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Cover image: Sophie Cleary, Charlotte De Bruyne, Valentijn Dhaenens, and Angelo Tijssens in Ontroerend Goed’s Fight Night (2013). Photography by Reinout Hiel, courtesy of Ontroerend Goed.
From the editorial by Stephen Bottoms:
Theatre is an affair of the State. I would say that, being at ease with princes and having been founded in the regime of democracy on the agora, theatre is now indecisive, or hurting – not because of the reign of television, as people pretend, but due to the essential lack of politics in which the electoral process is resolved.
– Alain Badiou, Rhapsody for the Theatre, trans. by Bruno Bosteels (London: Verso, 2013), p. 15.
This edition of Contemporary Theatre Review is timed to coincide with the UK General Election of May 2015. It deals in part with theatre about electoral politics, but also seeks to take seriously the analogical relationship proposed by Badiou (of which more shortly) by treating electoral politics as a kind of theatre. As Stephen Coleman observes in his framing essay, ‘Elections as Storytelling Contests’, there are essentially three groups of performers involved in a contemporary democratic election – the politicians seeking our votes, the media commentators who seek to ‘referee’ the politicians and editorialise their narratives for popular consumption, and finally the electors themselves. Customarily positioned simply as ‘passive’ spectators to the drama of politics, voters are called upon at election times to become participants – to act, albeit on a tightly circumscribed platform – in order that the existing political dispensation can continue to affirm its underlying legitimacy.
It might thus be simplest to position this edition in terms of a performance studies paradigm – one which extends theatrical metaphors in order to analyse other dimensions of life (in this case, elections) ‘as’ performance. All too often, however, performance studies thinking betrays the promise of its own interdisciplinarity, by simply providing license for theatre-trained scholars to wander roughshod into adjacent disciplinary territory, without consulting the existing inhabitants. This edition attempts something different, insofar as it extends directly from a collaborative research process initiated by a social scientist – the aforementioned Stephen Coleman, who is Professor of Political Communication at the University of Leeds. A former psephologist, Coleman’s disaffection with opinion polling is rooted in the awareness that polls provide only statistical data in response to pre-set questions. They do not tell us why people feel as they do about those questions. Nor, just as importantly, do they interrogate the terms of the questions themselves – questions which are usually designed to furnish the political classes with raw data, ‘intelligence’ on which to base their strategies, more than they are to render the electorate intelligible.[read more]
Special Issue: Electoral Theatre
Guest editors: Stephen Bottoms and Brenda Hollweg
Notes on Contributors
Editorial: Electoral Theatre
Elections as Storytelling Contests
Political Sensibilities, Affect, and the Performative Space of Voting
Staging the Democratic Deficit: Or, Three Uses of the Interview
Hailing the Citizen: A Note on Politics and Audio–Visual Form
Beyond the Zero-Sum Game: Participation and the Optics of Opting
Affective Geographies of the Ballot Box
Early Days: Reflections on the Performance of a Referendum
Laura Bissell & David Overend
John, Antonio and Nancy
Of Spin Doctors, Whips, and Choristers: An Interview with Vincent Franklin
Performance in the Blockades of Neoliberalism: Thinking the Political Anew, by Maurya Wickstrom
Broderick D. V. Chow
DMZ Crossing: Performing Emotional Citizenship along the Korean Border, by Suk-Young Kim
To Bodies Gone: The Theatre of Peter Gill, by Barney Norris
Affective Performance and Cognitive Science: Body, Brain and Being, edited by Nicola Shaughnessy
Not Magic but Work: An Ethnographic Account of a Rehearsal Process, by Gay McAuley
Always More Than One: Individuation’s Dance, by Erin Manning
The Ghosts of the Avant-garde(s): Exorcising Experimental Theater and Performance, by James M. Harding