- Imagining Human Rights in Twenty-First-Century Theater: Global Perspectives ed. by Florian N. Becker, Paola S. Hernández, and Brenda Werth
Editors Becker, Hernández, and Werth respond to and comment on the ongoing conversation regarding the intersection of human rights and theatre in [End Page 325] their collection of essays, Imagining Human Rights in the Twenty-First-Century Theater: Global Perspectives. Although we are only a decade and a half into the twenty-first century, this book addresses how far we have come in that time, and how much father we have still to go with the use of theatre and performance to effect change in improving human rights. The foreword, “Postnational Theater Studies,” written by Jill Lane, provides an example of a male flamenco singer whose song lamented a poor man who was forced into the streets by a bank in Seville, Spain, in 2012. Lane notes that this event offers a strong point of entry into “the role that theater and performance can play in relation to human rights practice today,” because of its targeted use of the body in performance to react against injustice (ix).
The editors introduce key concepts such as theatre as public imaginary and Habermas’s notion of the critical public sphere, as well as describing how the two come together: “The establishment and operation of human rights has depended and continues to depend at every turn on efforts of imagination” (8). The editors argue that human rights are a “core concern” for the twenty-first century. Through its focus on the intersection of performance and activism, this collection of essays sheds new light on performance aesthetics and sites of inequality. The contributors recognize how theatre and performance act as a “distinctive representational practice” in the fight for human rights (2). This volume has two central aims: first, “to chart the extraordinary diversity, depth, and complexity of the encounter between theater, performance, and human rights over the past two decades,” and second, “to open the way toward understanding the character and significance of this encounter” (1). The book is thus an exploration of how theatre and performance are used in support of human rights.
The book is divided into three thematic sections: Transnational Justice and Civil Society, The “War on Terror” and the Global Economic Order, and Transnational Publics. The three sections and twelve chapters examine plays and performances across six continents. The theatrical and performance events are closely analyzed in an attempt to investigate phenomenological and physical experiences of theatre and their impact on human rights. The editors asked their contributors to consider the aesthetics, ethics, and effects of theatre and performance as a tool for social change.
Section I investigates how theatre and performance assist spectators in reimagining the politics of human rights in the face of large-scale social and national traumas. Ann Lambright focuses on how dead bodies and the mimetic embodiment of the dead can serve in the commemoration of national tragedy as she examines the relationship between the Peruvian Truth and Reconciliation [End Page 326] Commission and an activist theatre troupe, Grupo Cultural Yuyachkani (chapter 1). Essays from Luís Madureir (chapter 2) and Paola S. Hernández (chapter 3) investigate contrasting spaces (urban vs. rural, military vs. public) in Mozambique and Buenos Aires, respectively. Brenda Werth examines two plays from Latin America’s Southern Cone that reference the Bosnian War and the Beslan schoolhouse massacre in Russia in order to question dramatic violence as a means for addressing state violence (chapter 4).
Section II examines how theatrical practices have met challenges and obstacles (cultural and financial) in the wake of September 11, 2001, and President George W. Bush’s declared War on Terror. In this context, Lindsey Mantoan and Christina Wilson address the use of documentary theatre. Mantoan looks at Victoria Brittain and Gillian Slovo’s play Guantánamo: Honor Bound to Defend Freedom (2004) (chapter 5) and the play’s pushback to the media’s spectacle...