Assessing the political nature and impact of theatre is a complex business, in part because the nature of the theatrical event is difficult to limit and measure and because it is so ephemeral. Theatre, unlike a literary text, happens in a particular time and space, after which it becomes something else entirely, something potentially still potent, but generically different. Its meanings are shaped as much by light and music and the appearance of the actors as they are by the details of the dramatic script which is performed. As a result, theatre is an essentially experiential art form, and the meanings it generates—including its political meanings—tend to be limited to those who make up its audience. After it closes, the production may live on in memory, in reviews, in archive photographs or video, but it loses its kinetic immediacy, its presentness. It becomes disconnected from that which defined it: a crucially interactive dependence on the live audience and a broader interactivity which locates both performers and audience in a particular cultural moment. Spoken lines which—for that original audience—clearly echoed the phrasing of a prominent political figure will lose those associations as the culture evolves, and if the political echo was not so much in the actual lines as in an actor’s style of delivery, say, what once seemed pointed may leave no textual traces by which the future might map the moment. Tracking the politics of the theatre is always about identifying the nature of an event and decoding the way all those involved in it (actors, crew, audience members, bystanders, etc.) respond to it. Unsurprisingly then, all assessments of political theatre must be provisional, plural, and contextual, so any consideration of what political theatre is must be rooted historically.
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- The Politics of the Stage
Andrew James Hartley
- Macmillan Education UK
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