POLITICAL THEATRE (participation in thatre)
NOT JUST A MIRROR: Looking for a political theatre of todayFlorian Malzacher
Notes from the essay "No organum to follow: Possibilitiesofpolitical theatre today"
Florian Malzacher writes about turning to social, environmental, and economic themes in the theater. Ancient Greece introduced the Dionysian theater in which many polis issues were debated. In the Baroque, the monarchy was the key point of performance, while the choreographies on the stage were in line with the social choreography of the absolutist society. With the awakening of the bourgeoisie in Europe, the Enlightenment also brought bourgeois theater as an aesthetic and cultural-political institutional phenomenon. Ana Vujanović wrote that the art show and the theater constituted the continuity of public life, public opinion, and political positions. This process happened because the theater performed a structural social role, providing models of action and behavior in public and testing social relations. In these contexts, public behavior and politics itself were not spontaneous practices, but, in Vujanovic's words, institutionalized, codified, provided for by conventions, procedures, skills, and exposed to the views, opinions, and criticisms of others. At the beginning of the 20th century, the avant-garde approached theater as a means of challenging and changing society (Brecht, Mayakovsky, Marx) with the idiom that theater should be a moral institution for class struggle in which the distance between spectators and performers would disappear. The theater was used as a place and medium in which they could socially and politically be tested and rehearsed. During the 1970s and 1980s, narrative theater dominated. Since the 1980s and 90s, the Post-Drama Theater has emerged, focusing mostly on medium and form by criticizing the mimetic representation of dramatic theater, and creating mostly self-conscious works that constantly re-examine working conditions as products of ideologies, politics, fashion times, circumstances, etc. ). Inspired by the poststructuralist and deconstructivist theories of post-dramatic practice, they offered new complex theatrical signs, thus opposing the hegemony of the text, the linearity and causality of the drama, and introducing participation. Theater as a public space, as a political space that cannot immediately integrate its outcomes into the system, nor is it related to concealing social dysfunctions and pain, but opens spheres of negotiation and debate in which contradictions are not only preserved but can be shaped and articulated. This kind of theater was based on radical interpretations of the text, which, despite many approaches, still remained in the field of mimetic. Although the theater of this period could offer an understanding of the structural reasons behind political problems, it could not avoid the dilemma that these representations were just another repetition of the misery they were fighting against (Brecht called it: Cannibal’s dramatic art). The theater showed the social structure (on the stage) but was incapable of being influenced by society (in the audience). The audience was seen less as a collective and more as a group of individuals. Post-drama theater freed the viewer from the imposed imagination of the director, but it, therefore, became related to the neoliberal individual who seeks his individualism in active consumption.
Contemporary political theater has started from the question: how to make a theater that maintains neo-phonic self-reflection about the last decades, but so that it does not fall into the traps of pure self-referentiality? In that sense, contemporary theater tries to avoid false participation but at the same time returns the idea of participation as such, growing at its radical potential. Participation, therefore, does not have to be based on consensus. Chantal Muff wrote about "agnostic pluralism" which defines democracy as an arena in which we can act out our differences as adversaries without having to reconcile them. The word agon itself means to play, competition in argumentation, and "playful agonism" the concept of free articulation of contradictions is maintained. Participation is inevitably linked to the issue of representation. Everyone who participates in the theater (performers, spectators) is automatically understood as representative of a large community that differs in the race, gender, class, profession, etc. This raises questions about who he is, who he is, and how he is represented? To what extent are people self-determined? How long does attachment last? Who benefits the most from all this? Is it sustainable? She She Pop, Gob Squad, Rimini Protocol, Hora Theater often deal with this.
These questions have different answers depending on whether they are viewed from the angle of art, activism, or social work. Direct action in activism separates itself from art, it always points out the problem and suggests solutions, alternatives (sabotage, blockade, intervention). However, such an action is never completely spontaneous, but often prepared, rehearsed, and staged as well as a play. Art brings with it ambiguity, ambivalence, hesitation, reflection, but there is always a moment (for example, when a play gets a moment) after which there is no return. The direct action of activism can have the same moment: Many radical movements in the performing arts can be considered direct actions. The goal is achievable change: awareness of repressed socio-political issues, improving conditions/circumstances, working with propaganda or counter-propaganda, making it invisible, performing a brief moment of normalcy in a permanent state of emergency.