Section Editor: Ivan Medenica* (Serbia)
The conference Theatre, Criticism, and Politics: Where Are the Limits? was the first conference of the IATC ever organized in Africa. The majority of speakers were distinguished Nigerian theatre scholars and critics and its international dimension was ensured by the contributions of experts from Sweden, Romania and Serbia.
Having in mind the scope of cultural diversity of theatre contexts from which the participants were coming, the organizers proposed a rather broad and general topic, but one which is relevant to the current situation all around the world. In formulating the topic, the conference organizers had in mind, not only the global challenges that world theatre and theatre criticism are facing today, but also the particular and dynamic relationship between politics and theatre in Nigeria (for example, in the theatrical treatment of the most socially provocative topics and, even, taboos). The potential contributors received the following guidelines regarding the topics the conference wanted to stress.
We are now witnessing one of the biggest crises to confront the political paradigm of a globalized world anchored by free markets and representative democracy. This global crisis has local manifestations all around the world: right-wing movements, Brexit, the EU crisis, neoliberal slavery, the migration crisis, consequences of the so-called “Arab spring”, successive failures of incumbent presidents to maintain power in Africa, social injustice and global terrorism.
Politics, theatre, and theatre criticism have long been interwoven and interdependent. In the highest peaks of its history, theatre and other performing arts have been a collective self-representation of society, its basic values and beliefs, including mainstream political narratives. When contesting these narratives, theatre has been more ironic, subversive and blasphemous than openly confrontational, although direct theatrical conflicts with society are also well known. When theatre criticism appeared as a genre in Western media, in the 18th century, it fought the same battle as the (bourgeois) theatre itself. Theatre and criticism were important social platforms in the battle against conservative, aristocratic, and clerical states as they advocated a new and progressive bourgeois society.
In the last two and a half centuries, the relationship between these three “players”—politics, theatre, and theatre criticism— has been fluid. There were periods in which all were going in the same direction—for good or ill. In some historical periods, (dissident) theatre was courageous, provocative, and challenging. Criticism, however, strongly controlled by mainstream political power (as with much of the media), could not support it. On the other hand, in some situations media demanded theatre to be more politically daring.
How do global theatre and theatre criticism react to current events? Is there a new political theatre? Is there a growing trend toward the political or do individual cases arise on their own? How do critics react? Are we free (enough) to openly support theatre that dissents from accepted political and cultural norms? Is the social impact of this type of work more relevant than its artistry? How do we recognize a politically brave theatre in societies different from our own? If we recognize it, how do we communicate it to our readers?
*Ivan Medenica (Belgrade, Serbia), works at the FDA as an Associate Professor, teaching The History of World Drama and Theatre, and holds the position of the Head of the Department for Theory and History. He is an active theater critic and has received five times the national award for the best theatre criticism. He was the artistic director of Sterijino Pozorje in Novi Sad, the leading national theater festival in Serbia (2003-2007), to which he brought some important structural changes, especially in the domain of internationalization. From 2001 to 2012, Medenica was one of the main editors of the prestigious journal Teatron. He is a member of the International Association of Theater Critics’ Executive Committee and the Director of its international conferences. He is also member of the editorial board of Critical Stages, the web journal of the Association, and as of October 2015, the artistic director of Bitef Festival (Belgrade).