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#8- 32: Theater of accomplices Theater of Accomplices Newspaper

Dmitry Vilensky /// Editorial

Any relationship between human beings can always be reduced to a simple opposition: boss/employee, friend/enemy, teacher/pupil, actor/spectator, class/party, enlightened/ignorant, representative/people, oppressor/oppressed, man/woman, rich/poor, and so on. At the same time, it is obvious that the dynamic of a relationship is not described by such static confrontations: any form of participation in relations of production, political and artistic processes or an educational setting involves the participants in complex interactions in which originally fixed roles change and unpredictable situations constantly arise; that is, everything is in a lively state of exchange and transformation. The search for a way of uniting and overcoming articulated oppositions is in fact the basis of political life, because (setting aside certain nuances) the redefinition of equality is always at stake in an analysis of these oppositions.

The difference in approaches to the sublation of contradictions hinges on a single essential detail: some people propose that we adopt an original equality as our premise, while others say that equality is what must be created in the process of overcoming oppositions. Here as well we see a confrontation between two approaches. Is a dialectical synthesis of these approaches possible?

This is the paramount question, and one’s entire practice largely depends on how one answers it. The rejection of initial equality – a postulate that masks the material processes that constitute and reproduce inequality (all differences are insignificant in our equality before the “supreme” meaning) – always appears to be a cynical gesture. And all of us are under the moralistic pressure to recognize universal equality as the founding principle of civic life: all people are born equal and free, with the desire for happiness. This rhetorical foundation is undoubtedly one of the summits of humankind’s political evolution. At the same time we see quite clearly that in reality this declaration conceals glaring inequality: the powerful, rich, and active always impose the rules of the game in their own favor, rules that enable them to achieve a dominant position amongst “equals.” The basis of political struggle is always the revelation and critique of actual equality, the exposure of the structure of power relations as relations of oppression, subjugation, and exclusion.

On the other hand, an insistence on the recognition of initial inequality with a view to its eventual overcoming deprives us right now of the chance to organize relationships of equals with other equals, which is the premise of any genuinely democratic form of communication. All the endeavors of human thought and creativity revolve around solving this paradoxical problem: how to establish equality in inequality. And this problem is immediately related to theater and art.

Like art in general, theater finds itself at the heart of this conflict of oppositions, and its formal development is largely defined by proposals for resolving this conflict. Beuys’s famous assertion that “everyone is an artist” is a lovely slogan, but in reality we see that children’s basic creative qualities for discovering and interpreting the world are nipped in the bud. It would be more honest to say that “every child is a creator” who finds herself in a world where the right to participate in cultural life is a privilege enjoyed by the few – that is, a function of inequality. All honest art strives to address society with the demand to restore this generic human capacity for creation and thought. This demand is essentially a political demand.

Many thinkers and practitioners of art (in this issue, we propose that our readers return to the analysis offered by Jacques Ranciиre in “The Emancipated Spectator”) suggest that we should be guided by the principle that the division between actors and spectators is originally false: any spectator is a priori included in the process of co-creation thanks to her presence in the same space as the spectacle. This hypothesis might be workable, but only under certain conditions that must be created by authors coming from a position that establishes an “equality of intelligences.” No one gathers together without a particular reason: there are always initiators who propose particular rules of the game that they address to a community of equals. But the community that emerges in this case is inevitably structured by these newly established rules (for example, in the later years of his life, Augusto Boal spent a great deal of time developing the “legislative theater,” in which citizens participate in the drafting of new laws and budget allocations via the form of a theatrical play), and the way these rules resonate with the needs of communities largely depends on the precision and political sensitivity of the gesture made by the initiators/directors. In fact, the theater is always a model of a collective (with or without spectators) in search of a balance between improvisation (the spontaneous creativity of each participant based on his individual skills) and structure – an external element introduced into the proceedings (whether a scenario, elementary rules of the game or a focus on a single, concrete situation) that the participants have accepted as a necessary restriction on their practice (time is always the main constraint in theatrical action).

What comes of this is always a mystery: the most radical experiment with equality might prove to be a failure, producing new forms of subjugation, while the quiet recognition of the need for discipline and the delegation of various production functions can stimulate the formation of new, liberated forms of subjectivity. In my opinion, a generalized analysis of the structure of theater and art is incapable of providing us with overall conclusions. We first have to understand what form of presentation manifests initial equality in a concrete time and place, and how it attacks the structures of inequality that inevitably dominate outside this “chronotope” (to borrow Bakhtin’s term for spatio-temporal matrices in literary narratives). What matters here is a concrete analysis of concrete theatrical practices – the method of learning plays that Brecht proposed; the development of Augusto Boal’s Theater of the Oppressed; the empathetic practices of the documentary theater, based on the verbatim technique; political role-playing seminars; models of the invisible theater, etc. – that is, all those theatrical practices that do not posit an initial division between spectator and actor, practices in which everyone gathers together to discover themselves as a new collective body for a certain period of time.

In this edition of our newspaper, we offer our readers a number of texts that analyze these experiments and, we hope, will inspire the understanding that the theater is not the domain of professionals but is made by accomplices united by the acute need to decide something for themselves, to experience themselves anew and become others, and return to their previous conditions (outside the play) transformed by this new experience.

And then it is possible to imagine that at some point in history we all will be able to achieve that condition of community in which it will no longer be necessary to resort to theatrical play.

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