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Reviews 473 SUSAN C. HAEDICKE and TOBIN NELLHAUS, eds. Pelforming Democracy: International Perspectives on Urban Community-Based Performance. Theater: Theoryffext/Perfonnance Series. Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 2001. Pp. 346, illustrated. $54.50 (Hb); $24.50 (Pb). Reviewed by'Brian Smith, University ofCalgary The subject of Performing Democracy, as its subtitle foretells, is "communitybased " theatre, viewed in an urban context and from international perspectives . Editors Susan C. Haedicke and Tobin Nellhaus use the tenn "community -based" to describe a large family of perfonnance modalities that might broadly be called "popular." The book begins with a comprehensive introduction that defines the field of study and outlines ways in which the editors have sought to represent it. The rest of the book consists of twenty-three essays by different authors about projects undertaken in Asia, Africa, Australia, the Central Pacific, Europe, the Middle East, and North and South America. Recognizing the value of both scholarly and practical work, the editors have included a balance of analytical and anecdotal papers and have interposed them according to three unifying foci or thematic emphases: contributions of community-based performance to understandings and practices of community ; representational authority and its connection to creative methodologies; and claims and outcomes, especially those related to ideas of empowennent. Presenting community-based performance as a movement "expanding the boundaries" (I) of art, the editors acknowledge an international body of performance practice that has achieved a maturity assumed to be worthy of celebration and in need of systematic critical inquiry; in short, they seek "to represent the field to itself' (2). Like most good books, Performing Democracy resists singular agendas and explanations. The editors' avowed intention "to broaden understanding about [...] community-based performance work" (2) exposes contradictions and controversies . The least of these is the North American equation of the term "community drama" with amateur theatre production, a semantic problem the expanded tenn "community-based" is intended to circumvent. A more compelling issue is that of the ideological coding of the word "community" and its insidious capacity to mask difference. Calling "community" "arguably the most misused word in contemporary political discourse" (89), Alan Filewod attacks it as an "empty signifier" (89), a position apparently shared by practitioners such as Bruce McConachie and Roadside Theatre Company, who adopt the more politicized tenn "grassroots" to describe procedures of theatremaking often associated with the politics of liberation. Concerns about the meaning of community point to related questions about the purpose of community -based work. The matter of purpose is skilfully dissected in the closing essay of the collection, Mary Ann Hunter's cogent and provocative argument 474 REVIEWS thaI the "'arl form formerly known as' community drama" (327) is moribund in Australia and that approaches to community drama based in essentializing notions of cohesion need to be replaced by practices that disrupt spectacles of celebration in order to galvanize community action. Hunter's essay reminds us that beneath the authored narratives of Performing Democracy and the editorial one about the recent coming-of-age of community-based theatre (described in the opening sentence of the introduction as "now a noticeable undercurrent within performance and activist circles" [I I), there lies a deeper, titanic narrative based in one of the great contrarieties of modern perfonnance theory. I refer to the opposition between the atavistic impulse to celebrate the origins and communal reality of theatre, on the one hand (represented, for example, in the later work of Jacques Copeau), and, on the other, the didactic imperative to manipulate theatre as an instrument of social utility, initiated by Erwin Piscator, adopted by Bertoit Brecht, and inflected again in the liberation politics of Augusto Boal. While Performing Democracy offers Ihe pleasure of many perspectives, it delivers something more: a stimulating counterpoint of voices (those of participant , participant/observer, interpreter, artist, and collaborator, for example) distinguished from one another by their varying degrees of distance from the works described. Furthermore, the adjacency of widely different cultural contexts and performance idioms creates an extraordinary richness of form and tone, energized by frequent jolts of the unusual. I particularly enjoyed Carl Thelin's fascinating expose of the "art parties" (82) of Taichung, in which a communal creative spirit is evoked...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1712-5286
Print ISSN
0026-7694
Pages
pp. 473-476
Launched on MUSE
2013-07-03
Open Access
N
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