Interventions 25.3 (July 2015)

This issue of Interventions explores some of the ideas and practices behind the special issue of Contemporary Theatre Review entitled ‘Theatre, performance and activism: gestures towards an equitable world’. As part of the special issue itself, and the online Interventions that accompany it, researchers, activists and artist-activists were invited to contribute documentation and analysis of theatrical activism and protest performance past and present.

The documents on these pages, in the print issue and on a blog that we ran for a year from 2013-2014, can be seen as reflections on an era in which theatrical forms of activism have seemed to proliferate. The collective authoring process, which in various ways has involved more than 50 people, was set up with the aim of searching – critically, of course – for a progressive as well as thick theorisation and documentation of an activist aesthetic.

Slavoj Žižek argued in The Year of Dreaming Dangerously (2012), that a key task for the global Left is to consider ‘how to transpose islands of chaotic resistance into a positive programme of social change’.1 At the outset, we proposed the idea of ‘gesture’ as a way of linking together embodied and performed modes of political action, not so much with the aim of building a programme of activist performance, but certainly to encourage those interested in the themes to consider how the gestures that figure protest events might be understood, analysed, compared and contrasted. In the print issue introduction we explore how ‘gesture’ might provide a way of thinking about the intersections of politics and performance in new and provocative ways. In these Interventions you will find four different perspectives on the gestural vocabularies of activist performance.

The collective blogging process that generated the Gestural Notes documents within the print issue is discussed in a piece on ‘Domestic Gestures’. This offers a guided tour through some of the contributions to the blog and, in particular, a glimpse of one particular aesthetic vocabulary that recurs through these documents.

The translation of gestures between theatrical contexts and performative protests is discussed by artist-activist the vacuum cleaner in a video interview which explores both his history as an activist and his recent performance work.

Shane Boyle and Larry Bogad’s conversation focuses on a trope that might be used to understand many of the examples of activism that feature here – ‘irresistible images’. An ‘irresistible image’ is an image that is so compelling that it both ‘jams’ or interrupts the reproduction of hegemonic accounts of the world, and is recycled across various contexts, often in surprising ways.

One of the highest profile activists to emerge from European theatre over the last decades has been the Irish writer and performer Margaretta D’Arcy. The two contributions that follow represent a tribute to her activism – feminist performance group Speaking of I.M.E.L.D.A. offer a collectively authored reflection on D’Arcy’s repertoire of protest gestures, which recently included a campaign against the use of Shannon airport by the US military resulting in her imprisonment, and Robert Leach offers a celebratory overview of D’Arcy’s Loose Theatre on the 10th anniversary of its publication.

All of these contributions document and represent efforts to create new spaces for the practice of progressive politics through theatre and performance. We hope you enjoy the print issue and these accompanying Interventions and welcome your comments and feedback.

– Jenny Hughes and Simon Parry, guest editors
with Elyssa Livergant for Interventions

 

Further reading

These Interventions and the special issue of the journal are intended as a contribution to an already burgeoning field of scholarship. The idea that contemporary protests draw on theatre, theatricality and performance has been widely explored in many different works. There is no one definitive book or article but the following explorations provide particularly useful and varied starting points:

Jill Dolan, Utopia in Performance: Finding Hope at the Theatre (Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 2006)
Susan Foster, ‘Choreographies of ProtestTheatre Journal, 55:3 (2003), 95-412
Jenny Edkins and Adrian Kerr, eds., International Politics and Performance: Critical aesthetics and creative practice (Oxford: Routledge, 2013)
Baz Kershaw, Theatre Ecology (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2007)
Baz Kershaw, The Radical in Performance (New York and London: Routledge, 1999)
Peter Lichtenfels and John Rouse, eds., Performance, Politics and Activism (Basingstoke: Palgrave, 2013)
Soyini Madison, Acts of Activism: Human Rights as Radical Performance (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2012)
Rebecca Schneider ‘It Seems As If … I Am Dead: Zombie Capitalism and Theatrical LabourTDR: The Drama Review, 56.4 (2012), 150 -162
Theatre scholarship has directly engaged with the events of the Arab Spring. For good examples see:
Hazem Azmy and Marvin Carlson, eds., Special issue on theatre and the Arab Spring, Theatre Research International, 38:2 (2013)
Margaret Litvin, ‘From Tahrir to “Tahrir”: Some Theatrical Impulses toward the Egyptian Uprising’, Theatre Research International, 38.2 (2013), 116-123
Edward Ziter, Political Performance: From the Six Day War to the Syrian Uprising (Basingstoke: Palgrave, 2014)
Play and theatricality within social movements are examined in:
L.M. Bogad, Electoral Guerrilla Theatre: Radical Ridicule and Social Movements (London and New York: Routledge, 2005)
Andrew Boyd, Beautiful Trouble: A Toolbox for the Revolution (New York and London: O/R Books, 2012) <http://beautifultrouble.org/>
Coco Fusco and Ricardo Dominguez, ‘On-Line Simulations/Real-Life Politics: A Discussion with Ricardo Dominguez on Staging Virtual TheatreTDR: The Drama Review 47.2 (2003), 151-162
Ben Parry, with Sally Medlyn and Myriam Tahir, Cultural Hijack: Rethinking Intervention (Liverpool: Liverpool University Press, 2011)
Benjamin Shepard, Play, Creativity, and Social Movements (London and New York: Routledge, 2011)
Benjamin Shepard, Queer Political Performance and Protest (London and New York: Routledge, 2010)
The Journal of Aesthetics and Protest, <http://joaap.org>
Activist performance can be understood within a wide range of different historical frameworks. These examples have been particularly influential:
Jan Cohen-Cruz (ed), Radical Street Performance: An International Anthology (London and New York: Routledge, 1998)
Harry J. Elam, Taking It to the Streets: The Social Protest Theatre of Luis Valdez and Amiri Baraka (Ann Arbor: The University of Michigan Press, 1997)
Catherine Itzin, Stages in the Revolution: Political Theatre in Britain since 1968 (London: Methuen, 1980)
George McKay, DiY Culture: Party & Protest in Nineties Britain (London: Verso, 1998);
Baz Kershaw, The Politics of Performance: Radical Theatre as Cultural Intervention (London and New York: Routledge, 1992)
Ken Knabb, ed. and trans., Situationist International Anthology (Berkeley: Bureau of Public Secrets, 2006 [1981]) <http://www.bopsecrets.org/SI/>
Raphael Samuels, Ewan MacColl and Stuart Cosgrove, Theatres of the Left 1880-1935: Workers’ theatre in Britain and America (London and New York: Routledge and Kegan Paul, 1985)
Ben Shepard and Ronald Hayduk, eds., From ACT UP to the WTO: Urban Protest and Community Building in the Era of Globalization (London and New York: Verso, 2002)
Jenny Spencer, Political and Protest Theatre after 9/11: Patriotic Dissent (London and New York: Routledge, 2012)
Charles Tilly, Contentious Performances (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2008)

 

Notes:

  1. Slavoj Žižek, The Year of Dreaming Dangerously, London (Verso, 2012), p. 133.

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