CfP "Theatres and politics today" Special issue
30 March, 2021
by Laura Peja
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Comunicazioni Sociali - Journal of Media, Performing Arts and Cultural Studies
"Theatres and politics today. Lights and shadows of a long relationship"
Theatre, in its multiple forms of production – which is why we will use, hereafter, the word “theatres” in the plural, has always been an expression of the relationship between civic society, political power, and the way in which people express themselves through individual and collective performances. Thus, from the very beginning, theatres have been considered an art available to the community with the three possible functions of acceptance of the status quo, protest against existing regimes, and entertainment. At some turns in history, theatrical performances have even taken on explicit political stances of protest and criticism, or propaganda and consensus-building, reaching sometimes forms of outright militancy by affiliation to parties or forms of government (Ponte di Pino 1996, Dalla Palma 2001, Kershaw 2002, Ferrarotti 2007, Rancière 2008, Casi and Di Gioia 2012, Mango 2012, Badiou 2015, Bernardi 2015, Eckersall and Grehan 2019, De Marinis 2020, Hamidi-Kim 2014 and 2020, Wallon 2021). Moreover, if we assume, as we propose, a broad and performative notion of theatre practices (Schechner 2018), that includes games, feasts, celebrations, street demonstrations, happenings, performances in public spaces and events, then the connections between performing arts and practices (on one side) and politics (on the other) become all the more numerous. In this perspective, theatres are an intermediate process of interaction between representative and delegated power systems and their delegating subjects. A veritable media that has helped both parts of the power relationship, in spite of the complexities encountered, to shape the dynamics of collective well-being.
In modern times, the correlation between theatres and political power has become increasingly problematic, to the point that today we feel compelled to question it. Are the theatres – art of bodies in relation to each other, intangible asset consumed in the instant of its occurrence and involving small, often elitist or fragile parts of the population, on a local basis, in stark contrast with the prevailing tide of social media – are these theatres, then, still capable of catalysing the interests and actions of public, local, national and international institutions, as well as of the various centres of private initiative, entrepreneurship or civil participation? How can they not only have their operating costs met, but first and foremost fulfil their function in the collective interest?
Contemporary theatrical experiences are part and process of an extremely complex political context, with respect to which it is urgent to understand and, perhaps, completely redefine their value as a common and relational good. Indeed, despite the fact that we can, or want to, continue reasoning within a straightforward scheme of more or less explicit and recognisable democratic representations, what we are experiencing is rather a progressive dilution of the community experience, linked to the transformation of the dynamics connecting the individual to the State and to the pluralisation of the centres and processes of political power. One should think of the forms of biopolitics (Foucault 2004) and of the necessary correlation between sovereign power and the exercise of bio-power (Agamben 1995). Also, of the extreme consequences that emerge in therapeutic governance, where governmental actions are reduced to risk management and, as a result, political action becomes the bureaucratic and operational administration of the same (Pupavac 2001, 2005).
One is reminded as well of the dynamics of psychopolitics, the expression of a power that is based on information obtained through the analysis of big-data and that anticipates the actions of subjects and seduces them with communication, inducing them to become a panopticon of themselves, self-controllers and primary contributors to power itself (Han 2016). Thus, the various systems of government are revealed as ambiguous and ambivalent and as moving within a field of multiple and conflicting political forces, with rapid and dynamic interactions in which the idea of a linear relationship between citizens and bodies of political power is dismissed completely. From this perspective, we can observe the increasing accreditation of so-called intermediate social and cultural bodies, often neglected by the dynamics of the modern nation-state, whose sovereignty is founded exclusively on the relationship between state and individual.
These “bodies, [which are] intermediate between the individual and the state, and question the paradigm of sovereignty on the theoretical level of politics while putting it under pressure on the practical-operational level of politics” (Marramao 2013), appear increasingly relevant in the definition of current political issues. If we then look at the scope of the political dynamics, more complexities appear. The micro, meso and macro levels of political experience show profound contradictions among them (Deleuze and Guattari 2010), and if we turn to global issues, the crisis in which the concepts of citizenship, national identity and, once again, political representation find themselves becomes apparent. Whether it is the mobility turn, i.e. the mobility of people, as well as of objects, thoughts, images, cultural artefacts and much more, that characterises contemporary life and has vast implications on social and political systems (Cresswell 2010, Augé 2010), or the environmental issue, or the current COVID-19 health emergency, each of these global issues has revealed, like a litmus test, the contradictions of the political systems exercised by so many different power groups and of their policies.
In this context, do contemporary theatrical experiences manage to be political?
This is what this volume intends to explore, investigating forms, functions, conditions and ways in which the relationship between theatres and politics has developed over the last few decades at national and international level; questioning the diagnostic, participatory, controlling, identity-forming, social-cushioning, transformative, activist and other functions that the various arts and performance practices are putting into play; investigating subjects, relations, strategies, words and discourse, practices, effects and impacts. The use of the term theatres in the plural underlines the adoption of a methodological perspective that integrates the different manifestations of contemporary theatrical performance, including its representative, social and popular aspects.
The essays submitted should investigate projects that through performing arts and festive practices have put into action processes of political participation, analysing and documenting their developments, articulations, innovations, social and cultural impact and generative potential. Priority will be given to papers dedicated to case studies that present innovative practices, models and processes, investigating the reasons for their weakness or partial effectiveness and their impact on the powers’ discourses. It is furthermore hoped that the performing arts cases considered will include theatrical practices across the entire spectrum of forms and languages, from spoken word to dance, to festive practices in the broadest sense. With this general objective of investigation in mind, the volume intends to focus in particular on a few questions:
Does professional, social, popular, performative and plural theatricality represent a constitutive political dynamic of contemporary society? With which forms, operational practices, results and methods? What impact does it have on the well-being of communities and on the reduction of inequalities? How does it promote processes of participation in the maintenance, upkeep and increase of the common good, which stimulate the theatrical and social actorality and authorship of marginal components? And in this sense, which are the political limits of theatrical experiences with respect to processes of institutionalisation of social marginalities? How can they affect public narratives and discourse?
In a comprehensive approach, the relations between theatre and politics integrate both experiences considered private and intimate, and those deriving from public policies, in a complex exercise of power relations. The body of the individual subject and the collective body are seen as spheres of expression of the interaction between theatre and politics.
- Digital life
Social media are one of the most frequented relational environments in the world. Their impact on the various forms of contemporary theatre is remarkable from all points of view. In terms of the relationship between theatres and politics, of great importance are both the potential and the radical changes that the presence in digital marketplaces seems to induce in theatrical and political structures, in some cases bringing new vitality to the interaction between theatre and society.
- Performance as/is politics, politics as/is performance
What are the interactions between performance and politics in the two opposite but complementary senses of performance politics and politics of performance?
- Public theatres
Public theatres are closely linked to centres of power, both the ones that are institutionally recognised, public and private, and the informal ones. With what characteristics, limitations and resources, innovations and experiments, conflicts and discoveries do theatres perform their service as public theatres?
Is contemporary theatre political “because it displays the marks of domination, or parodies mainstream icons, or even because it leaves the spaces reserved for it and becomes a social practice, [a practice that restores social bonds and] incites us to oppose the system of domination by denouncing its own participation in that system” (Rancière 2010
)? Artistic activism establishes relations of resistance and subversion (Raposo 2015) in order to find forms of reflection in public spaces, cultural institutions and in the artists’ own bodies. What are the forms, practices, models of action, political and social motivations of contemporary theatrical and performance activism? Which are the contaminations, innovations and differences with respect to other forms of activism?
- Power’s discourses
The desire to escape the representational scheme of meaning production, which is dominant in our socio-cultural environment as a mechanism of control and power (Belloni 2018), encourages processes of theatrical creation and performance that embark on paths of formal and productive innovation.
- Community identities
Theatrical and performance experiences can act as processes of local regeneration, producing resources but also encountering limits. They can operate according to the logic and processes of direct and active participation of the inhabitants and of strengthening community ties, rather than following projects decided solely by public administrations or by sponsors, avoiding the risk of hypostatising local identities or suffocating them in favour of artificial substitutes.
- New welfare
Social theatre experiences promote new and informal welfare strategies at local level which, in addition to responding to the individual life needs, are laboratories of social participation in the well-being of the community. Critical issues seem to lie in the difficulty for social theatre experiences to be integrated with institutional local welfare systems and to be recognised and valued as a resource.
Theatres are political in reference to a context, to a society living in a well-defined space and time, to specific groups of people and complex social and cultural identities. They are part of a certain environment in relation to which they take on a political value. It is a dynamic and changing field, in which the unique positions of the subjects are organised and where local and global forces, often conflicting, are at play.
Topics may include, but are not limited to, the following:
- Theatre/performance and power.
- Theatre/performance and cultural policies.
- Theatre/performance and the economies of culture: its institutionalisation or de-institutionalisation, privatisation and commodification.
- Performance between ethics, politics and activism.
- Narrative and counter-narrative.
- Contemporary forms and actions of political theatre.
- Theatre and community development.
- Theatre between representation of society and social actions.
- Artistic and theatrical challenges in times of control, emergency and resistance.
Please send an abstract and a short biographical note to email@example.com, firstname.lastname@example.org, email@example.com
by April 10, 2021 — [subject: CS#3.21—proposal + name surname author(s)].
Abstracts should be from 300 to 400 words of length (English). Authors will be notified of proposal acceptance by April 17, 2021.
If the proposal is accepted, the author(s) will be asked to submit the full article by June 15, 2021.
The articles must not exceed 4,000/5,000-words.
Contributions will be submitted to double blind peer review.
The issue number 3.21 of Comunicazioni Sociali will be published in December 2021.