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Theatre post Covid-19

Theatre post Covid-19 
鏂板啝鐥呮瘨瀵瑰墽闄㈢殑褰卞搷

By Elisabeth Madden

tp 202007 art 04I last went to the theatre 10 days before the lockdown in the United Kingdom started, to see an adaptation of Kafka鈥檚 The Metamorphosis. Bombarded by the constant news about the pandemic, one could feel the tensions and uncertainty rising, but nobody knew how it would escalate and manifest in the physical world.

 

When we gathered in the theatre on the evening of the 13th of March, we were blissfully unaware of the fact that Gregor Samsa鈥檚 loss of identity, social isolation, and alienation would become a reality for all of us, starting from the 23rd of March. Since then, I have been wondering whether a global pandemic and forced isolation will pave the way for change or whether the arts will return to being a product to be capitalised on?

 

An alien in our presence 鈥 Nico Guerzoni as the transformed Gregor in Metamorphosis

tp 202007 art 02Art has moved from the sphere of risk, experimentation, and discovery to the sphere of commercialisation. Speaking from a highly optimistic point of view, the current situation could finally shatter the ossified idea of institutional theatre. The performing arts have experienced budget cuts before, and it became obvious that culture has less and less importance in our society. Even now, cultural activity is labelled as non-essential work. Almost every sector of human activity has a plan for a return to 鈥渘ormalcy鈥, apart from the arts; the arts are irrelevant, even though they are getting a lot of us through this pandemic. Nevertheless, we still endeavour to find our place in that system, which goes to show that it doesn鈥檛 all depend on the state鈥撯搘e as observers and occasional participants can also play a part.

 

The pandemic erased all forms of public gathering and crowding, turning them, and consequently all forms of live performance, into a symbol of potential infection. A live performance is, however, unimaginable without social contact. There is a danger in perceiving the digital space as the only possible performance space because, firstly, it is only a temporary substitute for live performance and, secondly, someone will eventually try to exploit the digital space for their own economic benefit. Thinking about what new forms of theatre might emerge, I remember a paragraph I read a while ago from Bertolt Brecht鈥檚 The Messingkauf Dialogues, an unfinished theoretical work he wrote during World War II:

 

There鈥檚 really no longer anything surprising in the fact that art was almost ruined at first by applying it to a new business鈥撯搕hat of destroying men鈥檚 preconceptions about their life together in society. Nowadays we can see that this happened because art tackled that new business without abandoning one of its preconceptions about itself. Its entire apparatus was designed for the business of making men accept their fate. The apparatus was ruined when part of man鈥檚 fate in its productions was suddenly taken by man himself. In short, it wanted to promote the new business while remaining the old art. Accordingly it did everything in a hesitant, half-hearted, selfish, conscience-ridden way; but nothing suits art worse than this. It was only by sacrificing itself that it became itself again.

tp 202007 art 03I think it鈥檚 important to look back and interrogate what was not working and what had to be changed in the theatre even before the pandemic. Once we emerge from the lockdown and the ensuing crisis, I hope that theatre will have considered shedding the many layers of showbusiness and spectacle it has accumulated over the years and go back to its raw, rough, unadulterated form. A form that will allow us to delineate a symbolic territory where healing and rebuilding after a global pandemic will be a possibility, where we will be able to re-establish the connection with our community, where we won鈥檛 need to occupy prebuilt spaces but find and create our own spaces, where we won鈥檛 know what the experience will be like, where we will need to leave all our preconceptions behind. I hope we embrace the outdoors as a new performance space, exploring the potential for immersive and interactive experiences, experiences that will fill us with wonder over and over again and force us to reflect and question that which is being shared with us. Finally, I hope it will be an open space that will foster participation and abolish hierarchies, and where freedom, dialogue, inclusivity, solidarity, and empathy will be the ruling ideas.

 

Of course, there is also the other side of the coin. Thinking back to The Metamorphosis, Gregor鈥檚 family showed no interest or impetus to understand what caused his transformation, or attempt to find a method of reversing it. Instead, they simply adapted to the impossible. I hope this will not be the case, but I am also aware that our creativity is currently focused on survival. Right now, it is impossible to imagine the future, but I know that theatre does not and should not respond immediately, because it is paradoxical to be creative when life is reduced to survival, disinfection, and figuring out how to satisfy our basic needs and pay the bills. However, that does not mean that we should not persevere. The present moment offers a master reset for us all that can, hopefully, lead to rethinking of the power structures that surround art and culture as a whole. Events we are currently witnessing around the world would benefit from the power of the performing arts, amplifying messages of hope and solidarity.

 

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