#8- 32: Theater of accomplices

Dmitry Vilensky /// Editorial

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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.

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Ultra-red /// Art, Collectivity, and Pedagogy: Changing the World in which we Live

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The art world is going through a period of intense fascination with collectives. This is often combined with an enthusiastic interest in pedagogy. Curators, critics and institutions champion collectivity and pedagogy as, among other things, an alternative or corrective, if you will, to the art-star economy of the 1990s and its spectacular demise. These recent interests have benefited from the enormous influence of the French philosopher, Jacques Ranciиre. Seeking an explicitly political inflection in the terms of pedagogy and collectivity, many have turned to Ranciиre’s writings on spectatorship and the emancipatory potential in art. This appropriation in the visual art context has tended to ignore the extent to which Ranciиre’s own thinking occurs within a nexus of pedagogy and the collectivities that occur in performance. Returning to that nexus affords us the opportunity to tease out some of the implications in this shift from the image as teleology to a performative scene of reception.

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Luis Ignacio Garcha /// Bertolt Brecht, ignorant master

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Aside from this original stamp, the learning-plays proved highly controversial because of the austerity of their form and the disconcerting nature of their content. Conceived as a means for collective experimentation, the learning plays set up a laboratory-type situation based on a radical reduction of stage and theatrical resources. Brecht, an admirer of Japanese no theater, developed a radical economy of resources that was not primarily intended to express desolation, meaningless or the dehumanization of man (as in Beckett), but rather to set up the conditions that would allow more malleable manipulation of the stage situation. Like scientists engaged in the experimental formulation of a scientific law, the idea is to get rid of incidental details and set up an abstract situation that brings out the elements in their pure forms. This economy of elements seeks to reduce the exhibition value and emphasize the use value of the piece, to offer up the work as a device that can be manipulated. Brecht said: “The form of the learning-play is stringent, however only so that individual inventions and innovations can be easily adapted into the play.”[1] It should be noted that austerity was a way of attacking the “fourth wall,” not to йpater le bourgeois, but to clear the way for a dynamic based on participatory action. Nevertheless, the austere style of the learning plays was seen as an extension of the avant-garde principle of alienation, an appendix to the Verfremdung-effekt (estrangement)of epic theater, rather than as a didactic commitment to opening up to the active collaboration of participants. Brecht’s reception saw the avant-garde rather than the revolutionary pedagogy; it saw the formal experimentalism rather than the research laboratory.

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Fernanda Carvajal /// Public Theater: Educational Pieces to Assemble

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During the long and still unfinished post-dictatorship in Chile, in which four governments from a social democratic coalition provide consistency and continuity to the knotting between modernization, neoliberalism and progress forged by the dictatorship of Augusto Pinochet, the Chilean theater undergoes major transformations. In the period from 1990 to 2010, a professional kind of theater is strengthened, retreated into a rather self-referential practice, mainly funded by the state competitive funding system which limits its scope to academic spaces and independent theaters with a restricted public, tending to form a system that closes up upon itself This tendency has contributed to relegate to the margins, to invisibility or silence, other theatrical experiences that seek to open out different paths from the theater towards other areas of the social or political. Still, the last few years, and perhaps underpinned by the strong rejection to the recent victory of a rightist government in the country, these previously dispersed experiences, have leaned to congregate and strengthen. They are theater companies that come from different cities of the country – Teatro Pъblico (Public Theater) and Teatro Versiуn Oficial (Official Version Theater) in Santiago, Teatro La Peste (The Plague Theater) in Valparaiso, Teatropello in Talca, to name a few- which, coming in and out of the professional theater circuit, have joined different social and political groups simultaneously, and have been involved in specific social conflicts and struggles They are still incipient but decisive gestures that re-build bridges between theater and politics.

In this context, this text seeks to problematize the relationships between pedagogy and political emancipation put in practice by the Public Theater collective [1]. It is still a very recent experience, so we cannot yet discern its effects and continuities; however, we think this text as a contribution to the discussion and support of these initiatives.

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Katja Praznik /// Theatre, Emancipation and Political Power: Two Cases From the Past

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The emancipatory function of theater in the territory of ex-Yugoslavia has some specific traits. Since the falling apart of Yugoslavia, or better, of self-managing socialism, things have taken a turn. However, let me first dwell in the past in order to make my argument.

While the official culture and the network of institutional theatres in Slovenia (one of the six republics of the ex-Yugoslavia) had the role of mirroring the political and social values of the Yugoslav self-managing socialism,[1] there were a number of professionals who organized themselves outside the context of the official culture.[2] Theatre institutions, along with the Academy for Theater, Film, Radio and Television, represented the dominant structure in control of the production, distribution and education of theatre in the Slovenia, in which theatre was predominantly understood as drama theatre and where the literary text played the starring role. This was not at all a coincidence, as language and literature were the bearers of national identity; therefore, the theatres were one of the main fortresses enforcing this identity. Despite the monopoly over theater culture, this system had a certain amount of tolerance, which allowed deviations in order to sustain the image of tolerance. Between the late 1950s and the 1990s, we therefore witnessed the emergence of a number of experimental groups and alternative theater and dance groups in Slovenia.[3]

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Keti Chukhrov /// The Nomadic Theater of the Communist: A Manifesto

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First publication – Translit #5 (2009)

Recently I understood clearly that art couldn’t help but be communist. This is not at all a manifestation of ideology, as it would seem to some. Nor is it dogma. It is just that suddenly it became obvious that all art – from Ancient Greece to the present day; that art which has overcome the egoism and conceit in itself – contained the potential to be communist. Regardless of its pessimism or optimism, such art is dedicated not to some social group but to one and all. This is not some kind of propaganda trick. That’s what happens with an artist whose art is not afraid of people. Often art is either afraid of losing itself in the crowd or, the other extreme, it attempts to be artificially populist so it isn’t suspected of being refined or subtle, or is addressed to an in-crowd of discerning connoisseurs and experts.

When I say communist of course I have in mind not membership in a party but a worldview. It is this breadth of worldview, which exceeds the boundaries of a single state, nation, class, artistic school, and the private or even spiritual interests of a specific individual, that predetermines the communist potential in a work of art.

This means that the artist has the strength to be not just one person, but many – the strength to not merely observe life and the multitude of living beings but to be or become them by means of art.

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From Spunk Library, The Anarchist Archive

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Inspired by filmmaker Akira Kurosawa’s study in multiple perspectives, Rashomon is an improvisatory technique that highlights the role of perception in the creation of the “Other.” Rashomon is specifically designed for the study of the rigid patterns of perception that create a negatively-charged Other, in an oppressive, closed, recurring situation; as such, it is particularly suited for exploring the role of individual perception in generating biases and hate.


1) Workshop members are asked to volunteer to tell the story of an incident of oppression that has happened to them, and that is likely to recur. The situation must involve well-established, antagonistic relations with others. The oppression is experienced by the narrator, or protagonist, as an impasse; it results from the objective interaction of people situated in a circular, conflictual social setting.

2) When all the stories have been heard, the group votes and chooses the story that has evoked the greatest collective resonance. The protagonist of the featured story then chooses fellow participants to play the other characters of the story, and together they improvise the scene.

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More Articles on Theatre

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Adorno// Commitment

A Baraka// Slave Ship

Baraka,James Hatch// Afro-American Revolutionary Theater

Brecht// Sports,Epic,et al

J Butler// Performative Acts

H Cruse// Revolutionary Nationalism

Dixon// DigitalPerformance

E Diamond// Intro.Performance, Cultural Politics

F Fanon// Fact of Blackness

Coco Fusco// The Other History of Intercultural Performance

Genet // A Note on Theater

Muller// Hamletmachine

M Pearson// Theatre/ Archaeology

P Phelan// Ontology of Theatre

Roach// Kinship.Performance.NewOrleans

Schechner// Theater and Anthropology

Situationists// SimonFord

Taylor// Performance Archive

Taylor // The art and the repertoire

V Turner //Ritual to Performance

White // Genet Biography

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Jacques Ranciere /// The Emancipated Spectator

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I gave to this talk the title: « the emancipated spectator » . As I understand it, a title is always a challenge. It sets forth the presupposition that an expression makes sense, that there is a link between separate terms, which also means between concepts , problems and theories which seem at first sight to bear no direct relation on each other. In a sense, this title expresses the perplexity that was mine when Marten Spangberg invited me to deliver what is supposed to be the “keynote” lecture of this academy. He told me that he wanted me to introduce this collective reflection on “spectatorship”, because he had been impressed by my book The Ignorant Schoolmaster. I first wondered what kind of relationship there could be between the cause and the effect ? This an academy bringing together artists and people involved in the world of art , theatre and performance on the issue of spectatorship to-day. The Ignorant Schoolmaster was a meditation on the eccentric theory and the strange destiny of Joseph Jacotot, a French professor, who, at the beginning of the 19th century, made a mess in the academic world by asserting that an ignorant could teach another ignorant what he did not know himself , proclaiming the equality of intelligences and calling for intellectual emancipation against the standard idea of the instruction of the people. His theory sank in oblivion in the middle of the 19th century. I thought it necessary to revive it in the 1980’s in order to put a new kind of mess in the debate about Education and its political stakes. But what use can be made, in the contemporary artistic debate, of a man whose artistic universe could be epitomized by names such as Demosthenes, Racine and Poussin?

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Mladen Dolar /// Brecht’s gesture

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The Lehrstьcke take a dramatically different path in relation to this line. Their name – ‘the teaching pieces’ – invokes their pedagogical, instructive nature, but the point is not that the theatre should instruct the audience and preach, for ultimately only the participants, the actors, are the ones to be instructed. They should take turns at playing different parts, to assume all the attitudes, try all the angles and stage them. This is in the limit a theatre without an audience, restricted in its teaching aims, an elite theatre which instructs the instructed. But the instruction of participants should not be carried out in such a way that they would endeavour to play their roles in the most convincing manner (let alone, god forbid, to express themselves). Brecht’s directions for www suggest a firm discipline and deindividualization; instead of empathizing and identifying with the roles he recommends reciting, declamation, mechanical peroration as if without understanding, like saying the prayer. If ideology demands of individuals senseless repetition of ritualistic formulas, but in disguise, under the cover of ideas, then Brecht takes this as his own guideline, he stages it and surpasses it, without disguise. One has to take away the appearance of thought and stage the mechanical repetition, not only as the way to debunk ideological illusions and confront them with the ritual at their core, but to treat in the same way one’s own ideas, through the mechanical www rather than understanding. Here Brecht meets Althusser.

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