photo by Joe Mazza and Brave Lux

Friday, September 23, 2011

Searching for the East Europe/U.S. Bridge

Since 1998 when I was first exposed to Tadeusz Kantor, I’ve searched for words to bridge the gap between East European and U.S. theatre. I’ve hobbled towards that bridge creating scripts; I’ve staggered at it in scholarly writing seeking to explicate how these forms work; I’ve stumbled in its direction teaching on both sides of the Atlantic, learning from my students and colleagues; and I’ve limped in the direction of this elusive understanding in Kantor’s archive, the Cricoteka, in Kraków. To grasp the function of theatre in these disparate locations one needs to understand the extremely different twentieth-centuries experienced by the two countries, the paths and traditions their theatres took, and the different business models embraced or, perhaps, forced upon them. One blog post won’t be sufficient to explore the factors I see twisting and turning through history, and, frankly, my thoughts are insufficient to clearly articulate how these theatrical modes successfully function in such different ways. Therefore, this blog will be a place to post my latest short plays and a site where I explore these formal questions alongside practical issues of creating theatre, from artistry to economics.

I spent February 2011 – July 2011 in Poland teaching theatre at Adam Mickiewicz University, and am now at Ohio University beginning an MFA program in playwriting that is structure-intensive. For the past three weeks I’ve tried to wrap my brain around my newly taught thoughts about U.S. narrative ideas alongside my recent viewings of abstract Polish theatre. Imagine my excitement, then, when Robert Kaplowitz wrote in HowlRound about his recent experiences in Prague; his disquisition examining different expectations, particularly for/from audience members in Prague versus those he habitually understood in the U.S., was fascinating. He writes, “I learned about works in Poland, where theater groups are creating environmental installations that are encountered by the audience on the streets of their neighborhoods, outside of any theatrical bounds or even scheduled performance times.” Walk around Kraków for any length of time and you are bound to run into these, festival or no, though I would argue they are within strict theatrical bounds; we Americans simply need to recognize them as such. And some of the random performances I’ve stumbled across in Poland are burned into my mind—particularly their imagery—in ways I find rare from U.S. theatre. That’s not to say I prefer Polish theatre, but when I think of it memories of images leap before me. Without doubt when I think of U.S. theatre I think of performances, stage pictures, and amazing lighting/sets/costumes/sound, but it’s much more likely I think of a great narrative script well served by those elements. However, if I were asked the “narrative” of Kantor’s Dead Class (check out this clip), I would be hard-pressed to answer, despite my familiarity with it, my teaching of it, my writing about it, and my love of it. How to reconcile its worldwide success, and, more importantly, its prominent place in my devotion to theatre with Aristotelian drama? To start with, we need to go back to the nineteenth century. So that’s where this blog will travel next.

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