The Critic is Present Or: Towards an Embodied Criticism

19 June, 2015

The 15th International Symposium of Theatre Critics and Theatre Scholars

The Critic is Present

Or: Towards an Embodied Criticism

Organisers: Sterijino Pozorje, Novi Sad

International Association of Theatre Critics (IATC)


Bitef, Belgrade

Novi Sad and Belgrade, Serbia, September 16th -20th, 2015

The traditional International Symposium of Theatre Critics and Theatre Scholars will be held on September 17th and 18th 2015 in Novi Sad (Serbia), organized by Sterijino Pozorje, the Festival of National Drama and Theatre, in collaboration with the International Association of Theatre Critics (IATC/AICT) and Bitef (Belgrade)



Ass. Prof. Dr Ivan Medenica, University of Arts, Belgrade (Serbia), Director of Conferences of the IATC

    Keynote speaker:

Prof. Dr Christopher Balme, Ludwig Maximilians University, Munich (Germany), President of the International Federation for Theatre Research (IFTR/FIRT)  


            Does the critic have a body? Is he/she present? Is his activity an embodied (performing) practice? Is he/she just a voice coming from above and spreading “the truth”?                                                                     

In some contemporary streams of theatre and performance studies – in the works of Erika Fischer-Lichte, among others – a performance is not seen as a piece made on/for the stage. This would rather be – staging (in German: inszenierung; in French: mise en scène). The notion of “performance” refers to the very “eventness” of theatre situation: to the idea that performance emerges not on the stage but “in between” stage and auditorium, as a result of the constant bodily, energetic, emotional, intellectual and spiritual exchange between spectators and actors/performers. There is no material “piece of art”, there is only an event – transient, fluid, changeable and susceptible to all physical and other sensations. It vanishes as soon as the performance is over, leaving only material traces of its already past existence. Seen in this theoretical perspective, a spectator is not a recipient of the performance any more, but its co-author.

            What about the critic? Is his/her position changed in this perspective as well? It seems that it is. If a critic is supposed, like any other spectator, to experience a unique event rather than to understand (read, interpret…) an elaborated net of scenic signs, then this position influences the main task of theatre criticism. Is his task an interpretation and evaluation of a theatre piece, or rather a description and testimony of the experience in a particular event?

From the perspective of Erika Fishcer-Lichte, this kind of criticism is much more important for theatre and performance research and for historiography of theatre than the “classical one”. If performance is a shared experience, an event which emerges in the “now and here”, then the thoughtful, analytical insight into performance that could be used for further research is the one which describes and analyses this experience from a subjective position. But if this is true for theatre research, is it also true for the spectators’ expectations? Do they also need a competent and informed partner in experiencing theatre rather than an interpreter and judge of a particular theatre piece?                                                                          

            The experience of bodily co-presence is not only a material for further description, elaboration and analysis in criticism: it could be the very means or media of criticism. In other words, we can expend the notion of the critic’s bodily co-presence to the critical practice itself: to the practice which is not new at all – Georges Banu and Jovan Hristić have discussed it at this very Symposium a few decades ago – but is still rare and “alternative”: oral criticism. Although the first impression is that oral criticism is a random, improvised and spontaneous practice, it can be shaped as well: shaped in a form of public discussion just after the performance, with critics coming (and sitting) on the stage, spectators still in the auditorium, and artists joining critics on the stage or spectators in the auditorium.

            That is how criticism literally becomes an embodied performing practice. Is this an advantage or disadvantage in comparison to the classical critical practice? One doesn’t have time to rethink and correct his/her analysis like in the process of writing; the direct emotional reaction is obviously more visible, and the analysis and evaluation doesn’t imply a position of security, objectivity and authority. Anybody could immediately interrupt him/her or reply to his/her arguments. Does this make the critic more vulnerable? Does this, on the contrary, provide him/her with a possibility to exert a much stronger influence and impact on his/her listeners? It is enough to stress the bodily, expressive strategies that can be used to make the oral presentation of one’s thoughts more efficient… Could this become a sustainable alternative way of practicing theatre criticism in situations/societies where criticism is suppressed by the media’s market laws or other different kinds of censorship?       

We hope that the Symposium will provide answers to some of these questions.    


We are kindly inviting interested colleagues to send a resume of their work (up to 500 words) in English, French or Serbian to the following addresses: and until the 20th June, 2015 (acceptable until 10th July latest). Once your proposals are accepted, we would appreciate if the complete texts (up to 5000 words) in English, French or Serbian were sent until the 20th August, 2015. The papers will not be read during the Symposium, they will be available to the participants in advance on the website of Sterijino Pozorje ( instead, as well in the Symposium material. Authors are expected only to present the main theses and conclusions of their papers in 15 minutes, so there is enough time left for a discussion. Participants will have at their disposal technical equipment and support of Power Point and DVD presentations.The Symposium will be held in English, French and Serbian, with simultaneous translation.

            Sterijino pozorje and Bitef will take care of the expenses for food and accommodation in Novi Sad (on 16th and 17th September) and Belgrade (18th and 19th September during the International Festival Bitef and theatre tickets, as well as the transportation between Belgrade and Novi Sad and vice versa. Participants from Europe will be provided with accommodation for up to four nights (arrival in Novi Sad on 16th September), and participants from outside Europe for up to five nights (arrival in Novi Sad on 15th September).

Dr Ivan Medenica,

Symposium Chairman

Dušana Todorović,

Symposium Secretary

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