Sunday, 21 July 2013

Some ideas that I stole from Eric about politics

I stole this mans ideas for this blog. 
Although Eric and I have formally divided the radio show (he does the second hour, if you want to escape my rambling and interruptions of good guests), we still argue and bicker behind the scenes. Today it has been politics and theatre. We had the statement 'all theatre is political,' and I just had to ruin a perfectly good afternoon ranting about the intrusion of the political into the private sphere.

My working definition of politics is 'the power structures that manage society,' and everything does engage with these. But if 'all theatre' 'is' 'political'  - a statement that is true, since everything is defined by those power relations, especially when they are hidden - then it begs the question: why bother making theatre if it is merely a subset of a larger field. The artist with political intentions (that is, is interested in either challenging or supporting the existing power structures) would be better off joining the Conservatives and making changes from within.

The problem is  - and note the irony of this sentence - in that word 'is.' It means too much. It suggests a straight association of theatre and politics. I want to know what 'is' means. When I am reviewing, and the certainty of using the verb 'to be' is too concrete, I can use 'seem' or 'appears.' But that doesn't work here.

All theatre might, say, represent, politics. Or reflect politics, or engage with politics - and again, I am reminded of my old pal Billy Bragg (you know, the one who did a duet with Amanda Palmer). He said 'all music is political,' and pointed out how Spandau Ballet's videos, with their glamour and fuss, were as political as his war-weary socialist anthems. Yes, all theatre does reflect the political base upon which it is constructed - that's Marxist aesthetics 101 (I think...).

But pretty clearly, that can be applied to everything - even my chats with Eric have a power structure subtext. Hopefully, that's not all that is going on - I rather hope our friendship isn't a mere facade to hide  the hegemony of communication. I think theatre is the same - and to say it is 'all... political' takes me only so far.

But the talk of political theatre actually refers to theatre that is actively engaged in discussing the power structures - there's a range of issue that make a work political. These days, it is mostly those riots in London. Given that there is that referendum coming up soon, it's odd that national identity hasn't emerged as a 'political' theme in the Fringe this year. Certainly, there has been work during the year that has considered it. But it's not getting a shout in the Fringe, and there is an article in the preview copy of Fest that questions this.

In this sense, not all theatre is political - or even represents politics. And I am back in a world where divided work into 'political' and non-political can make sense.

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