In the name of globalization and liberalization of multinational market economy and the revolution taken place in the digital and visual media our living world has became as ‘global village’. Our life is always under the control of the hegemony of the power politics and also constructed according to the dream industries of the film typhoons through the intrusion of electronic and visual media. The work of art in the age of mechanical reproduction is under the erosion of its artistic and aesthetic identity of the creator of the work of art. We are living in the age of simulacrum. Our identity remains only in our passport in order to travel all over world. This is the crude reality of our time. In this context, it is very much relevant to talk about identity politics in theatre or identity politics of theatre is a paradox.
It is a known fact throughout the world that the emergence of theatre arts goes with individual and national identity. Greek playwrights like Sophocles, Euripides and Aristophanes had left their mark of identity through their dramatic texts. Theatre was a creation through the ritual of Dionysius and the celebration of wine god, Bacchus. Similarly playwrights like Shakespeare in England and Moliere in France have earned their identity through their creation of dramatic texts. It is now imperative on our part of talk about the theoretical concepts of theatre and in terms of the changes in the academic pursuit of theatre study in the name of performance study. Similarly, the department of literature in some universities of England and America was started in the baptized name of Department of Narratology. Now history becomes narration. The construction of ‘Nation as Narration’ in the form of macro-micro narration as visualized Homi Baba. So the identity of theatre is very much in micro-narration that is always the core of the politics of theatre.
Similarly, the history of drama is also the history of theatre. So, the initial response was to retain the name of the department of dramatic studies taken up new stand in course of the theoretical development in terms incorporating theatre studies also a part of the academic curriculum. The establishment of Theatre and Drama Review popularly known TDR started under the editorship of Richard Schechner is an outcome of the necessity of time in the field of theatre studies.
Coming to the age of modern drama and theatre, one can infer that the origin and development of modern theatre is always in the eternal search of the director who is always in the verge of finding the existence of theatre is not at all an ideal form to express his agonies and sufferings of his time and to raise his protesting voice against the chorus of the power structure. The emergence of Theatre Libre, Theatre of Absurd, Bertolt Brecht‘s Epic Theatre Erwin Piscotor’s Political Theatre, Peter Schuman’s Theatre of Bread and Puppet and recently Augusto Boal’s Theatre of Oppressed bears the sign of evidence that the theatre directors and playwright all over the world carried the burden of the tradition of modernity in terms of accommodating socio-political issues of their time. By way of liberating from the clutches of theatre tradition of 19th century, Leon Augusto, born in Indonesia and now settled in America as a theatre activist, claims that his theatre is in the verge of process to take a form of expression so he calls his theatre as Theatre of Process. It is also curious to note that Antony Howell has started his theatre in the name of Theatre of Mistake in the end of 90s. To him, in theatre one can commits mistake once in a time and the same mistake should not be repeated anymore. One can learn theatre through mistake not repetition of mistake for ever in theatre. Theatre is a collective art which is always in realization of text through the medium of actor in a space under the director in collaborating with set and lighting designer and costume and make-up artists. Here the dramatic text created by the playwright sets into the transformation of performing text by director. The literary genre drama is in one level it is dramatic text on the other hand it is also performing text. Hence the study of drama should be always in related with drama in performance as Raymond Williams pointed out in book titled ‘Drama in Performance’. He also concludes that the modern western drama begins with Ibsen’s ‘Dolls House’. Here, the playwright has kept his sign of identity in creating space for discourse through his plays. Now the text is conveyed its sign of meaning not only through the verbal language but also through non-verbal languages in the form of visuals through performance.
In 70s there was a paradigm shift in the field of cultural anthropology by way of accepting the performance of individual or social either in the form of ritual or non-ritual or carnival as a separate entity in the name of performance studies. Here, one has to acknowledge the importance of theatre research as performance studies through Eugene Barba’s International School of theatre Anthropology (ISTA). Victor Turner’s ‘The Anthropology of Performance’ and Richard Schchener’s essay on performance are the pioneering works in the field of performance studies.
Just like man is a political animal, it is one of the keyword in the field of anthropology to identify man is not only as homo-sapiens or social animal but also performing animal. And at same time he is not an animal in circus which is also involved in doing performance under training. On the contrary, man is here an innovative and creative performing animal. His performance is in two levels. In one level as an actor, he is shown his personality in doing his performance or acting on the other hand, he is realizing his self in terms others and at the same he is also representing the totality of the human personality of the society. In a comparative way the enactment of performance will be in the form of unity in diversity existing in the socio-geographical sphere. In short, the human life will be base for the expression of performing arts as the pattern of culture. Thus, searching one’s own identity through performing art should be one of the perennial researches in the field of cultural anthropology. William O. Beeman and others in the field of cultural anthropology have done extensive studies in conceptualizing performance theory through rituals.
In 1983, Fakir Musafar and Jim Wand have taken cue from the photographs of ritual of sun dance – in the Red Indian tribes of America and have tried to reconstruct the performance of the ritual of sun dance as the performance of pain. Once the ritual of sun dance of Red Indians in the form of piercing their bodies by hooks tied in metal string and hanging themselves from the branches of the tree. Here the body of Red Indians tribes becomes the symbol of identity and bears the pain of encroachment of white American modern primitive man into their primitive culture. Thus physicalization of primitive or private rituals in the western traditions or other than non-native involves in creation of “imbedded distinction between stage and auditorium, professional actor/artist/performer and audience and private or community”. Now the tribes of Red Indians are lost their identities and marginalized in the stupid White American society and it is also politics of reconstruction of ritual of sun dance in the name of the performance of pain.
Similarly, one more example to cite, in Colombia, a group of theatre activists joined in the name of Theatre of Winds started to create theatre props like masks and music instruments through the oral history of the Amazon tribes of South America and to do theatrical performance based on the tales narrated through the collective memories of the age old tribes of Amazon valleys.
As has been already pointed out that man’s identity becomes politics of identity. In this context, one has to identify Tamil Theatre or Bengali Theatre in the context of Indian theatre becomes the politics of recognition as Charles Taylor has pointed out. So it is imperative on our part to enter into the history of Indian theatre in parallel to the history of regional theatre of each region of India. Needless to say that the annals of history is written in the dialectical process of the culmination of ‘class consciousnesses. Nowadays, history becomes fiction due to advent of postmodernism and in a way history is also illusion of the truth. So far the written history of all nations is just the ‘his-story’. From the days of past to present, it is prime duty of the theatre historian to create a space for the dialogue in terms if inclusion of the Dalit theatre as well as feminist theatre texts against the “constellations of violence”. What we need today is to construct space for recollection of the collective unconscious of racial memory in order to protect ourselves from the onslaught of the “paralysis of politics” in an environ of multiracial and multicultural society. To keep in mind, Carlose Fuentes, a Latin American writer, started his theatre in the name of ‘Terra Nostra’ (Theatre of Memory) which provides alternate theatre to the mass audience.
When we talk about identity politics of theatre, it is also pertinent to divulge our attention to the issues pertaining to identity politics in theatre in relation to text and its multiple readings, values and relevance. How does the text get interpreted in different ages not only by reading publics but also by critics? Text also falls prey to the whims and fancies of the critics of media both printed and visual media and becomes the centre of the politics of interpretation. It is also important to note that scholars like Roland Barthes, Stanley Fisher and Wolfgang Isher have done extensive research on the art of the reading and reception of the text.
One has to mention here about the recent publication on theatre titled “Theatre Audience: A Theory of Production and Reception” by Susan Bennett. Before entering into the work of Susan Bennett, one has to think about the role of media in constructing the mind of the audience according to the norms of “westernization, commoditized capitalism and homogenization of cultural difference”. Noam Chomsky has done detailed analysis of the role of mass media in his work under the title, “Manufacturing Consent: Political Economy of Mass Media”. In the same way, one has to evaluate the work of Marshall Mcluhan’s “Medium is the Message”.
Nowadays theatre production becomes the product of multinational corporate sectors and the funding agencies of the governmental and non-governmental organization. In this circumstance, the politics of the reception of theatre is also beyond our mental perception. Knowingly or unknowingly, we are entering into the world of postmodernism in which micro-narrative are the centrality of the discourse of the power politics. Postmodernist scholars like Frederic Jameson, Jean Francois Lyotard and Stuart Hall have shown the way to enter into the hidden images of the intellectual terrorism of savage mind. Still the terrain of postmodern theatre is slippery and challenging to the common reader and mass audience. It is worthy to be mentioned here two important works on theatre studies. One is Patrice Pavis’s “Theatre at Cross-road”. Another is Kathleen S.Berry’s “Dramatic Art and Cultural Studies: Acting Against the Grain”. The centre core of these two works is to talk about the necessity of theatre in an age of cultural crisis. ‘Tell the truth’ should be the keyword of our time and theatre should be the viable medium of the political agenda of the “Wretched of Earth”.
Indebted to the work of Paulo Freire’s “Pedagogy of the Oppressed” August Boal has termed his theatre as “Theatre of Oppressed”. It is very much relevant here to quote a lengthy passage from the work of Augusto Boal: “The poetics of oppressed is essentially the poetics of liberation: the spectator no longer delegates power to the character either or think or to act in his place. The spectator forces himself; he thinks and acts for himself. Theatre is action. Perhaps the theatre is not revolutionary in itself; but have doubts, it is a rehearsal of revolution”
This is really what we want to create our theatre activities in a rebellion way not only to interpret but to change the social reality constructed by the hegemony of the political power. This will bring a real identity to theatre which always inherits the power of the identity politics of theatre.