In-yer-face theatre describes drama that emerged in Great Britain in the 1990s. This category coined by British theatre critic Aleks Sierz is the title of his book, In-Yer-Face Theatre, first published by Faber and Faber in March 2001. An adjunct faculty member in Boston University's London graduate journalism program, and co-editor of TheatreVoice, Sierz uses in-yer-face theatre to describe work by young playwrights who present vulgar, shocking, and confrontational material on stage as a means of involving and affecting their audiences. According to Sierz, "The big three of in-yer-face theatre are Sarah Kane, Mark Ravenhill and Anthony Neilson"; in listing 14 "Other hot shots" in "Who?" on his website, Sierz adds the following qualification: "Of course, some writers wrote one or two in-yer-face plays and then moved on. Like all categories, this one can't hope to completely grasp the ever-changing reality of the explosive new writing scene."
Etymology of the phrase "in your face" ("in yer face")
According to the Oxford English Dictionary, the "slang" term in your face originated in the United States in 1976; the 1989 edition and its updated editions provide examples of its usage in variant spellings such as in yo' face from 1976 through the 1990s:
f. in your face slang (orig. U.S.), (a) as int. phr., an exclamation of scorn or derision; (b) as adj. phr. (freq. hyphenated) bold or aggressive; blatant, provocative, brash.
Simon Gray employs the colloquial slang term in your face to describe contemporary theatre dialogue in his play Japes, which premiered in London, in early February 2001. In Japes, Michael Cartts, a middle-aged author, rages against a new kind of writing that he describes as "in your face". After watching a new play by a young playwright, Cartts describes the stage characters as follows:
Appropriating the slang British spelling used by the band In Yer Face, extending the theatrical contexts exposed in Gray's play Japes, and, as the OED observes, employing the more-frequently-hyphenated adjectival form, Sierz used in yer face in his category "in-yer-face theatre" as defined in his book of that title.
Process of critical categorising
The process of appropriating and applying such a pre-existing phrase or concept to describe new theatrical works provides a critical means of "categorizing" or "labeling", and some critics have stated, "pigeonholing", or "domesticating" ("taming") them. The creation of in-yer-face theatre parallels the history of more-prevalently accepted literary-critical coinages by critics like Martin Esslin (Theatre of the Absurd), who extended the existential philosophical concept of the Absurd to drama and theatre in his 1961 book of that title, and Irving Wardle (Comedy of menace), who borrowed the phrase from the subtitle of The Lunatic View: A Comedy of Menace, by David Campton, in 1958 reviews of productions of Campton's play and of The Birthday Party, by Harold Pinter, applying Campton's subtitle to Pinter's work.
2002 Conference on "in-yer-face theatre"
"In-yer-face theatre" was debated at a two-day conference at the University of the West of England, held in 2002, at which Sierz was a keynote speaker. Sierz's own report on the conference is archived on his website.
In summarising the results of the conference, co-conveners Graham Saunders and Rebecca D'Monté observe that Sierz acknowledged that by 2002 "in-yer-face theatre" had already become an historical phenomenon (a trend of the past; hence, passé), going on to state:
|“||Despite its title, the conference also became a forum in which the current state of new writing in British theatre was discussed. David Eldridge, in the opening address, saw many of the plays from the period as a direct response from 'Thatcher’s Children' – the generation who had grown up in a period in which the British Left seemed fractured and directionless, the Cold War escalated and free market economics brutally re-shaped our society and culture. Eldridge warned of the mythologies and self-aggrandising agendas that can grow up when writers are placed in 'movements', and what [alluding to the Donmar Warehouse] he called the current trend of 'Donmarization' in British theatre, whereby major Hollywood stars have been recruited in order to make a new play more palatable to audiences.||”|
Another conference report, published by Writernet, states: "to be shackled to a specific era or genre places a responsibility on a play and creates expectations before a reading or performance. In essence, it disrupts the artistic integrity through preconceived notions of a play because of a simplified label. Plays and playwrights risk being annexed or 'ghetto-ised' when given a superficial monolithic focus."
Writernet adds: "This problem was reflected in number of papers from all over the world, which primarily explored the works of Sarah Kane and Mark Ravenhill through theoretical lenses of postmodernism, metaphysical theatre, Artaud's theatre of cruelty, and Lacan. Through no fault of the organizers – this was apparently an accurate reflection of the conference submissions."
Yet, this report observes also that, "In his own defense, Sierz stipulated that 'in-yer-face' was not a movement, but an 'arena' or 'a sensibility'," and that "In-yer-face theatre describes only a part of the body of works during the 1990s." It notices, moreover, that Sierz "accepted the limitations of his book and the label, acknowledging it as both London-centric and limited in its scope."
Nevertheless, it cites "Max Stafford-Clark (founder of Out of Joint and Joint Stock theatre companies and ex-artistic director of the Royal Court theatre and the Traverse in Edinburgh)," who, "when asked about plays in the 1990s," reportedly observed that "Everybody’s looking at the same view, so the paintings are bound to have similarities."
Notable people associated with in-yer-face theatre
List of plays
- Aleks Sierz, In-Yer-Face Theatre: British Drama Today (London: Faber and Faber, 2001).
- Boston University International Programs: Academic faculty including a brief biography of Aleks Sierz.
- Aleks Sierz, "Who?", In-Yer-Face Theatre website. Retrieved 9 June 2008.
- Definitions of "In your face", Oxford English Dictionary Online, accessed June 9, 2008. (Library subscription-based search).
- See Lizzie Loveridge, Review of Japes, CurtainUp, 8 February 2001.
- Susan Hollis Merritt, Pinter in Play: Critical Strategies and the Plays of Harold Pinter (1990; Durham and London: Duke UP, 1995) 5, 9, 225–28, 326, citing Wardle.
- Martin Esslin, The Theatre of the Absurd, 3rd ed. With a new foreword by the author (1961; New York: Vintage [Knopf], 2004).
- Irving Wardle, "The Birthday Party", Encore 5 (July–Aug. 1958): 39–40; rpt. in The Encore Reader: A Chronicle of the New Drama, ed. Charles Marowitz, Tom Milne, and Owen Hale (London: Methuen, 1965) 76–78 (reissued as: New Theatre Voices of the Fifties and Sixties [London: Eyre Methuen, 1981]); "Comedy of Menace", Encore 5 (Sept–Oct. 1958): 28–33; rpt. in The Encore Reader and New Theatre Voices 86–91.
- Michael Billington, Harold Pinter (1996; London: Faber & Faber, 2007) 106.
- "News 2002: 'Shocking' Plays have Academic Appeal," press release, University of the West of England, 30 August 2002.
- Aleks Sierz, Archive 2: Conference Reports: University of the West of England 2002. In-Yer-Face Theatre website, inyerface-theatre.com. Retrieved 9 June 2008.
- Graham Saunders and Rebecca D'Monté, "Theatre's Shock Therapy", School of English, University of the West of England (UWE), HERO (primary internet portal for academic research and higher education in the UK), September 2002.
- "In-Yer-Face? British Drama in the 1990s", University of the West of England, Bristol, 6–7 September 2002, Writernet 2003. Retrieved 9 June 2008. (Conference report posted on writernet.co.uk, in both HTML and PDF versions).
- Quoting from an interview with Elaine Aston, in Caryl Churchill (Plymouth: Northcote House Publishers, 1997) 5.
- Aleks Sierz, "Still In-Yer-Face? Towards a Critique and a Summation", New Theatre Quart. 18.1 (2002): 17–24; published online by Cambridge University Press, journals.cambridge.org. Retrieved 9 June 2008.
- David Eldridge, "In-Yer-face and After", Intellect 23.1 (Mar. 2003): 55–58. (Abstract.)
- Kate Ashfield originated the role of Lulu in Shopping and Fucking, by Mark Ravenhill, in Max Stafford-Clark's September 1996 production of Shopping and Fucking, at the Royal Court Theatre, as listed in the Out of Joint production archive. Retrieved 9 June 2008.
- "Alex Jones", as listed by Aleks Sierz, In-Yer-Face Theatre website. Retrieved 9 June 2008.
- Dromgoole, Dominic. The Full Room: An A-Z of Contemporary Playwriting. London: Methuen, 2002. ISBN 0-413-77134-2.
- Eldridge, David. "In-Yer-face and After". Intellect 23.1 (Mar. 2003): 55–58. (Abstract.)
- Eyre, Richard and Nicholas Wright. Changing Stages: A View of British Theatre in the Twentieth Century. London: Bloomsbury, 2001. ISBN 0-7475-5254-1.
- Gray, Simon. Japes. London: Nick Hern Books, 2001. ISBN 1-85459-470-2.
- "In-Yer-Face? British Drama in the 1990s". University of the West of England, Bristol. 6–7 September 2002, Writernet 2003. Retrieved 9 June 2008. (Conference report posted on writernet.co.uk, in both HTML and PDF versions).
- "News 2002: Shocking Plays Have Academic Appeal." Press release. University of the West of England 30 August 2002. Retrieved 9 June 2008.
- Saunders, Graham, and Rebecca D'Monté. "Theatres Shock Therapy". School of English, University of the West of England (UWE). HERO (primary internet portal for academic research and higher education in the UK) September 2002. Retrieved 9 June 2008. (Account of In-Yer-Face? British Drama in the 1990s, a two-day conference held at the St. Matthias Campus of the University of the West of England, in Bristol, England, on 6 and 7 September 2002.)
- Sierz, Aleks. In-Yer-Face Theatre: British Drama Today. London: Faber and Faber, 2001. ISBN 0-571-20049-4.
- –––. "Still In-Yer-Face? Towards a Critique and a Summation". New Theatre Quart. 18.1 (2002): 17–24. Published online by Cambridge University Press, journals.cambridge.org. Retrieved 9 June 2008. (Abstract. Subscription required for full access.)
- "'In Yer Face' Theatre"[dead link] – A "Drama Guided Tour" at PeoplePlayUK: Drama History Online. Retrieved 1 May 2008. [A feature of the official website for London's Theatre Museum: National Museum of the Performing Arts. "Discover More" menu provides production photographs of specific plays with more information about them.]
- In-Yer-Face Theatre – Website of Aleks Sierz ("Aleks Sierz's in-yer-face theatre website"). Retrieved 1 May 2008. (Includes hyperlinked Archive 2: Conference Reports.)
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