Political theater

From Academic Kids

de:Politisches Theater

Political theater is drama or performing art which emphasizes a political issue or issues in its theme or plot. Overt forms of political theatre, include the works of Bertolt Brecht and the street theatre of the San Francisco Mime Troupe, to name two examples. However, political theatre can also be defined as exploring themes more universal and central to society itself, especially when that society defines itself as politically conscious. One can say that the earliest Western dramas, arising out of the polis, or democratic city-state of Greek society, were political theatre to the most extreme degree. Their being performed in the main amphitheatres, central arenas used for theatrical performances, religious ceremonies and political gatherings, gave them a ritualistic and social significance that enhanced the relevance of the political issues being examined. And one must marvel at the open-minded examination of controversial and critical topics that took place right in the political heart of Athenian society, allowing a courageous self-examination of the first democracy trying to develop and refine itself further.

Shakespeare can also be called an author of political theatre. Not only do his history plays examine the machinations of personal drives and passions determining political activity, but many of the tragedies such as King Lear and Macbeth examine the essence of political leadership or lack thereof, and the incredible complexity of the subterfuge of which human beings are capable when they become driven by the lust for power. Class struggle in the Roman Republic is central to Coriolanus.

In later centuries, political theatre has usually been marginalized, forced into an outsider role critical of the government or policies of its own country. Associated with the cabaret and folk theatre, it has had an aura of being a theatre of, by, and for the people, and has flourished in oppressive governments as a means of actual underground communication and spreading of critical thought. And often it has been used to promote specific political theories or ideals, for example in the way agitprop was used to further Marxism and the development of communist society. But marxist theater wasn't always that simple. Bertolt Brecht developed a new aesthetics, called the epic theater, to address the spectator in a more rational way. Brecht's aesthetics has influenced political playwrights throughout the world, especially in India and Africa. In the sixties playwrights like Peter Weiss wrote plays closely based on historical documents like the proceedings of the Ausschwitz trial in Francfort. Augusto Boal created his internationally acclaimed method of Theater of the suppressed to further social change.

Less radical versions of political theater have joined the modern classical repertory - such as the critical dramas of Arthur Miller (The Crucible, All My Sons), which ask political questions that are inseparable from existential issues involving the behavior of human beings as social and political animals. In this sense they again approach the holistic universal relevance of the early Greek political drama.

A new form of political theater emerged in the twentieth century with feminist authors like Elfriede Jelinek or Caryl Churchill who use nonrealistic techniques.

Further Readings

  • Charlotte Canning, Working from experience : a history of feminist theater in the United States, 1969 to the present, Seattle, Univ. of Washington, Diss., 1991
  • Erika Fischer-Lichte, Theatre, sacrifice, ritual : exploring forms of political theatre, London: Routledge, 2005
  • Dimple Godiwala, Breaking the bounds : British feminist dramatists writing in the mainstream since c. 1980, New York ; Oxford : P. Lang, 2003.
  • Christian Meier, The political art of Greek tragedy, Cambridge : Polity Press, 1993.
  • Michael Patterson, Strategies of Political Theatre, Cambridge University Press, 2003 - analyzises recent british drama
  • Erwin Piscator, The political theatre: a history 1914-1929, New York : Avon, 1978.

See also


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