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From the dramatic to the postdramatic

Theatre and Performance: Concepts

Jenny Hughes

on 6 February 2012

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Transcript of From the dramatic to the postdramatic

Rimini Protokoll's Call Cutta in a box (2008)
From dramatic ...
to postdramatic theatre

So, what is meant by the 'dramatic'

Is this drama?
Is it a 'play?
Is it theatre?
It is experimenting with aspects of a 'play', conventionally understood, and theatre ...

Hans Thies-Lehmann's 'aspects of postdramatic theatre' can help us to understand this ....
There is no single 'stage' - the spaces of the performances are multiple, disconnected, 'real' and 'digital', embodied and disembodied, seen and felt, office drawers become hidden stages and office corridors become dance floors ...
The 'time' dimension of the play is the present, it is the present event that is important, the moment of connection between the performers, this is 'shared time', 'real time'
These are not trained, disciplined performers, but 'real' people meeting each other in improvised encounters
The performance plays with new possibilities for encounter presented by a globalised, mediatised world ...
It is postdramatic theatre ! ...
The 'script' is devised by the performers, and in part improvised in the moment of encounter with the 'spectator' ... in some ways, the script does not exist prior to or after the event of performance
Compare this to the comment at the start of Peter Hanke's play, 'Offending the audience' (1966):

'This is no play. We don't step out of the play to address you. We have no need of illusions to disillusion you. We show you nothing. We are playing no destinies. We are playing no dreams ... We don't put anything on for you. We only speak. We play by addressing you. When we say we, we may also mean you ...' (p.8)
Aristotle (384 - 322 BC)
Aristotle's Poetics

Lecture notes - obscure, not polished for publication
Much debated
Influential in western theatre theory
Seen as a set of founding principles to work creatively with and against - e.g. Bertolt Brecht, Augusto Boal, Hans Thies-Lehmann ...

'tragedy is an imitation of an action that is admirable, complete and possesses magnitude; in language made pleasurable, each of its species separated into different parts; performed by actors, not through narration; effecting through pity and fear the purification of such emotions' (10)
... tragedy is an imitation of an action ....

Drama as action, doing, rather than 'narrating'
Imitation ... or mimesis ... drama is a copy of 'real' action, 'real' and 'imitated' action are separate, distinct
'... that is admirable, complete and possesses magnitude ...'

Drama is driven by an ethical imperative (against Plato), and in the Poetics, this higher ethics is mobilised by 'character' ('ethos' - a personification of an ethical attitude). Over the course of a play, the 'ethos' experiences a terrible fate

The action that is imitated is 'whole' - a play is likened to an organism which we can survey in its totality. It is governed by a 'plot' which has a beginning, middle and end. The plot must be plausible and logical. It features recognitions, reversals and errors, but ends with resolution and the return of order
' ... effecting through pity and fear the purification of such emotions ...'

We see recognisable figures - tragic heroes - suffering terrible fates, in part through a flaw in their character that they are not aware of - in part because of the unpredictability of fate. Through our encounter with their suffering we experience 'shudder' but also 'purification', known as 'catharsis'

'Catharsis' = healing, detoxifying, purging, clarifying, learning, educative ...

By means of drama, the world is purged of its unpredictability, and restored to a surveyable, controllable, moral, secure form
Think of Hamlet ....
' ... in language made pleasurable ...'

For Aristotle, seeing action and character that is recognisable on stage is pleasurable, and the learning implicit in this is also pleasurable
Moving on ... the 'postdramatic'
Lehmann says Richard Schechner invented the term 'postdramatic theatre' in a book called 'Performance Theory', originally published in 1988 (Lehmann, 26)
Lehmann takes up the term to refer more broadly to the wide range of experiments that characterise theatre from the 1960s, including experiments in ritual performance, happenings, performance art, devised performance and physical theatre ...
'the term "drama" we can restrict to a historically and generically definable form, which certainly continues to be produced but is by no means synonymous with theatre, as it used to be' (Balme, 125)
Some British theatre artists and companies whose work can be defined as 'postdramatic':

Blast Theory
Brith Goff
Gob Squad
Forced Entertainment
Stan's Cafe
Theatre Complicite

Playwrights like Martin Crimp, Sarah Kane, Harold Pinter, Mark Ravenhill

Some important international examples:

Rimini Protokoll
Societas Raffaello Sanzio
Goat Island
Wooster Group
'Postdramatic performance is exceptionally diverse in its themes, devices, spaces, and use of language' (Balme, 146).
postdramatic theatre 'demands an ability to perceive which breaks away from the dramatic paradigm' (31)
What's in the 'post'?

Not quite 'theatre after drama', but rather exploring new possibilities for understanding and doing drama 'without the representation of a closed-off fictional cosmos, the mimetic staging of a fable' (Jurs-Munby in Lehmann, 3)
What underpins postdramatic theatre?
Theatre becomes 'a real doing in the here and now' (Lehmann, 17),
'As the belief in the possibility of such 'modelability' - strictly separated and separable from everyday reality - disappeared, the reality or 'worldliness' of the theatrical process itself came to the fore. The border between world and model that had promised a sense of security dissolved' (Lehmann, 41)
Is Peter Handke's 'Offending the audience' (1966), which Lehmann identifies as one of the pioneering works of postdramatic theatre (31), dramatic or postdramatic?
Some context for the play ... to facilitate your discussions ...
The play is not a play, but a „Sprechstück“ - a 'speak-in' or 'spectacle without pictures' (Handke 1997)
For Lehmann, the play refers to itself - 'doubles itself' in order to comment on itself as a drama, and as such 'points to the future of theatre without drama' (Lehmann, 56)
Finally - from Handke himself:

'I wanted to show the 'producedness' of theatre ... I wanted to show that the dramaturgy of the old plays did not satisfy me anymore (that, indeed, it bores me, in the sense that conventional events onstage are far removed from me). I couldn't stand the pretence of reality anymore. I felt as if actors were under a glass bell. My point was to use words to encircle the audence so they'd want to free themselves by heckling' (57)
Notice -

the desire for the authentic
the desire for change
the desire for immediacy
the desire for direct action
the desire to break the conventions of theatre
the desire to use language to get beyond the constraints of language, to explore a more sensual, physical experience of the world
And - 'this play's success depends on the director's success in stylisation and rhythm, in getting an almost musical effect from musical phases of speech, from the suggestive influence of rhythmic speech. It was a verbal rock concert' (59)
But ... what's the difference between dramatic and postdramatic theatre?
Peter Handke
b.1942 Austria
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