- Tactical Performance: The Theory and Practice of Serious Play by L.M. Bogad
Whether we have entered the raving death throes of capitalism or merely a shift in register of its pernicious key is impossible to know. Regardless, the election of Donald Trump and the vote for the United Kingdom to leave Europe clearly mark the need for more effective, creative, and strategic organizing across leftist social movements. Early on in Tactical Performance: The Theory and Practice of Serious Play, L.M. Bogad explains that in the struggle against global capitalism and state violence “corporations and states usually have a well-developed, intergenerational strategic memory,” while social movements often find themselves behaving like amnesiacs, lacking the resources “to record and analyze history and strategy” (3). Bogad’s book, the bulk of which charts his participation in several notable North American and UK arts activist groups since the early 2000s, seeks to rectify that. Adding his voice to a slowly burgeoning field of scholarship documenting the role of artist-interventionists in grassroots political movements since 9/11, Bogad seeks to contribute to developing a “counter-institutional memory of tactical innovation, to avoid becoming predictable and thus easily defeated and contained” (25). Acknowledging the challenges of measuring the success of creative action, he offers a series of alternative definitions of efficacy that might be applied (62–64). In Tactical Performance, Bogad articulates how cultural intervention’s playful politics can serve to augment the work of more traditional long-term social movement organizing (51).
Tactical Performance is part historiography and part manual, seeking to draw out the key role of play in countering power on the ground. As a committed participant researcher Bogad is in a unique position to offer a much-needed local account of praxis that might help conceptualize creative intervention, political solidarities, and social movements through theatre and performance practices. Bogad is primarily concerned with tracing how the symbolic can be deployed to support the work of social movements, taking hold of the public’s imagination and creating an “irresistible image that is so compelling or beautifully troubling that even one’s ideological opponents [End Page 174] must reproduce it” (32). A rebel clown soldier kissing a police officer’s riot shield during the 2005 G8 protests is offered as an example of one such image reproduced by corporate and state media outlets even though it challenged dominant negative narratives about protesters circulating at the time. Engaging with Aristotle, Augusto Boal, and Mikhail Bakhtin, among others, Bogad outlines a productive place for performance in social movements while briefly touching on its limits and the role class, race, and gender privilege have in regulating participant play.
Bogad structures his book across seven chapters through a series of personal and embedded accounts of specific interventionist actions with groups including Billionaires for Bush, Reclaim the Streets NY, Clandestine Insurgent Rebel Clown Army, and the Yes Men. The book does its most striking work in its introduction, which is a useful and accessible entry point to the field of aesthetics and activism. It offers an indispensable overview of “serious play” in 20th- century social movements through the deployment of specific case studies seen through the lens of rehearsal and sociodrama. Bogad’s attentiveness here to the way the civil rights movement’s nonviolent actions, in particular its lunch counter sit-ins, were workshopped, meticulously cast, and thoughtfully prepared pieces of performance throws into relief how theatre and direct action productively intersect. Inspired by community organizer Saul Alinsky’s Rules for Radicals (1971) Bogad then produces a series of clear, compelling, and inspiring principles and practices for developing tactical performances, which he illustrates with specific contemporary examples.
The majority of the book weaves Bogad’s own history of practice together with advice and prompts for budding arts activists, and for the most part utilizes material that has been previously published. Each of its four parts sits broadly under a theme related to play. The first section on carnival teases out the idea of tactical...