- Reclaiming the RealIntroduction
Like the proscenium within the proscenium in Paula Vogel’s Indecent (2017), a play about a play, contemporary performance at its best stages its own reflexive, well-researched, and critical interpretations of challenging subjects.
Metatheatricality is not new. In its current iteration, as evidenced by the articles in this issue, it engages political and social questions, not only art for art’s sake. Is the temporal relationship between performance and its subject meaningful? Do commemoration performances necessarily stage nationhood? Are there links between fiction and historical identity? Does the instability of digital archives and ambivalence about how what is recorded might be used in an era of the ever-breaking news cycle reinvent the very idea of art as witness?
What the digital world has wrought is radically revising spectatorship and performance, both live and mediatized. Fandom threatens to overshadow the performances to which it responds. The rapid pace of digitization makes the nostalgia for analogue media in Ross Sutherland’s Stand By for Tape Back-Up understandable.
Then there is the NEA needing to continuously invent itself to survive...
The five essays in my expanded Critical Acts section of this issue wrestle with the debilitating effect of racism, war, and truthiness in Shakespeare’s Othello; the use of children to perform the story of a Belgian pedophile-murderer in Milo Rau’s Five Easy Pieces; the simulation of the real in the Norwegian web series Skam; the blurring of the stage and the real world in Christopher Chen’s Caught; and a theatre company’s struggle with the role of art in society in light of terrorism, refugees, and failing democracy in Ariane Mnouchkine and Le Théâtre du Soleil’s Une Chambre en Inde.
Conventionally, performance is where spectators experience life’s events while theory provides methods of analysis. The demarcation separating performance from performance theory has never been a solid line, but it’s even less so now. The distinction between work that is aesthetically innovative and work that is politically important is finally irrelevant. Artists are creating new patterns of knowledge to make reality whole again. Contemporary inventions of style that reclaim the real unite the contents of this guest-edited issue of TDR. [End Page 8]
Carol Martin is Professor of Drama and Director of the Honors Program at New York University. Her books include: Theatre of the Real (Palgrave, 2013), Dramaturgy of the Real on the World Stage (Palgrave, 2010), and Dance Marathons of the 1920s and 1930s (University of Mississippi Press, 1994). She is Guest Editor of TDRs “Documentary Theatre” and “Performing the City” issues and the General Editor of “In Performance,” the Seagull Books series devoted to international plays and performance texts.