Guerrilla theatre

Guerrilla theatre

Guerrilla Theatre, or Guerrilla Performance, is a style of street theatre popularized in the mid-late 1960s, usually political in nature. Guerrilla (Spanish for “little war”) describes the act of spontaneous, surprise performances in unlikely public spaces to an unsuspecting audience. Typically these performances intend to draw attention to a political/social issue through satire, protest, and carnivalesque techniques. Although the exact derivation of the term is as yet to be identified, most scholars place its etymology around 1965-70 , as many of these performances were a direct result of the radical social movements circa 1967-691. Guerrilla Theatre is most often related to agitprop theatre, public performance first utilized by the Russian Communist Party2. Although Guerrilla Theatre shares the same political focus of agitprop, it is differentiated by the inclusion of Dada performance tactics.

Guerrilla Theatre in Practice

Guerrilla Theatre shares its origins with many forms of political protest and street theatre including agitprop (agitation-propaganda), carnival, parades, pageants, political protest, performance art, happenings, and, most notably, the Dada movement and guerrilla art3. Although this movement is widely studied in Theatre History classrooms, the amount of research and documentation of “guerrilla theatre” is surprisingly lacking. The term, “Guerrilla Theatre” seems to have emerged during the mid-1960s primarily as an upshot of radical activist theatres such as The Living Theatre, San Francisco Mime Troupe, Bread and Puppet Theatre, El Teatro Campesino, and the Free Southern Theatre4. It also shares considerable roots in Allan Kaprow’s happenings.The first widely documented Guerrilla Performances were under the leadership of Abbie Hoffman and the Youth International Party (Yippies). One of their most publicized events occurred on August 24, 1967 at the New York Stock Exchange where Hoffman and other Yippies threw dollar bills to the brokers below. Creating a media frenzy, the event was publicized internationally . In his later publication, Soon to be a Major Motion Picture (1980), Hoffman refers to his television appearances with specially planned subversive tactics as “guerrilla theatre.5”Another Guerrilla Performance that helped bring the term to wide acceptance was the Guerrilla Girls. This group of feminist artist/activists was established in New York City in 1985 with the purpose of bringing attention to the lack of female artists in major art galleries and museums. The Guerrilla Girls began their work through guerrilla art tactics which broadened to include guerrilla theatre. Some common practices to their guerrilla theatre techniques that have been replicated by other groups include appearing in costume, using assumed names, and disguising their identity.The legacy of guerrilla theatre can be seen in the work of these political/performance groups:
* Billionaires for Bush
* Bread and Puppet Theatre
* Church Ladies for Choice
* The Church of Euthanasia
* Circus Amok
* Clown Army
* El Campesino Teatro
* Oil Enforcement Agency
* Reclaim the Streets
* Reverend Billy and the Church of Stop Shopping
* San Francisco Mime Troupe
* Welfare State International
* Free Southern Theatre


* Random House Webster’s College Dictionary. New York: Random House, 1992, pp.593.
* Brockett, Oscar. History of the Theatre. 7th ed. Needham Heights, MA: Simon & Schuster, 1995, pp.575.
* Random House Webster’s College Dictionary. New York: Random House, 1992, pp.27.
* Cohen-Cruz, Jan, ed. Radical Street Performance. New York: Routledge, 1998.
* Brockett, Oscar. History of the Theatre. 7th ed. Needham Heights, MA: Simon & Schuster, 1995, pp.575.
* Durland, Steven. “Witness: The Guerrilla Theatre of Greenpeace.” Radical Street Performance. Jan Choen-Cruz, ed. New York: Routledge, 1998, pp. 67-73.
* Hoffman, Abbie. “America Has More Television Sets Than Toilets.” Radical Street Performance. Jan Choen-Cruz, ed. New York: Routledge, 1998, pp. 190-195.

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