Traversing the Globe on Theatre’s Chariot
I regard the theatre as the greatest of all art forms, the most immediate way in which a human being can share with another the sense of what it is to be a human beingThornton Wilder
On the occasion of the New Year, the editorial board of Critical Stages/Scènes critiques extends our most sincere wishes to everyone for a new year that is more optimistic, less violent, less self-destructive, less competitive and less cruel than previous years.
Life on Earth is threatened by reckless consumption, contamination of water resources, destruction of forests, damage to the ecosystem, and resulting rising temperatures, melting icebergs, and natural disasters. These calamities together constitute an urgent warning, as human beings have crossed many red lines related to planetary health and sustainability. And as if all that weren’t enough, the proliferation of wars, territorial disputes and anachronistic revisionisms remind us that tragedies never made anyone wiser, especially those in power, for if they had, world leaders could not have forgotten what history has taught us: a descent into violence and war does not solve problems, but on the contrary encourages an escalation of problems.
According to the conclusion of the Global Conflict Tracker from the Council on Foreign Relations there are currently 32 ongoing conflicts worldwide. According to another study published in June 2023 by the Institute for Economics and Peace , nearly a quarter of a million people died last year in wars around the world. This marks a 96% increase year over year in deaths related to military conflicts. On top of all these sad figures, emerging technologies are removing one by one the barriers to acquiring biological weapons, thereby resulting in a further escalation of tensions which most likely will lead to even greater loss of life.
Modern biopolitics has radically altered many aspects of our daily routine. ZOOM has now become the major format of our meetings, yet the distance between people seems to be constantly increasing, and both communication and understanding are diminishing. The visibility that technology provides in the dissemination of news has confused us as to what is real and what is fake.
In this generally pessimistic climate, it is reasonable to ask what can theatre do? The answer is simple: theatre continues to assert its presence boldly and dynamically. From its inception, theatre has functioned as a kind of seismograph and judge, measuring and evaluating everything that happens around us. In the words of Stella Adler, theatre “is the spiritual and social X-ray of its time. The theatre was created to tell people the truth about life and the social condition.”
That having been said, we, the editorial team of this journal, passionately adhere to democratic principles and values; we advocate policies and procedures which promote peace, equity, diversity, free expression and inclusion in order to transcend racial, class, sociopolitical, ethnic, religious and gender categories and boundaries. We are part of this multicolored and polyvalent world, and we strive to engage in current artistic events, record them, and share them with you.
Our gift to you for the New Year is a collection of 65 original texts signed by 75 authors from 25 countries, representing the diversity of theatrical life on this planet, from Sri Lanka to Bulgaria, to Australia and New Zealand, from Toronto and Buenos Aires to Cyprus and Egypt.
We are very proud to host in this current edition a special issue on Australasian theatre, the first of its kind ever realized outside of Australia/Aotearoa-New Zealand. With this special issue, we hope to reduce the geographical distance that separates artists and scholars by building more intercultural bridges and routes. This is a theatre that is very much alive, a theatre that follows the concerns and trends of contemporary theatre worldwide, and at the same time explores with courage and insightful critique the particularities of its colonial past and its indigenous cultures. I quote the words of the editors themselves from their Editorial: this special edition “attempts to embrace the full spectrum of Australian and Aotearoa/New Zealand theatre culture, incorporating First Nations and Māori live performance practices, as well as the modern settler, post-colonial drama of both nations.”
The arduous task of editing this special issue was undertaken by five distinguished colleagues from Australia and Aotearoa /New Zealand: Kathryn Kelly, Julian Meyrick, Fiona Graham, Moana Nepia and Emily Coleman. We are deeply indebted to this guest editorial team, and in particular to Professor Kathryn Keller, the soul of the team; we have truly enjoyed working with her and her colleagues. Despite the spatial and temporal boundaries that separated us, we collaborated very intensely and closely as if we were all working together in the same city at the same time. The final selection for publication of the 21 articles provides a comprehensive and most enlightening picture of the current state of Australasian theatre.
Given the large number of published works, for the needs of this editorial note I focus on a select few to give a general view of the contents of the volume. Playwright and theatre professor Julian Meyrick draws on Annie Baker’s play Circle, Mirror, Transformation to argue for dramaturgy as a learning in practice rather than a type of academic discourse. “The dramaturg is not a removed intellectual,” he writes, “but a member of a community of practice, working with terms and concepts defined as useful by that community.” Rea Dennis and Kate Hunter believe that being theatre-makers in Australia attunes them “to making meaning by listening to the land, traveling long distances and feeling [their] way.” These conditions predispose them “to ask questions of affect, of [their] experience of being part of a vast continent and of the way the ancient insinuates itself into the everyday present.” In their co-authored work, Linda Hassall et al discuss the concept of ecosceno-dramaturgy as a framework for “facilitating community renewal following the Rocklea floods of 2022 in Meanjin/Brisbane, Australia.” Alyson Campbell and Meta Cohen consider how their collaborative work generates “new queer dramaturgical practices and offers new ways of thinking about queer(ing) dramaturgies.”
Fiona Graham examines the dramaturgical vision and composition processes of the performance artists Nisha Madhan and Julia Croft. Using the term/idea/practice of liquid dramaturgy, she investigates how “their innovative and award-winning work offers new dramaturgical strategies that can support the development of Aotearoa / New Zealand and Australian performance.” Sarah Peters, in her article, focuses on the work 19 weeks by Emily Steel and “interrogates the conventions of bodily memory and frame of perception, exploring how these conventions curate the audience’s emotional proximity to the world of the play and emphasize the protagonist’s subjectivity.”
The presence of articles that focus on theatre for children and young people is particularly noteworthy. For example, Sally Chance crafts the relationship between the “prepared and spontaneous aesthetic dimensions of the adult performers’ rehearsed material and the children’s participatory responses to the world of the work.” David Megarrity and Jenna Gillett-Swan survey how paratexts of thirty plays represent young people of the region. Their analysis suggests “congruences across themes and provenance, including an absence of the unadulterated voices of young people and concomitant concerns around authenticity.” Rick Brayford et al explore how a classic work (such as Medea) could be used to address members of indigenous cultures. The goal of this study is to encourage “contemporary Australian performer training programs to acknowledge and integrate First Nation’s influences into performance curriculum more holistically.” An important contribution related to sex education of youth is offered by James Wenley, who analyzes the play Yes Yes Yes by Eleanor Bishop and Karin McCraken to show how the two playwrights develop and activate a dramaturgy of consent. Also related to youth audiences is the article of Paul Rae and Abbie Victoria Trott which uses as a case study the play Melbourne Talam to explain “where and how a dramaturgical sensibility can be identified as arcing across the lifespan of a theatrical event, from production, through performance, to reception.”
In addition to these there are a few more important contributions by Aunty Colleen Wall, Dalisa Pigram et al, Danielle Wyatt, Jasmin Pfefferkorn and Dorita Hannah, as well as very revealing and informative interviews, one with the playwright and dramaturg David Geary, another one by Kathryn Kelly with dramaturg Peter Matheson, one by Alison Wells with two highly regarded directors (Ahilan Karunaharan and Jane Yonge) and finally one more by Moana Nepia with six artists from Aotearoa which, seen together, provide a panoramic view of current developments in Australasian theatre.
Last but not least, a videoed panel discussion among graduates of the Dramaturgy Masters program of Victorian College of the Arts, University of Melbourne, tackles key issues that predominate in many published articles; for example,
- What is a post-millennial Australian dramaturgy? What does it mean to us as individuals, and as a community?
- What is the significance of dramaturgy training in Australia? More precisely, what does it mean to situate this training in Melbourne, and what legacies does it draw on and create?
- What do Australian dramaturgs actually do, and what does dramaturgical thinking bring to current work and practice?
The current issue also continues to publish articles and interviews about the war in Ukraine, perhaps the largest war since the Second World War, a war with the largest flow of refugees in the world. The issue includes texts that record first-hand experiences, anxieties, and traumas, all of which constitute useful evidence in documenting and constructing history. Through these texts, the reader can better understand how war affects the theatre and the life of those who make theatre, and how theatre both observes and records war; of special importance is how theatre questions its role in this conflict, and recognizes what it can and cannot do.
“The Lubimovka Echo Festival and the Russian Language Anti-War Drama in Exile” in the Interview Section, prefaced by Yana Meerzon, very tellingly records the thoughts and reactions as well as concerns of seven young artists and researchers from Germany, Lithuania, Finland, and Ukraine. In the same spirit, three additional texts are included in the Essay Section, edited with meticulous care and professionalism by Yana Meerzon, in collaboration with Ewa Bal and Iryna Chuzhynova, a tribute to Maya Harbuzyuk, who died quite suddenly a few months ago. In the first article,originally delivered at a conference a few months before her death, Maya Harbuzyuk explores the notion of the index of silence, a key concept applied in decolonial studies which invokes notions of both trauma and subordination, as well as the public discourse of power and epistemic injustice. Iryna Chuzhynova in her work outlines additional contexts and characteristics to demonstrate the analytical potential of Maya Harbuzyuk’s proposed concept of the index of silence. Ewa Bal’s theoretical contribution focuses on the concept of the “border” between Poland and Ukraine and how this idea could be used in theatre theory and practice. Maria Berlova’s work is also related to the war in Ukraine. By concentrating on “the phenomenon of celebrity presidents being former actors, playwrights, or showbusiness figures,” the author explores the tenure of Ronald Reagan, Václav Havel, Donald Trump, and particularly Volodymyr Zelensky, showing how these politicians alter political discourse by incorporating verbal and nonverbal elements from the domain of entertainment. As a result, these leaders modify the norms of political representation, the role of a popular leader and their methods of communication. Moira Day analyzes Matthew MacKenzie’s audio play (2021), First Métis Man of Odesa, and shows how it “functions as a fluid aesthetic exploration of the larger cultural intersections between Ukraine and Canada, Ukrainian-Canadian and Métis-Indigenous communities – past and present.”
In that very same section Dominic Chamayou-Douglas’s work focuses on an especially pressing topic in the world of theatre today, i.e., the role of the playwright and the degree to which it is threatened by the technological advance of language generator software, including GPT chat. An article by Lynette Hunter et al describes a California-based intercultural production of the play Elements, by Japanese playwright Shōgo Ōta. The authors explain how the production “breaks down the theatrical technologies of the objects, sounds, movement, characters and audiences involved in Western modern dramatic scripts and staging, and […] remakes each through theatre technicity.” Finally, Athena Stourna, in her insightful and well-documented study, argues that the domestic kitchen, stereotypically considered to be the realm of the housewife and the mother, is also a site of women’s “incarceration and oppression.”
In this current issue the reader will also find many contributions which focus on this year’s festival circuit around the world. Given the large number of submitted articles, we divided them into two categories: the more extensive descriptions, which appear in the Inter/National Reflections section, and the more critical analyses, which appear in the Performance Reviews section. Those in the Inter/National Reflections section offer the reader the opportunity to find out more about the festivals in Colombo (Sri Lanka), Bucharest, Cairo, Thessaloniki, Avignon and Sibiu and learn more about their program, their repertory choices, new plays, trends, etc.
The Critics on Criticism section hosts a hotly debated issue related to creative and free expression, that of censorship, an issue addressed by Katrina Stuart Santiago, of the Philippines, in her work “Uncannily Small: Policed Performance in Southeast Asia.” Drawing on examples from six Asiatic countries (Cambodia, Indonesia, Malaysia, The Philippines, Thailand and Vietnam), the author reveals how socio-political shifts and power struggles can “render long-celebrated performances offensive and unfit for public viewing.”
The Interview section includes conversations with the well-known British dramatist Howard Barker, the renowned German dramaturg and curator Stefanie Carp, the Romanian critic, radio commentator, translator, and curator Raluca Rădulescu, and the leading voice of the new generation of Georgian artists Koko Roinishvili.
Readers of this issue are certain to enjoy the 18 reviews of performances from all over the world, carefully edited by Matti Linnavuori. Most of these reviews focus on performances hosted at various festivals, such as the Edinburgh Fringe, Varna, Stradford and Bitef, among others. Last but not least, the 28th issue closes with four book reviews, edited by Don Rubin.
I would like to acknowledge and warmly thank all the editors of the issue, as clearly the journal would not exist without their help, care and concern. I would also like to thank all the authors who entrusted us with their work, each of which broadened the scope of the journal and enriched its contents with quality. A big “thank you” from the bottom of my heart goes to the three language editors Ian Herbert, Linda Manney and Michel Vais, who make every effort to ensure that all texts are free of error and written in an appropriate register of English and French. Their commitment and professionalism safeguard the quality of all published material. Finally, I would like to express my gratitude to our external reviewers who generously gave their time and effort to evaluate the papers sent to them. Their contributions are very much appreciated.
That said, I would like to encourage those interested in having their articles, performance and/or book reviews, interviews, case studies and empirical research considered for publication to contact the editor of the respective section (click here).
Once a manuscript has been peer-reviewed and recommended for publication, it undergoes further language copyediting, typesetting and reference validation, following the latest guidelines of the MLA style sheet, in order to provide the highest publication quality possible.
Submissions should not be published earlier or be under consideration for publication elsewhere while being evaluated for this journal. They must also adhere to the style and ethics of the journal (for more on the journal’s Publication Ethics/Procedure please click here).
If you have any other queries about the journal, or if I can be of help with anything, please do not hesitate to contact me (firstname.lastname@example.org).
NOTE: The Special Topic of our Summer issue (#29) is dedicated to dance. “Between Now-ness and Future”. Eds. Margareta Sörenson and Steriani Tsintziloni. Publication date: Late June 2024.
Please forward the link (www.critical-stages.org) to anyone who may be interested. Thank you.
Our doors are open to all. Please join us as we continue producing new ideas for the ever-evolving theatre arts around the world.
Cover photo: Circus performance by Tata Poldi, The Lubimovka Echo. Paris, 2022. Photo: être prod. “The Lubimovka Echo Festival and the Russian Language Anti-War Drama in Exile,” by Anastasia Patlay, Liza Spivakovskaya, Yana Meerzon, Dmitri Priven, included in the “Interview Section” of this issue.
*Savas Patsalidis is Professor Emeritus at the Aristotle University of Thessaloniki, where he taught a variety of theatre courses, ranging from the problematics of theatre reviewing/criticism to theatre history to experimental theatre/performance, among many others. For many years he also taught at the Drama School of the National Theatre of Northern Greece and the Hellenic Open University. He is the author of fourteen books on theatre and performance criticism/theory and co-editor of another thirteen. His two-volume study, Theatre, Society, Nation (2010), was awarded first prize for best theatre study of the year. In 2019 his book on Theatre & Theory II: About Topoi, Utopias and Heterotopias was published by University Studio Press. In 2022 his book-length study of Comedy (Comedy’s Encomium: The Seriousness of Laughter) was also published by University Studio Press. In addition to his academic activities, he writes theatre reviews for various ejournals. He is currently the president of the Hellenic Association of Theatre and Performing Arts Critics, member of the curators’ team of Forest International Festival (organized by the National Theatre of Northern Greece) and the editor-in-chief of Critical Stages/Scènes critiques, the journal of the International Association of Theatre Critics.