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NOW AVAILABLE AT CTR ONLINE – CTR 164, Fall 2015 “Vancouver after 2010”
Also available on Project MUSE
A startling correspondence across former Olympic and Paralympic host cities is that aggressive social welfare cuts have followed the event. These cuts have serious material consequences for those very artists and minority groups that proved so central to winning bids and staging Opening and Closing ceremonies. Five years after the 2010 Vancouver Olympic and Paralympic Winter Games, with the city’s arts communities still recovering from a series of provincial funding cuts that actually began in 2009, and with post-Olympics development projects encroaching on artist live-work spaces, this special issue of Canadian Theatre Reviewbrings together scholars, artists, and cultural producers to ask what kinds of resources remain after a mega-event has left town? How do artists and companies adapt to new economic circumstances and leverage audience attention for and investment in new projects? And what might a reading of the specific aesthetic, social, and affective legacies of different Olympics- and Paralympics-related performances tell us about the state of arts and culture in Vancouver today? From public art and sound walks, to hockey games and real estate speculation, this issue reveals the pervasive power of the Olympics to continue to shape how Vancouverites move through and live within the city. Fix, the published script by award-winning playwright Alex Bulmer, demonstrates how citizens of host cities from Vancouver to London must continually renew the fight to the right to the city. Bulmer’s “audio provocation” seeks to engage youth in the deep questions of citizenship, particularly concerning disability and inclusion. Her script is one of many battle cries in this issue that show art and performance to be more than a stage for official culture, but a political force with which to be reckoned.
Click here to read the full introduction.
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“The photograph of Aylan Kurdi [http://media.breitbart.com/media/2015/09/ap_ap-photo219-640×497.jpg], the Syrian child from Kobane whose body washed up on a Turkish beach, has sparked a “light bulb moment” in the heads and hearts of European public and policymakers alike – forcing both significant debate and new policy towards the refugee crisis.”
-James Denselow, Al Jazeera English 8 Sept. 2015 http://www.aljazeera.com/indepth/opinion/2015/09/europe-light-bulb-moment-150907115044435.html
What is a light bulb moment?
In David Grieg’s eerily prescient play Europe (1994), the cast of characters assemble as a chorus at the beginning of each act (Scenes 2 and 9, to be specific)—each actor identified in the script as a number, not as a named character—and offer descriptions of the play’s time and place to the audience:
1 Ours is a small town on the border, at various times on this side,
3 at various times,
2 on the other,
1 but always
1,2,3 on the border.
4 We’re famous for our soup,
5 for our factory which makes lightbulbs
1 and for being on the border.
These manufacturers of soup and light live in a town that, like a rock in the sea, has been washed over by the ebb and flow of warring armies, political and economic interests, and, soon, inevitably, tourists. The identity of the town has been rubbed off. The text hints at the erasure of the town and its people even before the characters speak: “Setting: A small decaying provincial town in Europe. Autumn.” Unlike Autumn, however, a natural and recurring event, or for that matter a rock smoothed into sand by the sea, the decay and erosion of this unnamed European border town results from man-made causes.
I am not sure why Grieg chooses soup and lightbulbs, except that, by doing so, perhaps he offers a spectrum of use-values. Soup to sustain the body. Light to protect the body from darkness. Together, soup and light to nourish the soul and the intellect. Regardless of the meaning, I am confident that Grieg offered a synecdoche of 1994 Europe in his depiction of this small decaying town and by doing so should have sparked a “light bulb moment” to ward off the darkness of racism and economic exploitation that was, at that time, mounting.
The play comments on numerous issues through Grieg multi-layered dramaturgical style. One worth mentioning here is the connection between monetary (in)stability (perhaps thinking of the coming Euro currency) and the hocus-pocus of money changing. The character Morocco, a man who has discovered how to make a living through his mastery of the magic of trade, lays the situation bare:
Morocco This is what the border is. See…?
Morocco A magic money line. See. You pass something across it and it’s suddenly worth more. Pass it across again and now it’s cheaper. More…less…less…more…fags, drink, jobs, cars…less is more, more or less…see? Magic money just for crossing a magic line. I’m not a smuggler, I’m a magician, an illusionist. There’s no crime in that.
Morocco I swear to God it’s a conjuring trick. Swear to God. Give me a dollar…abracadabra…I give you roubles back…give me some roubles…come on…give…hey presto…Deutschmarks. It’s all imaginary…none of it’s real, none. You just have to think up the trick…it’s easy.
Looking for contemporary resonance? If we shift our attention to Greece and the never-ending discussion of bailouts, I think we’ll be able to return to Grieg’s play and discern the satire in Morocco’s character. But Berlin, the character with whom Morocco shares his secrets, does not find anything amusing. Berlin—a name laden with historical significance—seems to prove Dan Rebellato’s statement in Theatre & Globalization: “The geographical boundaries of a country are often the arbitrary sediment of centuries of historical processes. Yet they can take on symbolic importance in the national imagination and any penetration of these boundaries, real or imagined, can cause a convulsion of national feeling” (xvi). For Morocco, who no longer pledges any allegiance to the small town where he and Berlin grew up, the border is porous. For Berlin, this porosity and Morocco’s carefree jaunts back and forth through the pores, such a situation amounts to an attack on his way of life.
These two causes in particular bring tragedy to Fret, the local station agent, and his daughter Adele: economic destabilization at the cusp of Europe’s transformation into the European Union and rage; rage focused at the flood of immigrants coming into the town by locals Berlin, Horse, and Billy who believe immigrants—whom they refer to as Flying Boat People—will take their jobs and their money. Again, this twenty-year-old play starts to sound familiar. Grieg managed to capture not only the social, political, and economic forces that contributed to Europe’s internal fracturing in 1994 but also the human habits that ensure the repetition of history. (Consider and consult the following links:
Economic decline shows itself in the play’s setting, a train station that Grieg describes as “a forgotten place [that] bears witness to the past century’s methods of government.” The rage of the townspeople amplifies upon news of the station’s closing, the announcement of layoffs at the light bulb factory, and the arrival of Sava and Katia, a father and daughter who are escaping an unnamed war-torn landscape. For Sava and Katia, the train station acts as a threshold between an old life of violence and uncertainty, to one side, and a new life of stability and hope, to the other. The townspeople, however, see the same train station, which becomes a makeshift immigrant camp for the two refugees, as the threshold between the old Europe that brought them economic stability and the new Europe that makes no promises at all.
Due to their different ages, Sava and Katia have different expectations about the Europe of the north to which they are fleeing. Grieg crafts the viewpoints of all his characters into a kaleidoscopic view of 1994 Europe. In particular, though, Sava’s and Katia’s perspective from the bottom, as it were, offer his European (at first English and Scottish) audience members a vivid portrait of the violence waging just to the south as well as the myth of Northern European Enlightenment that supposedly keeps the north safe.
Sava […] Katia, we’re not in some savage country on the other side of the world. Look around you, look at the architecture. Listen to the sounds from the street. You can smell the forest. We’re a long way from home but we’re still in Europe. We’ll be looked after. Our situation will be understood.
Katia Europe. Snipers on the roofs, mortars in the suburbs, and you said: ‘This is Europe…we must stay in Europe.’ So we stayed, even after the food ran out: ‘This is Europe.’ When the hospitals were left with nothing but alcohol and dirty bandages. I warned you and you still said: ‘This is Europe. Honesty will prevail, sense will win, this war is an aberration…a tear in the fabric. In time it’ll be sewn up again and things will look as good as new.’
Things, however, do not begin to improve for the two immigrants or for Fret and Adele who would like to help them. Berlin and Horse conspire to enact revenge against these boat people who will surely take their jobs and steal their way of life. Fueled by hate and ignorance, the two characters eventually set the train station ablaze. Grieg dramatizes this action by having Berlin narrate the events to the audience:
Berlin On the news the fireman said the station was a tinderbox. He said it was criminal. Criminal that it could have been left in that condition. They didn’t have a chance he said. No one stood a chance in that place. Criminal.
LOOK AT IT LOOK AT IT LOOK AT IT! … IT’S BEAUTIFUL.
At first we just saw the light inside. Just an orange glow inside and then some smore. It was a clear night so we could see the smoke rising. Even from that distance we could feel it warm. AMAZING. (He holds out the back of his hand.)
Katia and Adele manage to make it out. They escape on a train for destinations unknown before the bombing occurs. Fret and Sava do not escape. The darkness of the scene culminates in the final words, which Grieg decides to give to Berlin: “They know that, in our own way, we’re also Europe.”
That is to say, “we,” the good and the bad, the left and the right, the center and the margins, the awake and the sleeping, the hopeful and the hopeless, the terrorists and the terrorized, we’re all Europe. If this play, written 20 years ago, didn’t have the power to enact lasting change for the minorities of Europe or to prevent the public from being duped about the sleight-of-hand economics of the European Union, it is hard to imagine that an image of a dead child on a beach will make an impact now. The “light bulb moment” alluded to by the Al Jazeera journalist may only be a flash, more like the final moments of the forgotten light bulb factory in Europe than an enduring Enlightenment.
CTR 163 (Summer 2015)
Performance Futures: Imagining Theatre in 2030
Edited by Jenn Stephenson and Laura Levin
Also available on Project MUSE
CTR 163 (Summer 2015): Performance Futures: Imagining Theatre in 2030, edited by Jenn Stephenson and Laura Levin, explores very recent innovations in theatre and performance, and asks what they can tell us about where the field is headed. Focusing on new formats of theatrical production and reception, contributors have been invited to answer the question: “What will the performance landscape in Canada look like in fifteen years?” This is not theatre in a distant sci-fi future but theatre that is just around the corner. The assembled collection brings together voices that are passionate and visionary, and address such disparate topics as the future of theatre in online venues, the future of interculturalism and cultural diversity in theatre, the future of theatre funding, and the future of theatre criticism. The script featured in this issue is Concord Floral, winner of the 2015 Dora Mavor Moore Award for Outstanding New Play. Written by Governor General Award-winning playwright Jordan Tannahill, and co-created with acclaimed artists Erin Brubacher and Cara Spooner along with a group of exceptional Toronto teens, this powerful text exhibits alternative ways of representing the lives of tomorrow’s youth as well as more ecologically responsive human futures. Concord Floral is accompanied by an arresting series of staged photo-portraits by Erin Brubacher, which help reconceptualize the boundaries of a theatrical script and production.
Click here to read the full table of contents.
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This spring (2015) I led a graduate seminar in the Center for Performance Studies at the University of Washington called “Emerging Discourses in Theatre and Performance Studies.” Throughout the ten-week term, we discussed readings in three areas: Ecocriticism, the Cognitive Sciences, and Affect Theory. Each of these areas represented discursive “turns,” that is, conversations that have emerged fairly recently in our fields and do not seem to be going away soon. The goal for the seminar, then, was for the students to become familiar with these discourses, so that they would be at the very least conversant with them in reading and at conferences, and, even better, equipped with “tool belts” of helpful concepts and resources for their own research.
We devoted roughly three weeks to a crash-course in each area, reading essays from special journal issues and collections and discussing them in the seminar. One of the benefits of taking on contemporary scholarly conversations was that when we had questions or confusions about particular concepts or arguments, we could contact many of the working scholars in the field to ask them directly, and our colleagues in the field were generous, thoughtful and timely in their responses. At the end of each unit, the students compiled a working inventory of provocative key terms and concepts that gave some shape to the conversation and that could serve as indexes for future term papers, dissertation chapters, conference presentations and publications.
Attached are .pdf files of our inventories, along with a syllabus for the course. We hope they might be useful springboards for a larger collective of scholars engaged in these conversations.
- DRAMA 587 Emerging Discourses Sp 2015 Syllabus
- EcoCritism Inventory
- Cognitive Sciences Inventory
- Affect Inventory
Additions, corrections, and suggestions are welcome in the comments section, below.
Seminar Participants: Monica Cortés-Viharo (Drama), Jay Eckard (Drama), Duygu Erdoğan Monson (Drama), Storm S. Sundberg (Dance), Robert Wighs (Drama). With thanks to Monica Cortés-Viharo for transcribing and organizing the inventories, and to Rhonda Blair, Amy Cook, Baz Kershaw, and Theresa May.