Monday, April 9, 2012

Social Works

“What if performance challenges strict divisions about where the art ends and the rest of the world begins?” (15)
I always feel like something of a heel using a quote from so early in the book, but I felt like this idea merited some discussion.  According to the manifesto I’m writing for Blair’s class, art is inherently liminal, in that it is always negotiating that space between real and representational.  And, on the scale of liminality, theatre is the one that spends the most space in this in-between.  And, in the terms of this book, when theatre begins to interact not only with a real audience, but with the really real social world outside the theatre doors, this line becomes ever more delicate, ever more blurry.  Brecht wanted his theatre to remain distinctly unreal so that it could inspire real action in its audience.  Augusto Boal took his theatre to society, rather than expecting society to come to his theatre.  The Tectonic Theatre Project’s use of documentary techniques in building their theatre has real people’s words coming out of the mouths of actors, hoping to challenge the audience’s perceptions of real events and issues.  Paul Chan felt the pull of New Orleans from the comfort of his New York apartment and felt that the only way he could answer that pull was to put a 60-year-old piece of European art into direct conversation with the all too real landscape of devastation in the ninth ward.  What is the responsibility art takes on when it edges its way closer and closer to reality?  And not just any reality, but the sensitive realities that surround social issues.  Art can never be really real, or it simply becomes life instead of art, so where does this kind of “experimental” theatre practice fall on the continuum?  Certainly, as Jackson points out, this is a delicate distinction as well: “Experimental art performances use visual, embodied, collective, durational, and spatial systems, but a critical sense of their innovation will differ depending upon what medium they understand themselves to be disrupting, i.e. which medium is on the other end of whose ‘post.’” (2)  So while navigating theatre that participates in social discourse, we have to take not of its interaction with reality, its interaction with issues, and its interaction with the history of the art form itself in order to be aware of all the levels of codes present in any given performance.  And all of that may well prove to be the easy part.

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