimes perform on stage as well, qualifying them as ‘auteurs’, a French term developed in New Wave film theory to describe a director who so dominates the film-making process that he or she can be seen as the ‘author’ because the final product is a personal expression.
We have chosen to apply this term to theatre directors who, similarly, embrace the whole creative process.
Strikingly, many of these directors are also visual artists; their performances are primarily physical rather than text-based; and they promote a style of ‘Total Theatre’ that seeks not only artistic unity as in Wagner’s Gesamtkunstwerk, but also to break through the naturalistic ‘fourth wall’ and unite performers and audience.
In addition, where the structure is primarily pictorial rather than linear, the effect is perceptibly episodic, and the same is true of cinematic structuring. […]
So there is a direct line running from, say, Kandinsky’s 1912 play The Yellow Sound– where in ‘Picture 3’ ‘Everything is motionless’ until (in a technique paralleling Craig) light brings movement – to Lepage’s 1999 Damnation of Faust with its multiple cinema frames on stage, or Robert Wilson’s Dream Play (1998) with its cinematic blackouts or dissolves between vignettes.
This episodic quality links these visual directors to the epic theatre pioneered by Brecht; and while the most conspicuous auteurs are from the contemporary theatre – Robert Wilson, Richard Foreman or Robert Lepage being obvious examples – the justification for this degree of directorial control has a history going back to the beginning of the twentieth century, where it was first formulated by Gordon Craig.