- Editorial: Radical Rehearsals
In Theatre of the Oppressed, Augusto Boal famously claims that theatre—though “not revolutionary in itself”—“is a rehearsal of revolution!” (155). While not always taken to this extreme, many scholars and theatremakers—such as Jill Dolan and Baz Kershaw—believe that theatre can act as a rehearsal for political action. As Dolan puts it, theatre is a space to “critically rehearse civic engagement” (7). Though the generative capacity of this impulse has been challenged—notably by Dani Snyder-Young in Theatre of Good Intentions—the concept that theatre allows us to build repertoires of resistance and collectivity remains popular. In the recent collection In Defence of Theatre—reviewed in this section by Alan Filewod—Aaron Willis passionately proclaims that “Theatre should reflect back to us what humans are capable of, help us ask ourselves how we ought to live” (211) and Barry Freeman notes theatre “can model new ways of living and relating to one another” (22).
Yet, taken literally, the notion of theatre as a space of civic rehearsal can be dangerous. On 16 June 2017, Laura Loomer, a reporter from The Rebel media—run by former Sun News Network host Ezra Levant—stormed the stage of The Public Theatre’s production of Julius Caesar in New York’s Central Park. Like many on the right, Loomer was appalled that the production’s Julius Caesar character was a clear invocation of Donald Trump and—focusing solely on the first half of Shakespeare’s text—read Caesar’s assassination scene as an irreverent and literal call to assassinate the President of the United States.
Reactions to Loomer’s actions—and the right’s ongoing attacks on the Public—were swift and vocal, particularly on Twitter. My own Twitter feed teemed with theatremakers and critics proudly proclaiming their support for the Public with hashtags like #WeAreOnePublic and #FreeShakespeare. Amidst this fervour, the voice of one performance-maker stood out. On 22 June 2017, SpiderWebShow’s Artistic Director Michael Wheeler tweeted “I’m annoyed Public Theatre Caesar has reinforced notion [sic] presenting Shakespeare in a park is a revolutionary act of social justice.” While definitely not supporting Loomer, Wheeler suggests that the Public’s defenders also misread the social function of that institutional space. Turning back to the concept of theatre as civic rehearsal, Wheeler’s analysis challenges broad proclamations about the power of theatre and importance of the arts, and instead points to the role material conditions and context play. He implies that form matters when discussing the social impacts of theatre—or in the age of Twitter: #NotAllTheatre.
This Views & Reviews section features five book reviews that cover a wide breadth of scholarship on Canadian theatre and its connections to international approaches. However, each book raises questions about the role of theatre and performance in civic life. The section begins with Alan Filewod’s review of Barry Freeman and Kathleen Gallagher’s collection In Defence of Theatre. As Filewod notes, the collection’s significance is tied less to concrete pronouncements about theatre’s power and more to “the parallax of familiar questions and responses couched in new vocabularies that express the anxieties of our contemporary theatre culture.” Filewod finds that, while already a popular topic, In Defence of Theatre brings forth productive conversations on affect, particularly around questions of who is watching and impacted by contemporary theatre.
The importance of asking who is in the audience—as well as who the intended audience is—comes to the forefront in Performing Indigeneity, edited by Yvette Nolan and Ric Knowles. As Lindsay Lachance states in her review, all of the essays are by Indigenous artists and scholars, meaning the collection “embodies sovereignty.” This embodiment of sovereignty weaves through the collection, starting with Dylan Robinson’s “Welcoming Sovereignty” in which the author performs an “unwelcome action” (16) by requesting that non-Indigenous readers do not read a section of his work. Lachance outlines how this action—along with other conversations in the collection—highlights Indigenous performance as means of survival.
Next Piet Defraeye reviews Nicole Nolette’s Jouer la traduction. Théâtre et hétérolinguisme au Canada francophone—a monograph that contributes to the emerging field...