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