Metatheatre in the 21st Century

Metatheatre in the 21st Century

In his 1963 work Metatheatre: A New View of Dramatic Form, Lionel Abel coined the terms “metaplay” or “metatheatre” to classify plays with a philosophic self-consciousness, plays that depict life as “already theatricalized” with characters “aware of their own theatricality.”  As his study and others since have pointed out, this style of playwriting existed long before the technical terminology we now have to describe it.  While Abel’s point of entry into his subject is Jacques’ “All the world’s a stage” speech in As You Like It, his study actually treats a range of authors, from Moliere and Calderon to Beckett and Genet. However, most scholarship after Abel has been Shakespeare-centered.

Today some still enjoy metatheatre; others find it indulgent and outdated.  Either way, the form persists. Historically, the form has had at least one valid purpose: to examine the condition and reception of the art form.

There are plays about theatre currently running in New York City and elsewhere right now.  So dear reader, think back on the last year, five years, or even the last decade, and help me compile a list of original metatheatrical plays for the 2000’s…I’ll give you a nod in my work-in-progress…

Here are a few to get the list started:

Theresa Rebeck’s The Understudy
Tim Crouch’s The Author, an oak tree, and ENGLAND

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