What Is Theatre?: A Question for a Democracy of Senses

A notable number of internationally significant works in the 2000s seriously unsettled and questioned the fundamental conditions of theatrical representation, renewing what once fueled the ardor of modernism: self-reflexivity. Most compellingly pronounced in work of Jérŏme Bel, William Forsythe, and Rimini Protokoll, among many others, a set of questions concerning the on-stage presence of the body and the spectator’s perception of choreographed or dramatized presentations proposed different means of conceiving theatrical communication. After all, as Hans-Thies Lehmann has suggested, the modernist interrogation that had invigorated visual arts in the 1950s and onward had until the 1990s hardly been explored on stage with full efficacy and vitality. More than reinventions of style or form, these influential works reworked the very apparatuses of audience, spectatorship, and the senses, all involving the architecture of the auditorium. Far from the reductive concentration on a single material, which characterized the practices in fine arts at the height of high modernism, the on-stage examination of the “medium” of theatre now involved multiple layers and aspects of theatrical practices, material or immaterial, architectural or sensory, immediate or discursive. Unlike painting or sculpture, theatre is not a “medium” of which the defining elements are reduced to a singular material; the question of theatre is bound to involve not only the formal elements like scripts, actors, or mise-en-scène, but also the material and immaterial conditions that constitute the theatrical experience, namely the varying components of the theatrical space. To say the least, reinventing the apparatus of looking entails the reformation of senses. As the etymology of “theatre” infers, going back to the Greek word “théâ” (to see, to watch), thinking and “seeing” are indeed interrelated. Theatre is a total practice of structuring, restructuring, and reconsidering the contexts in which we construct our perspectives upon the world. It is in … Continue reading What Is Theatre?: A Question for a Democracy of Senses



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