To think, or write, or produce a play also means: to transform society, to transform the state, to subject ideologies to close scrutiny.
I’m currently immersed in the work and world of Bertold Brecht and Augusto Boal for my assignment. This is involving me reading widely and delving into topics such as Marxism, Communism, Fascism and the Brazilian dictatorship of the 1960’s/1970’s (heavy stuff admittedly and gets some great looks on my commute to work!), on top of reading both Brecht’s and Boal’s writings and works. My assignment is looking at how the sociopolitical context affected their directorial innovations. This is proving to be absolutely fascinating. One of the key things I’m gaining an understanding of though, is the fact that theatre can (should?) not only reflect the sociopolitical climate of the time but also seek to change it. Boal and Brecht perhaps are especially pertinent exponents of using theatre to change society.
The West End theatre bucking the recession trend is such an encouragement, especially as one of the reasons that play attendance is up is that when people have been asked, they reply that they want to see something with depth, which TV and Hollywood aren’t providing. Audiences want to be engaged with, there’s a time and place to go to the theatre, sit back and enjoy some light entertainment. Yet there are times when the theatre can ” not just show real things, but how things really are” (Brecht). We’re living in tumultuous times, and the theatre can show those, yet also offer ideas and even possible solutions for the way forward for society. A lofty ideal perhaps, but one I feel is true, historically and currently. (just look at the history of dictatorships or countries with poor human rights, one of the first things they clamp down on or censor are theatre’s before most other things). I’m grateful that I live in a country where the theatre is relatively free, I’m also conscious that it’s liberty is under threat from fundamentalists of all persuasions who claim they have a right “not be offended”, which is silly as no-one has a right to not be offended. Often the truth hurts and theatre is perhaps the best art form to confront people with truths they don’t wish to see, for example in Hedda Gabler when Judge Brack says “ But, good God Almighty…people don’t do such things” , Ibsen is clearly showing his uptight Victorian audience with its head in sand that such things do happen, not just on stage but in their towns, communities and even families. What uncomfortable truths can today’s theatre confront us with?
I’m also so encouraged to read about Augusto Boal’s Forum Theatre projects, not only that he did, but the centres and groups all over the world that are continuing his legacy and using theatre to help people in the here and now make positive decisions in their lives. While Theatre is about plays, the West End, Greek Theatre etc. Boal’s bringing of theatre to “non-actors” is inspiring and refreshing to read about. Once the assignment’s complete I hope to look more into the current UK projects using his Theatre of the Oppressed systems.
So while doing the college assignments can sometimes seem a bit cerebral, it’s worth remembering the power of theatre, in our own lives, and in society too.