Political theatre

Political theatre

In the history of theatre, there is long tradition of performances addressing issues of current events and central to society itself, encouraging consciousness and social change. The political satire performed by the comic poets at the theatres, had considerable influence on public opinion in the Athenian democracy. [Henderson, J. (1993) "Comic Hero versus Political Elite" pp.307-19 in cite book |editor=Sommerstein, A.H.; S. Halliwell, J. Henderson, B. Zimmerman |title=Tragedy, Comedy and the Polis |year=1993 |publisher=Levante Editori |location=Bari] Those earlier Western dramas, arising out of the polis, or democratic city-state of Greek society, were performed in amphitheatres, central arenas used for theatrical performances, religious ceremonies and political gatherings; these dramas had a ritualistic and social significance that enhanced the relevance of the political issues being examined. And one must marvel at the open-minded examination of controversial and critical topics that took place right in the political heart of Athenian society, allowing a courageous self-examination of the first democracy trying to develop and refine itself further.

Shakespeare is an author of political theatre according to some academic scholars, who observe that his history plays examine the machinations of personal drives and passions determining political activity and that many of the tragedies such as "King Lear" and "Macbeth" dramatize political leadership and complexity subterfuges of human beings driven by the lust for power; for example, they observe that class struggle in the Roman Republic is central to Coriolanus.Jonathan Dollimore and Alan Sinfield, eds. "Political Shakespeare: Essays in Cultural Materialism" (Manchester, Eng.: Manchester UP, 1985), ISBN 0 7190 4352 2; John Drakakis, ed. "Alternative Shakespeares", New Accents Ser. (New York and London: Routledge, 1985), ISBN 0 415 02528 1.]

The left-wing political theatre is commonly called agitprop theatre or simply agitprop, after the Soviet term agitprop.Fact|date=May 2008

Recent political drama

In later centuries, political theatre has sometimes taken a different form. Sometimes associated with cabaret and folk theatre, it has offered itself as a theatre 'of, by, and for the people'. In this guise, political theatre has developed within the civil societies under oppressive governments as a means of actual underground communication and the spreading of critical thought.Facts|date=September 2007

Often political theatre has been used to promote specific political theories or ideals, for example in the way agitprop theatre has been used to further Marxism and the development of communist sympathies. But Marxist theatre wasn't always this directly agitational. Bertolt Brecht developed a highly elaborate and sophisticated new aesthetics--epic theater--to address the spectator in a more rational way. Brecht's aesthetics have influenced political playwrights throughout the world, especially in India and Africa. Augusto Boal developed the Brechtian form of "Lehrstücke" into his internationally-acclaimed "Theatre of the Oppressed", with its now-widespread techniques of --'forum theatre' and 'invisible theatre'--to further social change. Boal's work in this area has contributed to the emergence of the Theatre for Development movement across the world. In the sixties playwrights like Peter Weiss adopted a more 'documentary' approach towards political theatre, following on from the example of Erwin Piscator in the twenties. Weiss wrote plays closely based on historical documents like the proceedings of the Auschwitz trial in Frankfurt.

Less radical versions of political theatre have become established within the mainstream modern repertory - such as the realist dramas of Arthur Miller ("The Crucible" and "All My Sons"), which probe the behavior of human beings as social and political animals.

A new form of political theatre emerged in the twentieth century with feminist authors like Elfriede Jelinek or Caryl Churchill, who often make use of the non-realistic techniques detailed above.

The Living Theatre, created by Judith Malina and her husband Julian Beck in 1947, which had its heyday in the 1960s, during the Vietnam War, is a primary example of politically-oriented Brechtian performance art in the United States. Their original productions of Kenneth Brown's "The Brig" (c. 1964), also filmed, and of Jack Gelber's controversial play "The Connection" and its 1961 film rely upon and illustrate the dramaturgy of Brechtian alienation effect ("Verfremdungseffekt") that most political theatre uses to some extent, forcing the audience to take a "critical perspective" on events being dramatized or projected on screen(s) and building on aspects of the Theatre of Cruelty, which developed from the theory and practice of French early surrealist and proto-absurdist Antonin Artaud.The Living Theatre is currently still functioning and has produced a new production of "The Brig"; see its website: [http://www.livingtheatre.org/ The Living Theatre] , accessed 18 Sept. 2007.]

In American regional theatre, a politically-oriented social orientation occurs in Street theatre, such as that produced by the San Francisco Mime Troupe and ROiL.

John McGrath, founder of the Scottish popular theatre company , argued that "the theatre can never 'cause' a social change. It can articulate pressure towards one, help people celebrate their strengths and maybe build their self-confidence… Above all, it can be the way people find their voice, their solidarity and their collective determination".John McGrath, "A Good Night Out, Popular Theatre: Audience, Class, Form" (London: Nick Hern Books, 1991), ISBN 1 85459 370 6; "The Bone Won't Break: On Theatre and Hope in Hard Times" (London: Methuen, 1990), ISBN 0 413 63260 1.]

In another context, that of real-life politics, or what some refer to, more pejoratively, as "Realpolitik", in recent speeches U.S. President George W. Bush has denounced some political action taken by Democrats opposed to his agenda as "political theatre".

The Iraq War is the focus of some recent British political drama; for example, "Stuff Happens", by David Hare. David Edgar and Mark Ravenhillalso satirize contemporary socio-political realities in their recent dramatic works.

Banner Theatre in Birmingham, England, in the United Kingdom, is an example of a specific kind of political theatre called Documentary theatre.

ee also

*Caryl Churchill
*Howard Brenton
*Dario Fo
*Jean Genet
*Harold Pinter
*Erwin Piscator
*Political cinema
*Social criticism
*Teatro Campesino



*Bottaro, J. "El Teatro Politico de Protesta Social en Venezuela, 1969-1979". New York: The Edwin Mellen Press, 2008.
*Broyles-Conzalez, Yolanda. "El Teatro Campesino: Theater in the Chicano Movement". Austin: U of Texas P, 1994.
*Fischer-Lichte. "Theatre, Sacrifice, Ritual: Exploring Forms of Political Theatre". London: Routledge, 2005.
*Filewod, Alan, and David Watt. "Workers' Playtime: Theatre and the Labour Movement Since 1970". Currency Press, 2001.
*Godiwala, Dimple. "Breaking the Bounds : British Feminist Dramatists Writing in the Mainstream Since c. 1980". New York: Peter Lang, 2003.
*Meier, Christian. "The Political Art of Greek Tragedy". Cambridge: Polity Press, 1993.
*Patterson, Michael. "Strategies of Political Theatre". Cambridge and New York: Cambridge UP, 2003.
*Piscator, Erwin. "The Political Theatre: A History 1914-1929". New York: Avon, 1978.

Wikimedia Foundation. 2010.

Look at other dictionaries:

  • theatre — /thee euh teuhr, theeeu /, n. theater. * * * I Building or space in which performances are given before an audience. It contains an auditorium and stage. In ancient Greece, where Western theatre began (5th century BC), theatres were constructed… …   Universalium

  • Theatre — For other uses, see Theatre (disambiguation). Sarah Bernhardt as Hamlet, in 1899 Theatre (or in American English theater[1]) is a collaborative form of fine art that uses live performers to present the experience …   Wikipedia

  • theatre — (BrE) (AmE theater) noun 1 where you go to see plays, etc. ⇨ See also ↑cinema ADJECTIVE ▪ large ▪ little, small ▪ 500 seat, etc …   Collocations dictionary

  • Theatre in India — India was invaded a number of times. This played a major role in shaping of Indian culture and heritage. The Medieval India experienced a grand fusion with the invaders from the middle east.India, as a colony of the British Empire, used theatre… …   Wikipedia

  • Theatre of the Oppressed — The Theatre of the Oppressed is a method elaborated by the Brazilian director Augusto Boal, who was influenced by the work of Paulo Freire, starting from the 60s, first in Brazil and then in Europe. This method uses theatre as means of knowledge… …   Wikipedia

  • Political cult — is a term used to describe some groups on what is generally considered to be the political fringe. Although the majority of groups to which the term cult (currently often used as a pejorative term according to some comparative religion scholars… …   Wikipedia

  • theatre, Western — ▪ art Introduction       history of the Western theatre from its origins in pre Classical antiquity to the present.       For a discussion of drama as a literary form, see dramatic literature and the articles on individual national literatures.… …   Universalium

  • theatre —    In the 1950s and 1960s a new wave of angry young playwrights (such as Osborne, Wesker and Delaney) re established theatre as a vibrant arena of sociopolitical debate with plays emphasizing a social naturalism focused on working class culture.… …   Encyclopedia of contemporary British culture

  • Political abuse of psychiatry in the Soviet Union — Soviet Union …   Wikipedia

  • theatre music — ▪ musical genre Introduction       any music designed to form part of a dramatic performance, as, for example, a ballet, stage play, motion picture, or television program. Included are the European operetta and its American form, the musical… …   Universalium

Share the article and excerpts

Direct link
Do a right-click on the link above
and select “Copy Link”

We are using cookies for the best presentation of our site. Continuing to use this site, you agree with this.