This book examines how new performance practices from the 1990s to the present day have been driven by questions of the real and the ensuing political implications of the concept's rapidly disintegrating authority. The first part of the book addresses the existing poststructuralist narrative of radicalism that currently dominates contemporary performance theory, and seeks to deconstruct its conclusions. It first traces the artistic and philosophical developments that laid the ground for the sustained twentieth-century interrogations of theatrical representations of the real. It examines the emergence of the discursive act which aligned the narrative of radicalism exclusively with such interrogations. The book also examines how key strands of Derrida's poststructuralist critique have been applied to performance practice to strengthen the ideological binary opposition between 'dramatic' representations of the real and 'postdramatic' deconstructions of representational practice. The second part of the book embarks on an ideological examination of a wide spectrum of performance models that share an engagement with the problematics of representation and the real. It directs this investigation specifically towards an analysis of the representations of 'real' people in performances which adopt verbatim methodologies drawn from the documentary theatre tradition. The book continues to explore performance environments that break down the dichotomy of performer/spectator and seeks to replace mediated representations with experiential realities.
This introduction presents an overview of the key concepts discussed in the subsequent chapters of this book. The book draws on a wide range of theoretical influences in relation to particular trends in performance practice in the 1990s and 2000s, a re-examination of the discourse of Derridean poststructuralism. It traces the artistic and philosophical developments that laid the ground for the sustained twentieth-century interrogations of theatrical representations of the real, and examines the emergence of the discursive act which aligned the narrative of radicalism exclusively with such interrogations. The book analyses the representational strategies of characterisation employed in various performance models, including work by Forced Entertainment, the Wooster Group, Katie Mitchell, Roland Schimmelpfennig and Howard Barker. It explores performance environments that break down the dichotomy of performer/spectator and seeks to replace mediated representations with experiential realities.
Representation and the real in the twentieth-century avant-gardes
This chapter argues that the new performance practices are predominantly categorised by artists and scholars as drawing implicitly, or explicitly, on the avant-gardes of the twentieth century concerning their experimentation with form and their desire to position themselves as radical practice. Historical overview of the avant-gardes focuses on their common and recurring tendency to develop a narrative of radical opposition through challenges to received notions of the real as reflected in the representational strategies of dramatic theatre. There was a shift in strategy from the transgressive politics of the avant-garde to the resistance adopted by the successive performance practices of the postmodern era. This shift did nothing to dislodge the binary opposition that has been sustained between, dramatic theatre and performance that sets out to deconstruct representational practice.
Questions of mimesis, authorship and representation
This chapter investigates whether postdramatic theatre can claim any real philosophical distinction from the dramatic model which shares the overall theatrical framework, regardless of their differences in aesthetic form. The exclusive alignment of text-driven performance with the dramatic model has undergone significant developments since it was first proposed by Hans-Thies Lehmann in 1999. The chapter examines three of the most common poststructuralist charges levelled at the dramatic model. Firstly, it upholds the origin myth through its mimetic repetition of reality; secondly, it upholds the origin myth through its dependence on a theological playwright; and finally, it offers an illusion of original presence concealing its reliance on repetition and representation. The question of radical poststructuralist potential in relation to the charge of theocratic authorship needs to be differently understood.
Citational theory and contemporary characterisation
This chapter examines how different models of performance have begun to shift conceptions of our understanding of a real or authentic identity. It addresses the concept and practice of adaptation through the lens of Jacques Derrida's citational theory. The chapter also examines how citational aesthetics can be employed to support Hal Foster's account of a resistant politics. It argues that the contemporary understanding of poststructuralist identity is reflected in a number of related shifts in the characterisation of the performer regardless of whether or not the performer is playing 'self ' or an explicitly fictional character. The quotation marks which the Wooster Group place around character are widened out in the work of Katie Mitchell's adaptations to incorporate discrete scenes of dramatic action in which psychologically rounded portrayals of character and detailed observations of scenic location are played out.
Emerging out of the prevailing climate of scepticism in the final decade of the twentieth century was the revitalisation of documentary forms of theatre in the first decade of the twenty-first. This chapter focuses on the much more widespread use of verbatim strategies to address issues of political and topical concern. It examines a range of different approaches to the representations of testifiers in verbatim performance. Verbatim practice shares some common ground with a postdramatic theatre practice in its rejection of the illusory, fictional dramatic world representations. The reduction of one person's reality to a dramatic representation is particularly problematic when the testimony itself is fused with additional material, thus further blurring the line between the fictional and the real.
Experiential challenges to the medium of theatrical representation
This chapter explores an alternative mode of poststructuralist resistance which seeks to reconfigure contemporary notions of reality, rather than merely highlighting the simulated nature of all representations of the real. It examines specific performance models that attempt to circumvent the mediation process inherent in the representational practice, in their rejection of a theatrical framework that 'stages meaning' and thus mediates between its material and its watching audience. The chapter argues that Jean Baudrillard's later writings, contrary to popular opinion, do offer us a distinction between two different orders of the real; the real as mediated representation as distinct from the real as directly experienced. It analyses the ideological implications of performance models that would seek to evade the limitations of theatrical representation by offering their participants a more direct and experiential access to a reconfigured reality.
Reconfigurations of twenty-first-century audiences
This chapter examines the different ways in which certain recurring models are seeking to enable the spectator to co-author the event to offer an experiential real in place of the representations formerly contained in the conventional theatrical framework. The spectator becomes an active participant in the performance text by co-authoring the event. In Theatre Audiences, Susan Bennett traces the history of the modern audience, defining the wide-ranging developments that occurred between the seventeenth and the mid-nineteenth centuries as 'a steady progression' towards the separation of fictional stage world and audience. Nicolas Bourriaud's discourse on relational aesthetics is one of the most influential theoretical studies of audience participation in the arts at the turn of the twenty-first century. The chapter argues that the importance of co-authorship might still be read through which participants are expected to model and restructure new and politically resistant subjectivities in the face of global capitalism.
This conclusion presents some closing thoughts on concepts discussed in this book. The book focuses on the potentially totalising narrative of radicalism that has long been applied to performance practices that seek to challenge the dramatic model of theatre. The poststructuralist imperative demands a radical practice that is not based on the reification of its own conclusions, but on a self-reflexivity that can serve to always and already destabilise its own manifestations of authority, wherever these might lie. The forms and methods of resistance need to be constantly in transition, in performance as in all other aspects of cultural and political life, to maintain their potential to counteract the influence of the spectacle of global capital. For those who have previously dismissed either the notion of radical poststructuralism or the notion of radical dramatic practice, the book suggests where the possibilities of both might lie.