Sunday, 19 January 2014

Religious Ramble: Theatrical Thoughts

At the end of Performance: A Critical Introduction, Marvin Carlson considers the audience, partially as a plea not to dissolve the study of theatre into a broader analysis of performance in daily life. He approvingly quotes Margaret Wilkerson's assertion that 'theatre provides an opportunity for a community to come together and reflect upon itself,' finding that the theatrical event has always been about 'shaping' community - and the fancy-dan live art that I love is particularly aware of this function.

This frees up theatrical criticism from being purely about the art as performed and created, and to consider it as part of a culture's ability to reflect upon itself. In other words, like Tynan said, all theatre has a political dimension. At the least, it brings people together, and suggests a shared interest in certain ideas and activities. The Big Idea, of communitas, becomes crucial: does theatre build communities?

Although I am not wild about using the term, this lends theatre - and festivals, and the better buskers on
Sauchiehall Street - a religious quality. Unfortunately, this word is loaded. It suggests that performance performs a spiritual and possibly hierarchical function (in a world where religion is often criticised as anti-scientific, or obsessed with power and control), while implying that the Great Religions of the World are just a bunch of guys playing dress-up. Being a smart-ass, I'm talking about the etymology of religion, from the Latin: meaning 'rebinding.' Theatre is religious in so far as it connects together a community, both to itself and the wider cosmos.

Putting aside the image of the artistic director of Puppet Animation Scotland wearing a Pope's hat, its seems that this definition perfectly suits manipulate. Although the festival lasts for longer than a Sunday Mass (and I hear some priests are popular because they get through it in under an hour), it does draw together a diverse community with a shared interest in 'visual theatre.' And given the chance, visual theatre could generate as much explanatory literature as the concept of anatman.

Again, I'm not mad about calling theatre 'ritual,' but I'll admit it is ceremonial. There are expected responses (turning up on time, not playing the bongo drums during the speeches, applauding or booing at the end). The 'ceremonies' of manipulate draw attention to certain ideas but, like sermons, revolve around an over-arching theme.

The mixture of international and Scottish work also fits into the religious format. Torn is shown the day after Duda Paiva's Bestiares. The continuity between what happens in Edinburgh and in Europe is highlighted. And by seeing visual theatre from other countries and cultures, a new light is shone onto the local production.

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