Wednesday, 4 March 2015

Guerrilla Criticism: Hit and Run On My Friend

First of all, right, DANITURGY would have been a MUCH BETTER NAME for your blog. 

Alright troops, Mad Cyril is BACK. And I am here for a square go with my own mucker Danny Christmann. Been looking out for a bit of blogging from you, big man. Glad to see you are up for some banter.

Now, I have to admit I came up with the idea independently of the man who wrote the handbook (quite literally) on the guerrilla theatre, R.G. Davis, back in 1966. But the essential idea, of an adaptable theatre that can never quite be predicted, is, I think, endemic to both. 

Didn't know that you were alive in 1966, Dan... you've aged well, dude. No, hang on... you mean Davis came up with the idea in 1966, not you. 

Unfortunately, what Davis and many others who use the metaphor seem to have in mind ... is community focused, popular theatre that presents a moral lesson... Brecht without the budget. Popular propaganda. 

Imma gonna stop you there. As I understand it, the g'rilla theatre came out of some communist actions in the 1920s - Living Newspaper, White Blouses or something. They were well up for propaganda. Brecht ain't so easy to dismiss. He didn't want to persuade, wasn't into rhetoric. He wanted ya to think it out.

And while I do think that politics has a place in the theatre, that type of work inevitably leaves a precedent. People go to shows like this today, they seek them out, in order to reinforce their political and intellectual and artistic ideas. This is a phenomena the internet has exacerbated quite substantially. 

Word. Political theatre is a feel-good panacea for the liberal middle-classes. 

Everyone’s ‘revolutionary’ ideas are already affirmed preconception. Revolution is a product, an ideology sold to the American public just like anything else. The question becomes, then, if a person comes in to a performance looking to be shocked, can it actually happen? Is the avant garde really avant garde when it starts calling itself that and continually recycles techniques from the 70s?

You are being generous, mate. More like the 1920s, with the tropes of Dada getting another shot on the merry-go-round. Even the name avant-garde comes from the ideas of the Marxists (they are the vanguard, the cutting edge). But you are right: why consider the anarchist intentions of punk when you can go and see MacBusted's Big Adventure Tour? Or dance to Bikini Kill when Green Day have got a musical?

I don’t have precise answers to these questions, though I think Mr. Adorno would have some good thoughts for me if he were still alive today. 

His books are still in print. But he was a big racist, especially when it came to jazz. He would probably say that avant-garde comes out of a formal, western tradition, ought to be cerebral and make no concessions to public taste.

Personally, though, I don’t think the idea of a political theatre has to be one that provokes. You have to know your audience and understand their expectations, realize that they are coming to the theatre for a very specific purpose. We aren't missionaries. There is no need to ‘impact’ others (like a bomb!). 

It's Brecht again: he didn't just want to provoke. Didn't he describe his perfect audience as 'smoking a cigar'. That is kind of relaxed, not on tenterhooks for the next explosion. 

My concept for the Guerrilla theatre is, then, an aesthetic and formal one. Adapt to audience’s expectations, take them from strange, unexpected angles, and places. Continue to shift given audience expectation. instead of teaching, leave behind a lasting and insatiable interest. Leave a trail of breadcrumbs that leads to an inescapable choice. 

This is Brecht, too. 

It's true, as Davis says, the Guerrilla theatre attacks in an adaptable manner, with little or no resources and is uncompromising in its mission. But Guerrilla warfare is also not clear. Its work is nebulous and desultory. And it is always unexpected, always one step ahead.

The Guerrilla Critic is never nebulous. He is sniper accurate. 

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