Contemporary Theatre Review currently has two calls open for Special Issues.
All queries and abstracts should be sent directly to the guest editors. Please find further information for both special issues at the bottom of this page.
Theatre’s Response to the Russian War on Ukraine: Performances of witnessing, documentation and intervention
Olga Danylyuk (Royal Central School of Speech and Drama)
Kasia Lech (University of Amsterdam)
Amanda Stuart Fisher (Royal Central School of Speech and Drama)
In February 2022, the world witnessed a dramatic and violent escalation of the Russian War on Ukraine as Russian troops staged an all-out invasion of the country. At the time of writing, Ukrainian forces are engaged in a counter-offensive; the war continues. Ukrainian historian Serhii Plokhy (2023) describes the conflict as ‘the greatest conventional war in Europe since 1945’, creating ‘the largest refugee crisis in Europe’ since the end of the Second World War. It is a conflict in which at least half a million Ukrainian and Russian soldiers have lost their lives or were wounded (see The Guardian 18/08/2023) and according to UN reports, has led to over twenty two thousand civilian casualties (see The Guardian 19/10/2023).
Focusing on theatre’s responses to the Russian war on Ukraine, this special issue invites contributors to consider how theatre and performance makers are engaging with the ongoing conflict. Examining a range of performance practices in Ukraine and beyond, the special issues will interrogate what theatre can do in moments of geopolitical strife and existential crisis generated by periods of political violence. It will examine how theatre can document and amplify the voices of those whose lives are entangled within this war, reflect on how recent conflicts in other parts of the world shape our engagement with the situation in Ukraine, interrogate the positions and perspectives of those not directly involved and explore the politics, ethics and aesthetics of these interventions.
Theatre’s engagement with real events of conflict and war has a long history and a varied genealogy that has garnered the interest of many theatre and performance researchers. Depictions of actual wars appear in many classical Greek plays, from The Persians by Phrynichus to Euripides’ The Trojan Women; war permeates many of early modern plays (e.g. the works of Pedro Calderón de la Barca, William Shakespeare, Jan Kochanowski), where narratives of war and battle are opened up to themes relating to identity, nationhood, honour and personal suffering (see Stevens 2021). Many contemporary dramatists, such as Gregory Burke (2008), Tadeusz Słobodzianek (2008), debbie tucker green (2011), Lynne Nottage (2008), Lola Arias (2016), and Nejra Babić (2019) have also turned their attention to wars, their memorialisation and their aftermaths, prompting critical responses from theatre and performance scholars including: Clare Finburgh Delijani (2017), Duška Radosavljević (2013), and Siân Adiseshiah and Jackie Bolton (2020). Researchers examining performance responses to the Balkans war have also examined how theatre and performance offered forms of resistance while also serving as a mode of survival within the conflict (Jestrovic 2013).
However, the current conflict arguably presents new challenges both to theatre makers and scholars and researchers who examine this work. Firstly, the question of how historiography is conducted and performed in a context of present, ongoing conflict has become particularly urgent in this context, for the facts of the Russian war on Ukraine are constantly being debated, disputed, and even subjected to propagandistic manipulation. Secondly, while many theatre practices endeavour to memorialise and in some way bear witness to the losses associated with the conflict, they must do so in the challenging context in which many performers creating theatre are simultaneously being caught up in daily bombardments, within a conflict that is continually unravelling and showing little sign of abating. Theatre makers, caught in the midst of ongoing conflict, must consequently innovate new approaches to performance and spectatorship while contending with the question of how to make art in one of the direst circumstances imaginable.
In this context, this special issue invites contributions that might consider the following questions in relation to the Russian war on Ukraine:
- How can theatre bear witness to the impact of a war of aggression?
- In what ways can theatre enact forms of historiography and documentation at a time of conflict?
- How can participatory theatre practices intervene within the lived experience of those who are encountering the conflict in Ukraine or the exile imposed by forced migration? How is the impact of these practices evaluated?
- How does theatre engage with multiple identities and cultures when creating responses to the Russian war on Ukraine?
- How does performance explore the intersections of identity and race and the specific lived experiences of minoritarian communities who are impacted by the war?
- How do the ethical and political problematics raised by this type of interventionalist practice reshape theatre and performance?
- In what ways do responses to the conflict re-activate or reconfigure histories of documentary theatre?
- To what extent do theatre responses to the Russian invasion of Ukraine parallel with other situations of ongoing conflict, such as the conflict in Palestine and Israel? What might a ‘multidirectional ethics’ (Rothberg 2009:2) in this context reveal about theatre’s response to this?
- How does theatre question its own position and role as the conflict’s witness, respondent, and/or historiographer?
Interventions: We also invite shorter pieces of 1500-2000 words for the journal’s online Interventions section. These contributions might draw on the work of artists critics and performers to reflect on the experience of theatre-making in the midst of war in Ukraine, both within and beyond its borders. Potential contributors for Interventions should think creatively and flexibly about the possibilities of the online format: multi-media, illustrated and visual essays, video, and sound-based/podcast formats are encouraged.
We welcome proposals that engage with theatre, performance, dance and live art both within and beyond the borders of Ukraine and welcome contributors from the UK, Eastern and Central Eastern Europe and from other parts of the world. We particularly encourage submissions from contributors who identity as Black and/or Global Majority and/or neurodivergent or differently abled.
The guest editors invite proposals for articles of 6-9000 words in length (inclusive of notes and references), documents of 4-6000 words, and shorter pieces of 1500-2000 words for Backpages and CTR’s online open-access publication Interventions.
Abstracts and proposals are due 15 January 2024. First drafts of articles will be due in September 2024. Please submit 300 word proposal to: [email protected].