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The very essence of Contemporary Theatre is that is such a diverse realm of performance art. Many different playwrights have contributed to this post World War Two theatre that instead of keeping to just one narrow genre it was able to branch out to cover all aspects and views of an ever transitional modern society. Theatrical pieces from this time period have ranged from Existentialism, pioneered by Jean Paul Sartre, to the Theatre of the Absurd, which was precedent by Samuel Beckett, and all along the way a myriad of performance genres sprung up to support this new post-war society. Most plays of the contemporary theatre tended to focus up on one single aspect of theatre, though a group of men formed a performance troupe that would ever change such a notion. Monty Pythons Flying Circus revolutionized the stage performance, incorporating many aspects of modern day theatre; such as realism, surrealism, futurism, existentialism and of course Theatre of the Absurd, for no Python sketch was sans an eccentric dash of absurdity. The very roots of Monty Python lay in the humble beginnings of six men, five British and one American, who took to the stage in college and never looked back.
The six Pythons; Graham Chapman, Eric Item, Michael Palin, Terry Jones, John Cleese, and Terry Gilliam, began their acting drudge ries before the footlights but not without a struggle. Much of their work was initially considered too risqu for college theatre, though eventually, but a few years down the road, after several stints with other performance acts one of the greatest comedic troupes to ever be born of the British Theatre were gathered for their first show on October 5, 1969 to a mediocre crowd at best. Michael Palin said it best when he claimed that their first viewers were insomniacs, intellectuals, and burglars (Howard xxiv). Though many failed to realize it, it was that initial audience that was attracted, the combination of such extremes that would come to make up many of the Troupes future fans. It is theorized that it might have been their middle class upbringing, either in the States or in England, which lead to form a structure up on which to base their comic stylings, societal attitudes leading them to become exposed to society and in turn gave them something to rebel against.
From such humble beginnings, and a rather slow start ratings wise, Monty Pythons Flying Circus did gradually become a veritable phenomenon all through-out the entire world, and not just its home country of England. Though Python almost wasnt a hit in America. On the initial introduction of the troupe to the United States while appearing on the Johnny Carson show, they were greeted with less that mediocre appreciation by the audience and were fairly doomed in America for the next two years until their premier film was released, Monty Python and the Holy Grail. After the first airing of an episode in America it was blatantly obvious that Python did not appeal to a mainstream audience, on the other hand it tended to attract more esoteric and intelligent viewers.
What made Python so accessible to people all over the world was the topics that were covered were easily able to be related to by all different classes and cultures. Many of the famous skits that were performed revolved around the satirization of society, the government and politics, finance, and day to day life. John Cleese commented on Pythons tackling such taboo subjects as saying one thing we did manage to do was to put up on the screen some archetypes that people seem to recognize no matter what their culture or generation (Howard 365). The Pythons performed this material on a level that made it accessible to many types of people the world over, much like William Shakespeare did by having his plays relate to all the classes on one level or another. Such simple skits such as The Silly Walk and Argument Clinic sums up the intelligent, sophisticated, repressed British character brought starkly into contrast with total absurdity while both sides work in perfect harmony. Much of the Pythons television programming did resemble live theatrical productions with the music, audiences and quick costume changes.
It was much more like theatre than television because we had a limited amount of time. There was a wonderful theatrical feeling, (Howard 46) says Hazel Pethig, a former costume director for the show. As the show progressed its structure began deviating further and further away from the concept of conventional form of theatre sketches which had a beginning, middle, and an end, episodic, another likening to Shakespeare's style. By deviating from such set standards the troop did pave the way into contemporary theatre for such topics, that just ten years earlier would have never have gotten past the initial idea stage. Python set the way for following sketch comedies such as Saturday Night Live and Kids in the Hall and television shows such as Cheers and Faulty Towers. Many of the sketches that were performed were considered taboo subjects to be discussed, let alone visually acted out, on British television which lead to many arguments concerning censorship between Python and the BBC.
Many say that the shows, not merely just television episodes but theatrical shows, were a triumph of style over substance, it should be noted that the group broke new comedic ground in their use of such less than traditional themes such as cannibalism, royalty, and dismemberment (Howard xvii). The material presented in the Python bits are solid in their material and represent one of the high points in British comedy and even more important is the way that Python aided in shaping and changing performance comedy for a new generation of viewers. The exact influence that Monty Python has had on contemporary theatre as well as television is rather ambiguous at best, although wherever avant garde, anarchic, or innovative comedy appears a Python influence is a strong possibility. An online dictionary even states the word Pythonian as anything involving satirical humor and comedic ingenuity. Monty Python not only set precedents for television production but also for the theatre stage, once the show ended its four year television fun on December 5, 1969 the comedic troupe took their satirical perspectives back to the theatre stage where the cast began their careers...
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