Panel 1: Public Pleasures: Aspects of Entertainment
Revealing the Popular
On burlesque and the popular
Contemporary burlesque, or neo-burlesque, is a genre rooted in the burlesque tradition of the late 19th century. In many ways it is similar, as an act of undressing with a comical twist, but it is also different. The neo-burlesque artists of the late 20th century reclaimed the art, reinvented it from a feminist point of view.
What used to be entertainment for a wide audience, constructed through a male gaze, is now more of a subculture with a small, specific audience, and could hardly be considered mainstream entertainment. Still it is usually considered a popular genre, and although the genre attracts a rather limited audience during performances the notion of burlesque in the general public is quite distinct.
Theatre and performance as popular culture is usually defined with a focus on the action on stage. With my paper I will switch focus and take the audience experience as a starting point in the discussion of what makes a performance popular or not.
Analysing contemporary burlesque acts, experienced at Stockholm burlesque festival 2015, I discuss in what ways the acts manifest themselves as popular in how they relate to the audience, and their understanding. I suggest that one reason burlesque is categorized, as popular culture is in how the acts use of intertextual references is understood by the audience, but also how burlesque is a part of a general cultural consciousness, as a referent of its own right.
In this sense the popular is rather relating to the audience understanding, and the public cultural image of the genre, than the actual action on stage.
University of Iceland
Condemnation of the public’s pleasure in the Quarrel of the Cid
The popular and the academic
Pierre Corneille´s masterpiece Le Cid was a huge success when it was first put on stage in 1637 at the Theatre du Marais in Paris. Spectators cried their eyes out at the heart-breaking and heroic story set in Spain of two lovers torn apart by their fathers´ dispute and, according to contemporary sources, some people came over and over again to see the show. This popularity earned the provincial playwright much jealousy within the Parisian literary arena and provoked a chain of events leading to “the Quarrel of the Cid”, one of the most ferocious literary quarrels of all times, involving the new founded and highly influential Académie française.
In my talk, I will shortly present the play and its suspected statement vis-à-vis contemporary politics i.e. the French-Spanish war and outline the cultural policy and political role and implication of the Académie française ; I will then lay out the scene which thrilled the public and horrified literary and moral purists: the scene where Chimène receives Rodrigue in her chamber and how they tremble of love for one another while the body of her father, whom Rodrigue just killed, still lies in the same house, not quite cold yet. Rival playwright Georges de Scudery, Cardinal Richelieu and others instigated a bitter fight over aesthetics and morals (rule of three unities, rule of verisimilitude and rule of decorum), arguing that the public´s pleasure was immoral. The condemnation published in Les Sentiments de l’Académie française sur Le Cid criticized the work as calling equally for “admiration” and “censorship” and stating that some “monstrous truths […] should be eradicated for the good of society”. I will finally demonstrate how Corneille in his responses to these attempts at intimidation claims to please the public at large, be they popular or courtesan.
Panel 2: Popular Theatre: Highbrow and/or Lowbrow
New York University Abu Dhabi
The Popular, Pleasure, and Queer Political Subversion
Charles Ludlam, founder of the Ridiculous Theatrical Company in New York City in 1967, writes in the posthumous collections of his writings, Scourge of Human Folly, that: “camp is motivated by rage.” This paper investigates the use of “popular” cultural forms as a mode of performative political resistance fuelled by rage. In other words, “Subversive Sangerindepavillioner” attempts to articulate the relationship between rage, pleasure, and camp.
In the late 1970s and early 1980s, the radical gay liberation movement in Denmark increasingly employed performative strategies in its fight against heterosexual conformity and hegemonic dominance. In “Subversive Sangerindepavillioner,” I discuss the movement’s use of lowbrow cultural forms such as vaudeville and the European Song Contest as an example of how queerness in and of itself becomes a way of complicating the relationship between high and low, straight and queer, art and politics, theory and lived identity. Tracing the long-standing use of the particularly Danish version of “sangerindepavillioner” (a vaudevillian tradition of risqué songs performed by women in working class entertainment establishments) in gay subcultural performance, the paper argues that in the formation of the Danish gay movement, popular theatrical forms were utilized as at once a way of belonging and a way of protest, as a way of negotiating the “high” and the “low.” In other words, the paper entertains Raymond Williams’s observation that “[…] high culture is always, in the senses described, local and selective, and because, in the process of being made available in real society, it includes (whether these are noticed or not) elements of popular culture, in the widest sense, of its own society.” Engaging Williams’s observations, this paper asks how a radial political movement—in its own ways highly highbrow—utilizes the popular as a performative strategy as a means of sexual and political liberation.
University of Oslo
A Caprice – the summit of Ibsen’s theatrical career
Ibsen was in 13 years, from 1851 to 1864, working full time at the Norwegian theatres in Bergen and Christiania as a stage director and theatre manager. He was mostly staging a popular repertory of farces, vaudevilles and light comedies. This repertory has by Ibsen scholars been seen as vulgar and Ibsen’s period in the theatre has been seen as a waste of time. The general understanding is that Ibsen’s development as an artist had been much faster if he had been working with serious drama – as Shakespeare. Ibsen’s period in the theatre and the repertory he staged have seldom enjoyed much attention in scholarly research.
In my paper I will present Ibsen’s staging of A Caprice (En Kaprice) by Erik Bøgh at the Norwegian Theatre in Christiania (Oslo) in 1859. The production then ran for a total of thirty-six performances during the 1859-60 season. In relation to the population of the town, this was the by far largest box-office success in Norwegian theatre history. No wonder that Ibsen scholars generally have understood A Caprice as the ultimate example of the unholy trade Ibsen was forced into as a theatre manager. According to Michael Meyer was Ibsen, by staging A Caprice, for the only time in his life “rebuked for truckling to the box-office”. The contemporary critic claimed that Ibsen, by staging A Caprice and other dance performances, was declining the Norwegian Theatre in Christiania into a kind of amusement ground for the lower classes.
Contrary to the well established opinion, I will claim that A Caprice as the summit of Ibsen’s theatrical career and underline that both this and other dance productions staged by Ibsen in this period were not at all amusement for the lower classes but important expressions of artistic creativity and development.
The performance was also the turning point between his national romantic idea of a theatre for the people (folket) when he entered the Norwegian theatres in the 1850s – to his critical remarks of the popular repertory of the theatre as vulgar when he in anger left practical theatre – and never returned – in 1864.
Ibsen’s changed attitude to the people and the popular theatre in 1864 has generally been explained by the circumstances, that the Norwegians gave no military support to the Danes in their war with Prussia. I will, however, based on A Caprice discuss his change in relation to a change in the theatre.
The Valuation of Popular Theatre Performances
The example Ljungby Horn
Albert Ranft started as an actor in touring theatre companies in the 1880’s, soon he got responsible for one of the most important groups. 25 years later he had a big company with about 2500 employees running theatres in Stockholm and Gothenburg and also a couple touring companies. During a couple of years he also took over the Swedish Royal opera.
His repertoire was based on popular entertainment plays, revues, operettas, historical plays, contemporary dramas etc. During the same time his companies could propose high ranked performances and popular plays that attracted a huge success. Even the actors could during a week work in all of the different genres. The way of programing was for Ranft an art form by itself, and sometimes he even acted in and directed the plays.
In November 1898 at Stora teatern in Gothenburg he premiered a fairy tale play based on a Danish play, completed rewritten and combined with a Swedish folk legend. The staging was filled with effects, and in the list of roles it was mermaids, dwarfs, hobgoblins etc. The play was from the beginning a stoning success and even extra trains was put in for bringing in the audience. The production did run for several hundred nights. Moreover the production of Ljungby Horn was the ground stone for Ranft’s theatre enterprise.
Today is the play and the production forgotten, and it has been given few marks in the theatre history. But for understanding the theatre history and the development of theatre it is needed to research how the performance attracted a huge audience. It is also of interest to see that the critiques in Stockholm were more sceptical to the quality of the play than in Gothenburg (the second city of Sweden) and Malmö. It could lead to a new approach of writing theatre history, more pointing to a diversity of stage art than the traditional theatre history admits, and also a possibility to trace the forming years of division between art theatre and popular theatre.
Panel 3: Political Entertainment
Anna Blekestad Watson
University of Bergen
“A good night out”, when Political Theatre Aims at Being Popular
A Comparison Between Norwegian and Scottish Political Theatre in the 1970s
Bertolt Brecht stated in Schriften zum Theater: Über eine Nichtaristotelische Dramatik [Writings on Theatre: On Anti-Aristotelian Drama] that a high quality didactic [and political] theatre should be an entertaining theatre. The theatre group Hålogaland Teater used Brecht’s statement as their leading motive when creating their political performances together with the communities in Northern Norway. In this presentation I will compare Hålogaland Teater’s folk comedy Det er her æ høre tel [This is where I belong] from 1973, with another popular political theatre group, 7:84 Scotland, and their political revue, which also premiered in 1973, The Cheviot, the Stag, and the Black Black Oil.
The two theatre groups coined themselves as ‘popular’ and ‘political theatres’. There are many similarities between Hålogaland Teater and 7:84 Scotland both in their understanding of political theatre as popular theatre, and in the geographical placement of their theatres in the periphery of their countries: Hålogaland Teater settled in Northern Norway and 7:84 Scotland travelled the highlands and islands of Scotland. Further similarities lie in the two groups research methods: they based their play scripts on interviews and historical documents. While Hålogaland Teater was influenced by Bertolt Brecht and the contemporary Swedish theatre group Fria Proteatern, 7:84 was influenced by the British music hall-traditions and by Joan Littlewood’s Theatre Workshop. Both groups aimed at making their theatre a political instrument for their chosen communities by using entertainment and popular theatre forms. Curiously Hålogaland Teater and 7:84 Scotland who had no prior contact – each resting on their own theatrical and political traditions – end up with such similar theatre aesthetics. To conclude, I will explore the political and aesthetic strategies that informed Hålogaland Teater and 7:84 Scotland’s theatre productions.
University of Gothenburg
Entertainment is Both Fun and Political. Period.
In recent years the combination of something fun with serious matters, of entertainment with political subjects, has become more and more common in Swedish theatre. This paper tries to develop a description of entertainment based on the complex interplay between pleasure and politics. Instead of dismissing the light humorous aspects of entertainment as something outside the serious, not as serious as real life, the paper uses the light and funny as an enhanced awareness.
The paper argues that the immediate response of laughter may function as a question mark stimulating contemplation without reducing the fun, similar to what Michael Critchley claim is the function of humour; a strategy of defamiliarization. By critically discussing how the content of a performance is reshaped through its performance practice a more problematic view can be achieved where the risk of belittling through laughter is studied together with the empowerment through fun. Entertainment as communication emphasizes that the function of entertainment for a spectator needs to be intertwined with the function the spectator has for entertainment.
Two specific performances will be used as brief examples. Both discuss female menstruation (mens in Swedish) and combine entertaining aspects with information about menstruation. The first, MENS, performed at Teater Tamauer, a small independent theatre in Gothenburg and the second, Mens – The musical, performed at the Royal Dramatic Theatre in Stockholm both reinforce and question the concept infotainment.
Sigríður Lára Sigurjónsdóttir
University of Iceland
The Joy of Righteous Anger
In the aftermath of the economic collapse in Iceland in 2008 theatrical institutions were under some scrutiny as to how they dealt with the time leading up to it. Many very interesting productions were made, new, local and translated and older plays that were deemed to be related to the subject and produced thus.
We start with a short overview of Iceland‘s institutional theatres in 2009 and 2010 with special emphasis on reaction to the boom and it‘s ramifications.
In this paper I will specifically look at the notion of enemy. As the main theme that lies through the political productions is criticism, who or what is being criticized? Is the criticism examining the fabric of society? Is there an actual investigation of the community and it’s establishments going on or is the object perhaps making the audience feeling understood and even justified in it’s righteous anger? Where is the line between the popular and the populist?
The performances will be especially scrutinized through Jaques Ranciere’s writings, in particular The Emancipated Spectator (2009) and some chapters from Dissensus (2010). Dispossession: he Performative in the Political by Judith Butler and Athena Athanasiou and Occupy; Three inquiries in Disobedience by W.J.T. Mitchell, Bernard E. Harcourt and Michael Taussig will also be taken into consideration.
Panel 4: Wanna Play? Participatory Theatre
Ine Therese Berg
Oslo and Akershus University College
Talking to the Audience
Methodological approaches to researching participatory theatre
Contemporary artistic practice employing participatory strategies reflects ideas in a spectrum from democratization to control. Inspired by these strategies this paper suggests implementing them in a discussion of research methodologies.
In recent discourse on the aesthetics of participatory art and performance, scholars like Jaques Rancière, Claire Bishop and Shannon Jackson famously disagree on the potential of criticality in art that requires direct audience involvement. The legacy of the Frankfurter school, and particularly Adorno’s, criticism of popular culture is obviously at play in these discussions, visible in the conceptual treatment of the individual’s capacity of critical engagement with art and culture as well as the positioning of the researcher. Although abovementioned scholars offer interesting readings of selected performances one important thing is largely missing, and that is talking to the audience. In a time where participation is the paradigm of popular culture, can a renewed emphasis on audience research offer up a (more) realistic perspective of the political and aesthetic implications of the popular turn towards participatory strategies in theatre and the larger cultural field?
In my experience from theatre criticism I´m often reminded how education and professional background frames my analysis of the works that I encounter. This experience forms the impetus for my interest in audience research as methodology for investigating participatory theatre and performance. The proposed conference paper will present a case study consisting of 18 interviews conducted in relation to the German theatre company Rimini Protokoll and their participatory performance work Home Visit: Europe as performed during Bergen International Festival in June 2015.
Gerður Halldóra Sigurðardóttir
University of Iceland
Why do people participate in amateur theatre? (And is it culture?)
There are about sixty amateur theatre companies in Iceland. Hundreds of people every year participate in various theatrical activities, from staging large and intricate productions to smaller and more intimate readings and programs, attending workshops and seminars, writing plays both short and „full-length“, meeting in groups not only to rehearse but to practice and develop theatrical crafts. None get paid. Some are even ready to part with fairly large sums for aforementioned workshops and seminars. All of them put in untold work hours and a lot of effort – after they get done with their day jobs. These are not „professionals“. Mostly, they don‘t want to be. They have no interest in pursuing a theatrical career for a living. They just want to make theatre.
Such groups have been active in Iceland, in one form or another, for more than a century and half and from the start there have been questions asked about the quality and cultural merit of these activities. In my presentation I would like to explore these questions, but also, and not least, how it is that all sorts of people, from all sorts of backgrounds and all sorts of professions are willing to join together to make theatre. The presentation will mainly be based on a number of in depth interviews I conducted in 2009 and 2010 with people from the Selfoss Amateur Theatre Company, as well as my own experience of being a member of the same company for the last 25 years.
University of Helsinki
Judgment Day – Proletarian Theatre and the antifascist front in 1930s Finland
Influenced by fascist organizations, the conservative Finnish governments of the 1930s introduced repressive legislation in order to prevent the shaking of the social order during the economic depression. Communism had been banned already in the year of 1930. In my paper, I will write about co-operation between the leftist intellectuals and artists with the workers’ theatres in 1930s Finland. I will concentrate on the amateur-based Helsinki Workers’ Stage (Työväen Näyttämö) that co-operated with the Academic Socialist Society and performed political agitation according to the aesthetics of the proletarian theatre movement. Internationally well linked, the theatre received much of its repertoire from USA. Combining workers and communist youth with the radical intellectuals, the theatre offered an important platform and a meeting place for a variety of projects that tried to support civil rights movement and the creation of an antifascist people’s front. Financed by the Soviets, also the journals of the Academic Socialists supported the theatre and its cause.
Performing a militant and oppositional identity, the theatre and its activists were rejected by the Social Democratic Party and the other workers’ theatres alike. After the theatre had been dissolved in 1939, part of its personnel continued to organize underground political activity and was put in prison. Veterans of the Workers’ Stage who had survived the WWII were in the front row creating the left-wing cultural institutions in 1944-45.
Panel 5: The Popular, the Avant-Garde and the Opera
University of Iceland
Challenging Emancipation Narratives
The Avant-Garde vs the Popular
The stage musical Mamma Mia (1999), due to open at the Reykjavik City Theatre early 2016, has been performed in over 40 countries and seen by audiences estimated to have reached nearly 60 million and now occupies fourth place in the top ten musicals of all time. In stark contrast, No Dice, performed in Iceland in 2008, despite having been shown in 23 countries and 46 cities around the world and the Nature Theater of Oklahoma (who produced it) having won a large number of awards, remains relatively obscure.
The former, a juke-box musical, is woven around a catalogue of well-known songs while the latter is based on over 100 hours of trivial telephone conversations between people we have never heard of. The former is a descendant of the well-made play and the latter owes a clear debt to Jarry, Kafka and Genet. Using these two plays as extreme opposites, this paper seeks to investigate what non-commercial aspects can be said to divide the popular from the avant-garde.
Daria Kubiak and Kim Skjoldager-Nielsen
“It is all in the making…”
Artistic Popular Theatre
In research the avant-garde may more often be seen as the source of innovation for performing arts than popular genres. Which is peculiar, especially since the avant-garde itself often drew heavily on popular formats. A recent case for the popular as sparking new inspirational work is the Swedish performance Svarta hål – en kvantfysisk vaudeville (Black Holes – a quantum-physics vaudeville) (2014) by Charlotte Engelkes and Peder Bjurman. It is a spectacle that puts fundamental questions about the nature of the cosmos and human everyday life to the acid test of live music, singing, dancing, artistry, comedy and magic. It creates a format that makes the most of playing on all the different levels of theatrical communication: sensory, artistic and symbolic (Sauter 2000; 2008); hence appealing to both those spectators knowledgeable of the scientific subject matter and those who are novices. Its mise-en-scène draws on an array of mainly older popular genres: vaudeville, variety show, burlesque cabaret, and blends them with the much newer one: science theatre. Science theatre is by definition popular as it popularises scientific knowledge (Chemi & Kastberg 2015). It is our claim, however, that the popular of the performance do not become instrumental in the dissemination of natural scientific knowledge. Rather these popular formats explore the advanced knowledge of natural phenomena as metaphor and metonymy in expressing the peculiarities of human existence. This approach in itself might be called “popular science draped in a [theatrical] robe” (Brier 2006), but it aspires to become so much more, as it engages with the demanding skilfulness of the popular formats. It is all in the making…
University College of Opera Stockholm
“Opera in the Vernacular” vs. “Opera in Original Language”
In my thesis, defended the 23rd of Oct. 2015 – Textens transfigurationer (“The Transfigurations of the Text”) – on opera and text (supervisor: Karin Helander), the part that so far has raised most interest is the one about the history, practice, but also politics of opera translation. It resulted, among many other good things, in the first course ever in opera translating at the Stockholm University College of Opera, held during fall and winter 2013/14. There are, as a matter of fact, many questions raised in these chapters of the dissertation that connects with the topic “Theatre and the Popular”.
In the beginning of its existence as an art form, opera was – like Shakespeare, Molière and Goldoni (the latter also a very inventive librettist) – enjoyed both at the courts and in the courtyards. In its “Golden Era” (late 18th to early 20th century) almost all of the works was performed in the language of the audience (“Opera in the Vernacular”), the translation of the texts often forced by the authors.
Then something happened. Starting with the Met in NY in late 19th century grew a tradition of “original language singing” which, with the words of Harai Golomb, represented preferring ‘musical communication with the composer to theatrical communication with the audience’ and seems, like many American concepts, to have wiped out all its competitors.
Today all the major houses have adopted this thinking and – which in interesting – many of the “second houses” that persist in using singing translations often have names addressing the popular (i.e. “Volksoper” in Vienna, “Komische Oper” in Berlin or “Folkoperan” in Stockholm).
The discussion of “singing in original language” is rarely, or almost never, raised when it comes to opera for a young audiences or the genre of musical. One can sense, though, that lurking somewhere in here are judgments about whose meticulous work, forging music and words together into a powerful unit, is worth canonizing and whose is not. Engelbert Humperdinck’s and Stephen Sondheim’s are not, but Verdi’s, Wagner’s, and Puccini’s are!
These are the questions raised. I will probably give you some answers.
Panel 6: Methods: Staging the Contemporary and the Political
University of Latvia
Entertainment to Ideology, to Ritual
The history of performing “Skroderdienas Silmačos” by Rūdolfs Blaumanis
The proposed paper for conference “Theatre and the popular” deals with the question of history of staging one of the most important plays of Latvian popular theatre – “Skroderdienas Silmačos” by Rūdolfs Blaumanis in an attempt to demonstrate how the popular becomes a tool for expressing both artistic and political ideologies of the time, as well as can be actively used in order to create social change.
Blaumanis worked at the turn of the 19th and the 20th century and embodies Latvian psychological theatre writing at its best. He is one of very few Latvian playrights whose plays – dramas and tragedies alike – have been staged all through the 20th century and are still very popular in repertoire theatres. “Skroderdienas Silmačos”, one of his lesser plays, a comedy, is an unchallenged favorite when it comes to the audience. Arguably one could even describe it as the only comedy written by a Latvian author that has ever achieved an unofficial status of national classics, this despite the fact that audiences and scholars alike generally agree that the play in question is in fact “popular”, not “art”. (As in many theatre traditions, Latvians are rather conservative – comedies, musicals, musical theatre etc. are thought to be for entertainment purposes only.)
In fact “Skroderdienas Silmačos” really is not an outstanding play. The musical comedy deals with trivial misunderstandings on a farm that is about to host a wedding of a widowed mistress of the household, and is at best a modernized version of the 19th century semi-professional Latvian folk theatre tradition. What makes it interesting is the persistence with which theatres have returned to staging it over and over again. The history of staging of the play, starting from its premiere in 1902, allows to demonstrate how the popular becomes a medium for expressing the dominant artistic, social and political ideas of the certain age. An entertainment piece at first, “Skroderdienas Silmačos” becomes a playground for modernist director in Eduards Smiļģis’ commedia dell’arte take on the play in 1923, a tribune of communist ideologies in the early 50s, a social tool for creating resistance to Russification in the 70s and vehicle of ideas of national awakening during the 80s of the 20th century, or a part of ritual of the national celebration of Midsummers solstice on a popular level in the 21st century. It can be argued that the vast array of interpretations, as well as, at times, a position that is directly opposite to dominant political ideologies, can be achieved and maintained precisely because of the lesser status of the popular theatre.
How to Explain Popular to a Dead Hare?
In my presentation I will continue the study of productions as position-takings on a theatre field that manage – although Pierre Bourdieu argues that this is not possible – to convert partly and/or temporarily the outer-field success to the inner-field consecration. I have called these position-takings that have at the same time high degree of inner-field specific consecration (evident in awards and critical feedback) and high degree of outer-field success (measured by the number of visitors) Full Games.
Previously, in my dissertation I have analysed the repertoire of one theatre over 25 years and found that Full Games make 2,5% of all the productions. Now I will look at all the productions made in Estonia from 2010 to 2014. The statistical analysis of visitor numbers shows that out of 974 productions that have premiered during that time only 48 productions could be considered popular, that is with a very high degree of outer-field success, using the chosen method (these are productions visited 2,5 times more often than the average number of visitors per production in one calendar year and have the attendance rate of 95% and higher). Rather surprisingly these are not all comedies and musical (both 21% of productions) and in fact dramas make 33% of these productions. If we look for productions, which besides success also have a high degree of inner-field specific consecration (those nominated for annual awards) among the 48, we get twenty productions, half of them dramas. So Full Games make 2% of all productions.
In my presentation I will analyse these Full Games to find possible strategies of being popular without loosing specific consecration. I will mainly look at the aesthetic of these productions but also the structural and marketing aspects. Two theatres that are most interesting are Theatre NO99 with five Full Games and Tallinn City Theatre with four.
University of Sussex
Popular Forms and the New Sensibility
The Mingling of High and Low Culture in Postmodern Performance
Writing in 1965, Susan Sontag identified what she considered to be the ‘new sensibility’ of modern culture. Rooted in the experiences of contemporary life brought on by new technologies, the accelerated production of commodities, and the speed of everything from travel to image production, she recognized that this sensibility was increasingly rendering the ‘Matthew Arnold idea of culture’ obsolete and weakening the very idea of ‘high’ and ‘low’ art categories (p. 302). Since the 1960s this shift in aesthetic and political perspective has become more pronounced; and the acknowledgement of this shift would, from the 1970s, come to form part of what is understood to be post-modern. While it was once unheard of for artists working in elite aesthetic modes to draw upon popular sources, under the more relaxed cultural attitude of postmodernism, this has become more commonplace and now constitutes a core element of many contemporary performances.
In this paper, I will consider the uses and influences of popular forms in two examples of postmodern theatre making: the Australian feminist arts collective Brown Council and the British theatre company Forced Entertainment. My argument considers connections to the popular beyond representation, and takes into account risk to the human body, issues of appropriation and human agency, and the ways these practices often elect to distort the popular forms they draw upon as a mode of capitalist critique. As well as demonstrating the fundamental role the popular now plays in such practices, the paper aims to highlight some of the wider possibilities – social, political and aesthetic – of postmodernism’s embracing of popular culture.
Panel 7: Informative and Documentary Performance
Magnus Thor Thorbergsson
University of Iceland
What Do You Want to See Tonight?
Examining public taste in 16 Lovers’ The Spectacle of the Year
“If you were going to the theatre tonight, what would you like to see?” In March 2012 the Icelandic performance group 16 Lovers staged a show titled The Spectacle of the Year. The performance was based on a public survey conducted by the group in collaboration with the Social Science Research Institute at the University of Iceland in order to examine public taste and preferences in regard to theatre. The people were asked a variety of questions, such as on their favourite actors, their preferred theatrical genre, aesthetic preferences, inclination towards the experimental etc., as well as their occupation, education, age and political opinion. The aim of the group was to investigate the concept of ‘the average’ and the impact of surveys in democratic societies, resulting in a fragmented, multi-perspective performance, producing diverse scenes specifically intended for different social groups.
Although the focus of the group was primarily to make an ironic comment on the idea of public taste and the possibility of surveys to measure artistic preferences, the performance and especially the survey it built on raise interesting questions regarding the notion of the popular. My paper investigates the aspects of public taste and the popular revealed in the survey and the performance, examining the coherences and contradictions evident in the project and its complex interplay of irony and seriousness.
Theatre as Popularized Journalism
Can serious journalism be successfully made by means of popular theatre? What happens, when the medium of pretension and fakery is used for making news, presenting facts and promoting political debates? How is the information framed and received? Can it invoke critical thinking by showing the theatrical means hidden in the official newscasts; or does it rather frame them as harmless entertainment? Can the gathering-together in theatre serve as an arena for public discussions by diverging citizens, or does it rather construct a community of like-minded audiences, enjoying a theatrical representation of their already-existing opinions?
These questions emerged among many others during a practice-based research project on Journalistic Documentary Theatre at Tampere University 2014-15. The initiative question was, how these, apparently very opposite practices of theatre and journalism could be combined, and how could they benefit from each other in the era of digitalized media. The project brought together scholars, professionals and students of theatre and journalism, and it culminated in a series of stage productions and newspaper articles made in tight collaboration with all participants. The theatre productions consisted of a set of longer performances based on investigating journalism and shorter sketches, improvisation and music numbers related to daily news. They were marketed as comical entertainment suitable for Christmas parties, and they were staged in an informal restaurant venue at Tampere Workers Theatre, where the audiences could enjoy drinks and snacks while watching the show. Parts of the live performances were also streamed in real-time to the webpage of the local newspaper Aamulehti, where they could be followed and commented online.
In my proposed paper I will discuss, how information and knowledge was produced and communicated according to journalistic and theatrical practices in the project; and what kinds of theoretical questions there arise. Roughly put, journalistic practice is based on the (unachievable) ideal of objectivity, impartiality and reliability: it tells something important and not-yet-known of the social reality. The artistic approach of theatre-makers can, on the one hand, serve as an alternative mode of knowing and revealing the reality beyond verifiable journalistic facts. On the other hand, a theatre performance often answers to the artists’ and spectators’ desires by staging certain kinds of narratives, imageries and experiences, which often rest on culturally established popular representations – on something already known. I try to analyse the processes of knowledge-formation that were operative in the productions.
Panel 8: Theatrical Traditions: Shifts and Developments
Vytautas Magnus University Kaunas
From Puppet Shows to Out-Door Parades
The Use of Popular Theatre Forms in Contemporary Lithuanian Theatre
During the last decades Lithuanian theatre has undergone particularly dynamic changes in terms of theatre themes, dramatic forms and artistic languages. After the recovery of Lithuania’s independence in 1990, theatre artists started to search for the new ways of artistic expression in order to reflect on the shifted place of theatre in the transforming society and to attract new theatre audiences. While reviewing Lithuanian theatre tradition, theatre artists were not only exploring the most recent experiences of Western theatre, but also were experimenting with historical theatre forms. Thus some historical popular theatre practices (like, pantomime, mime, puppetry or shadow plays) were used by theatre artists as a stimulus to renew theatrical language and to foster new relationship with theatre audience. This way Lithuanian theatre processes resonance famous Peter Brook’s statement that “every attempt to revitalize theatre has gone back to the popular source” (Peter Brook, Empty Space, 1968, 68).
This paper examines the usage of different popular theatre forms in contemporary Lithuanian theatre. On the one hand it discusses the phenomenon of popular theatre and analyses how historical popular theatre forms are revitalized in contemporary theatre in general. On the other hand it examines such Lithuanian theatre practices (like puppet shows by theatre Šėpa or out-door performances by environmental theatre group Miraklis), which appropriate different forms of popular theatre in order to invent new theatrical language capable of direct communicating with contemporary audiences.
University of Iceland
Meeting the Christmas Goat
Analysing Nordic Masking Traditions as Modes of Popular Performance
In this paper, the aim is to follow up on the work reflected in our large book on masking/ guising traditions across the Nordic area (from Norway, Denmark, Sweden, Finland, Estonia, Iceland and the other Nordic islands), Masks and Mumming in the Nordic Area (2007), by examining exactly what was “going on” in house-visiting traditions (such as the julebukk, julegeit, stjernegutter, knutgubber, and more). Among other things, discussion will be made how they might be analysed, drawing on the work of Richard Schechner, Victor Turner, Herbert Halpert, Carsten Bregenhøj, Thomas Pettitt, Manfred Pfister, Peter Brook and more. Among other things, some analysis will be given of how masks “work” as a means of transforming spaces, and the ways in which the widespread (and seemingly deep-rooted) “rough” seasonal traditions of house-visiting and “kitchen” drama in the Nordic area served to unite communities and foster community spirit.