On theatre corpses

In the end, we're always counting corpses. And these corpses become the stakes in new political projects. Certain bodies can be remembered and buried with all the honours. Other corpses turn us into Antigones. We must speak about the value of each human life, because if we don't, our thousand would be nothing compared to their ten thousand. But this is a score that we consider unfavourable. We have, after all died a little less and slaughtered a little more. Whose side are you on: Eteocles's or Polyneices's?

Heiner Müller says that death is a form of production, work like any other, organised by a collective and only organised by a collective. Our theatre, too, reflects this situation. Our theatre has, despite everything, mostly been and remained the glorification of the death of individual. This is not exactly something to brag about, but so it goes.

Theatre in its core is essentially a lie. And when it asks questions of death, individual or collective, symbolic or real, it lies particularly badly (if it is at all possible to lie well), and then maybe it even starts to speak some sort of truth. Because repetition is in nature of the theatre, while death is that border phenomenon that can't be repeated. Therefore its theatrical representation becomes problematic as well. How to repeat the unrepeatable?

This performance attempts, through the inflation of death, through the incessant repetition of the unrepeatable, to emphasise a theatre mechanism that always remains a representation of a certain outside reality. With its compulsive attempts to stage collective death, this performance challenges the theatrical representation of death, as well as the idea of theatre representation itself. The repetitions of death that appear on stage in almost regular intervals and after which the protagonists “come back to life” expose the standstill of theatre mechanists of representation. It is these very mechanisms for the production of fiction – that most often remain concealed – that push out any thematic-content frame and thus remain the only visible thing.

Let's return to the corpses we've mentioned at the beginning. Just like the soil of the former Yugoslavia, where it is impossible to thread the ground without wading into bones, this performance is also overflowing with corpses. And just like those non-theatre corpses have a certain value on the political market, these corpses we hyper-produce and resurrect have a certain value as well. In fact, they strive to reduce the value of a certain model of representation. If such devaluation has occurred in theatre representation of death, what is the value of real death? To figure that out, one only needs to watch the news on Haiti or ask what Srebrenica means to us today. Little, less, nothing?

A Kapo, a Junker, and then an earnest, pleasant-looking young man testify in court.

"I am not responsible," says the Kapo.
"I am not responsible," says the officer.
"I am not responsible."

A final look at a mountain of naked, mutilated corpses.

Then who is responsible?

Night and Fog (Nuit et brouillard), directed by Alain Resnais, screenplay by Jean Cayrol



The script is based on improvisations and on discussions that took place with the actors. Is that your usual working method, or was it simply better suited to what you wanted to say?

I had wanted to address the topic of the decay of the former Yugoslavia for a long time. My idea was to see what happened with this country, its cultural and political heritage, and why at some point we betrayed the idea of Yugoslavia and its liberating potential in exchange for neoliberal capitalism and national identities. When I received the invitation to work with Mladinsko Theatre, I knew what the starting point of the play would be. It was a very avant-garde theatre company in Yugoslavia in the 1980s, doing a lot of experimental work. My script is based on several discussions and improvisations with the actors. That sort of experience was nothing new to them, as they are accustomed to many different theatrical traditions. When you work with people who are not used to those principles, you always have to do a lot of explaining to pull them out of a matrix of psychological realism.
That approach comes to me naturally, as I have no formal theatre training. I come from a family that didn’t go to the theatre, so I wasn’t burdened with any theatrical tradition. As a matter of fact, I discovered theatre through performance art. I constantly question theatrical hierarchy, and that spills over into my work with actors. Usually I tell the actors that I want them to be onstage as political subjects, not as the objects of a director’s demagogy. But emancipating actors is delicate work. There is always somebody who says “You should be emancipated,” which to me is the origin of demagogy.

Your play is addressed to the people of the former Yugoslavia, but you have also toured other countries with this show. How was it received by people who did not live through those wars?

Recently we had high school students attend the play, and they found that Damned Be... addressed real problems in their own environment: chauvinism, homophobia, xenophobia, etc. These people are very young and not so familiar with the history of Yugoslavia and its destruction, but they recognize their own problems in the piece. Older audiences respond with different kinds of emotions. Some of them are really angry, because the play adopts a critical tone. And some of them are really happy that we have demystified that period.
Damned Be... blurs the line between reality and fiction. Anyway, truth and its corresponding reality are a matter of social consensus. We use different strategies to question what is real on the stage. I think that the theatrical frame fictionalizes everything. In Todd Solondz's movie Storytelling one character says: “I don't know about 'what happened,' Vi, because once you start writing, it all becomes fiction.”

You address the spectators directly, hurling abuse at them. What sort of reaction are you seeking?

In Sarajevo, the people in the audience were louder than the actor onstage. During a performance of Cowardice in Serbia, at the moment when the actor announces that they will read out the names of 500 people killed in Srebrenica, somebody from the audience yelled “Don't”. Communication in theatre should not be one-way communication, for I find that very oppressive. It is like television; you can only be a passive recipient. I think this is not in the nature of theatre, although it still prevails in the majority of theatrical productions. I usually try to create a situation where the audience can step away from its predefined passive role.
I do not think that theatre should represent one voice, but should create a situation in which multiple voices can be heard. I don't believe in direct democracy as a political system, because I think it is impossible under present circumstances. But I strongly believe that in theatre we don't have to repeat the bad political and social hierarchies that we have in our society.
I want theatre to be a generator of social change. Today it seems impossible because new and newer media are unable to do anything except serve the interests of capital. Changing the way people think is important, but it is more important to create an environment where that new way of thinking can start to operate.

By Diane Jean, translated by Neil Kroetsch, Festival Transameriques

Frédérique Doyon

The stage as a battelfield / The stage of life


Le Devoir, Montreal, Canada
19 mai 2012 Culture / Actualités culturelles

For many artists the FTA, the scene, and more broadly the performing arts, is the ideal place to explore the conflict. "Living art has the strength to be an art closely related to the confrontation directly with the public, says Mr. Casagrande. It seeks to have an immediate dialogue with the audience that shares the same place and time. "
"In theater, one should not reproduce the unhealthy social and political hierarchies found in our society, says Tomaz Toporisic, dramaturg of Mladinsko Theatre of Slovenia, whose play Damned be the traitor to his country! addresses the Balkan war. In this sense, the theater can be seen as a generator of specific social change. "
This direct, immediate, physical contact with the public, where one often tries to break the fourth wall without leaving the field of fiction, seems not only the way of recovery for the Performing Arts - suffering, especially in their forms more traditional (opera, theater), the declining interest of younger audiences. This is also where lies the power of social change to which the team believe fiercely Theatre Mladinsko and that of Motus.
"Theatre should not be one-way communication, for the director, the performers of Mladinsko and for myself, said the Slovenian dramaturg, we all find this fact oppressive. The theater should not be like television. It must empower both performers and spectators, in the sense of the philosopher Jacques Racière and his book The Emancipated Spectator. And it liberates us both aesthetically and politically. "
Combining all the arts (video, dance, theater), the cycle of Antigone Italians takes the form of a clash of hip-hop inspired. Except for the last part, Alexis, who breaks the format of the contest. This happening theatrical entangled three reading levels: short dialogue from Sophocles' tragedy, the personal reflections of the performers on the issues raised in the tragedy and history of Greece, including the current crisis tends "to mirror all Europe, especially southern Europe, like Italy, "says Casagrande.
Living art is also used to preserve memory to better understand the present. Alexis is rooted in documentary theater, while the Motus team has interviewed artists, activists and anarchists of the libertarian Exarchia neighborhood in Athens, to build the room. A Greek woman (Alexandra Sarantopoulu) also brings his testimony. Not to forget.
"Remember tough times allowed us to present our view in a new light," says Toporisic, about Damned be the traitor to his country! , a national anthem of the former Yugoslavia.
Our Performance feed itself from two very different views of the conflict. That of the artistic team of Mladinsko, which witnessed the brief war of independence of Slovenia, which was not rooted in religious or nationalist issues. And that of the Bosnian director of the piece, Oliver Frljic who lived through and suffered as a young person the war that led to the massacre at Srebrenica in 1995. This double perspective and experience with the past allows the Mladinsko team to explore the theme of latent nationalism, which can still lead to atrocities. "Nobody is immune. In Slovenia, Canada, China, Australia ... "says Toporisic.



Every time we betray our own theatre …

On the basis of the disintegration of the former common country, the symbolic space in which this disintegration occurred, and the establishment of the new national states, this performance researches – through the seemingly high level of politisation – theatre mechanisms of constructing and deconstructing fiction. By using extremely politically incorrect language it tries to open the most direct channels of communication with the audience and materialise its unconscious on stage.


In the staging sense, on a certain level it poses the question what happens when an actor remains without a written text and is put in position on stage where she or he must, instead of written lines of a particular role, share her or his own opinion. Using the thematic frame of the dissolution of Yugoslavia and the emergence of new countries with a nationalist connotation, we also witness the incessant disintegration and establishment of a performing subject and its transition from a relatively insecure space in which it is forced to pronounce her or his own beliefs to a relatively safe space of high theatralisation.


It is also perfectly clear that this performance – just like any work of art in the era of technical reproduction – can’t escape the socio-economic and technical dominance that determine its aesthetic dimension. Just like it is clear that it would be impossible to expect that a living performance can remain ontologically ‘genuine’, or that it can function within a cultural economics separate from the economics of mass media. Therefore the actors on stage turn their attention to the attempt to erase the general amnesia we witness in the beginning of the 21st century.


This performance is resisting to the fact that the meaning is evaporating and that our time is searching persistently and manically for the next ‘extreme’ image or an ‘interactive experience’. It stems from the situation described with great precision by Gómez-Peña: “We are now fully installed in what I term the culture of the mainstream bizarre [...] Change channel. From the TV specials on mass murderers, child killers, religious cults […] to the obsessive repetition of “real crimes” shot by private citizens or by surveillance cameras, we’ve all become daily voyeurs and participants of a new cultura in extremis. […] Its goal is clear: to entice more consumers while providing them with the illusion of experiencing (vicariously) all the sharp edges and strong emotions that their superficial lives lack.”[1]


By quoting, appropriating, and ironically-terrorist transformations of the manipulative apparatus of ideology and mass media, the performance, due to its image and its non-ideological treatment of the political and its manipulation, exposes itself to danger. It tries to take full advantage of the fact that we today live in the field of the transcultural business, which translates every intercultural artistic act into a logic of potential to exploit the trans –political, globalistic economic and political lobby. In the manner of American cultural activists it tries to give the theatre back its function as a place where art and social engagement meet. With the words of Peter Sellars: “I work in theatre to see if democracy is working.”


The actors in the performance continually point at the fact that they are what they are, actors, and that they remain actors even in the moment when they ‘take on’ temporary roles. This pointing is, in its basis, very close to the tradition of reflection on theatre postulated by Peter Handke, for example in his famous Public Insult. Originating from Grotowski and his reduction of elements of representation and drama theatre, the performance warns all the time, using Handke’s words: “This stage represents nothing ... You can see no object pretending to be other objects. [...] the time on stage is no different from the time off stage.’ By saluting Stanislavski and the tradition of dramatic illusionism, the speakers realise: ‘We don’t do as if.’” [2]


If for Handke the statement “We don’t do as if,” is declarative, there is no need for that today. In its ghetto, theatre can do whatever it wants. The question is only if anyone takes any notice at all of all this. The play and performance as something that doesn’t follow the self-evident laws of representation. The actors are what they are, while at the same time persistently traversing from the state of being oneself to the state of being someone else through oneself and through what you are.


Thus the performance uses neither a script nor a pre-drafted directorial concept, nor speech with defined communicativeness. The actors on stage speak about their life problems, which are quickly revealed as obsessions of our insecure time, as common points of recognition on stage and in the hall. Their stage presence, to a certain level freed of theatralisation, triggers stage events, brings actors closer to the audience and with their help creates temporary theatre community, which sometimes seems able to change the world. But this is, of course, all just an illusion.   


So the actors in the performative act invisibly transfer from (non-)acting themselves and titbits of their own biographies into (non-)acting of some sort of collective heroes of recent history and potential (anti-)heroes of the present. At the same time, we are witnesses to meta-theatrical etudes that in their final consequence produce some sort of theatralisation of politics or ritual cleansing. The autopoetic feedback loop (Fischer-Lichte) thus becomes one of the possible answers to a type of “the end of history, humanism”.


The performance considers the audience as “fellow actors who, by the virtue of their participation in the play, in other words, their physical presence, their engagement and reactions, produce the performance.”[3] It is therefore (spoken in the spirit of Barthes) always “the result of interaction between the performers and the audience”.[4] A fixed work of art doesn’t exist, the co-presence of actors and spectators is essential, but this co-presence includes the calculated power that stage has over spectators. Despite performative elements (actors and spectators exchanging roles), the established community is necessarily temporary. The borders between the real and the fictional world are blurred, spectators and actors alike become actors in an event characterised by uneasiness upon disclosing intimacy.


Marina Gržinić would mark this with a syntagma that they eschew conventionality by making “the erroneous recognition of identity” the basis of the act.[5] The performance destroys the representation principle also by having actors “address the audience directly and even challenge them wittily, establish contact with them, and the result of this is total panic, no memory! The forces at work here are those between the audience and the theatre: actors indicate social and cultural change originating from the modern theatre discourse.”[6]


However, at the same time the performance is aware that the total exit from representation is impossible, just like the Schechnerian or the actionist vision is impossible, or naive, for example, claiming that the performative autopoetic feedback loop allows us to reach beyond the logic of the text based culture and its referential function. Nevertheless, through establishing dialogue with the traces of the performative turn of the 1960s – to use Fisher-Lichte’s words – it tries stubbornly to legitimise theatre as performance art par excellence.[7]




[1]Guillermo Gómez-Peña. »The New Global Culture.« The Drama Review 45, 1, New York, 2001: 13.

[2]Garner, Stanton B. Jr. Bodied Spaces: Phenomenology and Performance in Contemporary Drama. Ithaca, NY, 1994: 153.

[3]Erika Fischer-Lichte, Ästhetik des performativen. Frankfurt am Main 2004: str. 48.

[4]Op. cit., ibid.

[5]Marina Gržinić. »Novi performativnosti in procesualnosti naproti.« Maska, 80, 81, 2003. 7276: str. 75.

[6]Op. cit., ibid.

[7]Theater seit den 60er Jahren. Grenzgänge der Neo-Avantgarde, Erika Fischer-Lichte/Friedemann Kreuder/Isabel Pflug (Hrsg.). Tübingen/Basel 1998: str. 11.



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