Theatre brings people together and wherever there are gatherings, a possibility for exercising politics arises. The director’s task is to propose a direction (to his team and also audiences), but in order to do this s/he must make some fundamental choices:
1) The director must in the first place choose his pattern of action:
Will s/he be making theatre for a cause; making theatre with a specific group; taking theatre to a certain audience or mounting theatre in a particular venue? Combining options is also possible.
This choice is important because text alone cannot be political. The choice of venue, audience, performers, and the relationship between audience and performer will establish whether the theatre can be understood as political or not. Following this pattern, the director will be pursuing a true radical theatre by opposing most elements of traditional performance and then s/he might be able to provoke some socio-political effect. And all these options must be relevant to the director’s choice of expressing his general (or specific) political perspective.
2) When mounting a play with an international cast or for an international audience, the director must be careful with the intercultural approach, because not only we are obliged to interact with other cultures today at more complex levels than ever before, but because art has a history of imposing cultures on others (like fashion, manners and social models) through the ideological dominance and this is highly political. Today, when a production team takes aspects of other cultures without giving back, without a true exchange, it is seen as neo-colonialist process. Brook was heavily criticized for doing this with his Mahabharata and even Mnouchkine for mounting Midsummer Night Dream with an oriental flair (Japanese Kabuki-Style).
3) Having decided to become political, a director still will have to face some choices for pursuing the alternative theatre as a cultural intervention in the classic model. Will s/he be part of a community, encouraging his entourage to engage in the arts, or will s/he come from the outside and attempt to awaken the community’s sensibility to the arts? For a director in this path it is important to engage as many people as possible, professionals as well as amateurs, willing and sometimes even unwilling, or better, unknowing people (like in Boal’s Invisible Theatre) because it is in the theatre where we recognize ourselves and start looking for solutions for a better life through the exchange of ideas. But, to truly touch an audience or the spect-actors in Boal’s style, the director must connect with their ideologies, what isn’t an easy task. When this connection has been made, however, a “performance can turn into a weapon and into a rehearsal to a revolution”, as Boal tells. Nevertheless, I argue if the theatre of revolution needs a revolutionary backdrop to make sense, but then the theory of ‘revolution’ would have to be further investigated, as it can be political like the Russian Revolution or just an inner revolution, like in Ibsen’s The Doll’s House, when Nora decides to leave and shock her environment. Intern or extern revolution will influence others, so in this matter, it is always relevant.
Political theatre has healing powers, according to the Brazilian Theatre of the Oppressed, but the search for ‘cure’ was also the base of Brecht’s proposal. By forcing audiences to distance themselves emotionally from the action and from the characters onstage, they would be in position of better understanding their social situation and perhaps make a move for a change. Despite antagonistic in terms of staging practices, Brecht and Stanislavski were pretty close through their intents of improving the lives of the working class. The Moscow Arts Theatre, lead by Stanislavski and Nemirovich-Danchenko, for instance, encouraged the attendance of the proletariat by selling some seats at low prices attempting thus to “to brighten the dark existence of the poor classes”, in his own words.
A political director can also look into feminist, gay and black theatre, as well as carnival and agit-prop, although carnival, specially in Brazil where I come from, can prove to be somewhat similar to the ‘bread and circuses’ politics of the Roman Empire, in order to provide a escape from daily troubles into fun, no matter how political the proposed themes of the parade cars seem to be. Truth is that during carnival, Brazilians want fun and not break their heads looking for political solutions. But agit-prop is the theatre of attack, according to Samuel in the book The Politics of Performance, because it can be mounted anytime and anywhere, proactively reaching out for people instead of waiting for people to make a move.
No matter under which perspective, a director cannot escape the question of politics in theatre, whether he decides to engage it or not, but a decision, together with so many others, will eventually have to be made.
Luciana B. Veit