Theatre in the 21st Century

Compiling and writing ‘ Theatre TODAY ‘ was a wild, intriguing, captivating, comforting, reassuring experience. Full of paradoxes. It was a panoramic journey to the heart of what going in the theatre today, and how it is evolving at the beginning of 21st century. It proved that the theatre; as-as an art; is alive and well, and more than that, it is taking in all the social, economic, and technological changing.

And, YES, we can glance how the theatre is going to be in this unique fast moving, ever-changing demands, due to the technological developments and the economic integration worldwide. And its effect on the social structure.

We can see the seeds of the future theatre coming from three directions.

Theatre in the 21st Century

Compiling and writing ‘Theatre TODAY ‘ has been a wild, intriguing, captivating, comforting, and ultimately reassuring experience. Full of paradoxes, it was a panoramic journey to the heart of what's going in the theatre today, and how it is evolving at the beginning of 21st century.

It proved to me that the theatre is alive and well, and more than that, it is taking in all the social, economic, and technological changes that are occurring in the world around us.

And, yes, we can get a glimpse at the future of theatre in this unique fast moving world.

We can see the seeds of theatre's future coming from three directions.

Firstly, in the experimental works in the new theatre groups and companies, which may we call; off the existing established theatres.

Secondly, in the rise of theatrical movements originated from the experimental works were done in the last century.

Thirdly, in the works of few established theatres - and here we stress the word ’few’ - these works mainly done by some daring directors.

Before we explain what we mean by that, let us put a caveat on that we are about to say.

From the start, this book primary objective is to scan and record in a panoramic view the theatre as it is today, as objectively as possible, without judging the subjective quality of any theatrical companies or groups we have included.

Our purpose is to give the reader an opportunity to know and experience what's going in the theatre today. Any judgement is left to you, the reader.

Our team while researching and compiling the book argued for weeks about whether to scale each theatre company or group’s works that are listed in the book by a star marking from 1 to 6 stars. The intention was to examine to what level each of the theatre groups or companies work was shaping the future of the theatre.

In the end, we came to the conclusion that this wouldn't be a healthy move to judge the individual theatrical works in its embryonic stage of its evolution. What may seem a ridiculous work now, may sow the seeds for a future theatrical movement.

To condemn an artwork in its beginning is like condemning new born baby at the minute of her/his birth because of what we may think or imagine that he/her will do when they mature.

So, we decided not to judge any works of the theatre groups or companies listed in this book. We just record them and their works and left the judgement for the time which will prove to be the definitive critic.

This second edition of ‘ Theatre TODAY ’ covers the state of theatre in 2017-2018. And thanks to our publisher, we plan to update ' Theatre TODAY ' yearly. It will be interesting and exciting to see in next year's edition, what survived and what disappeared into obscurity.

Our journey in researching ‘Theatre TODAY‘ was fascinating and riveting, especially when we looked at the experimental works of new companies and groups, off and off off the existing established theatres.

We found that they were able to understand two important facts about today audiences that enable them to communicate better with the audience and gave us insight to the theatre of the future.

Firstly, the young audience today, and future audiences of tomorrow are all wired into a multitude of new communications tools and gadgets; visible and invisible; seen and unseen; which are having an evolutionary effect on the way they receive, perceive, evaluate, and judge information.

We can expand that to the pure sounds, type, and tempo of sounds they are surrounded by and respond to. Also, we can see this reflected in their modern vocabulary from ostentatious spellings to appropriating new meanings to words.

Secondly, The attention span of young and future audiences are getting shorter and shorter while the boundary of their vision is expanding. Multi-media tools that surround them rewire their ability to appreciate what they see, hear, and experience and in many ways literally, rewire the way they comprehend the world.

We can talk for hours about the effect of technology on the future of art, but the real talent comes down to how human creative skills and imaginations utilise these tools.

You can see that in
‘Blast Theory Theatre’ productions. Their work has explored interactivity and the social and political aspects of technology through a multitude of mediums – incorporating performance, installation, video, mobile and online technologies. Their recent work uses mobile technologies such as text messaging, MMS messaging and 3G phones with the aim of exploring how technology might be considered to create new cultural spaces in which the work is customised and personalised for each participant.
These projects pose important questions about the meaning and limitations of interactive technologies. Who is invited to speak, under what conditions and what can anything truly meaningful be said?

Blast Theory’s artists describe their work as collaborative and interdisciplinary. With early works such as Gunmen Kill Three (1991) and Chemical Wedding (1994) fitting more in the category of live performance art, Desert Rain (1999) saw a shift towards work that aims to question perform-activity, site and presence.

Works such as ' Can You See Me Now? ' (2001), a game of chase through real and virtual city streets, have seen Blast Theory mix video games and performance, while ' Can You See Me Now? and You Get Me ' (2008) use the internet to open up to a worldwide audience.

Another example of tackling the same problem differently can be seen in the works of
'Punchdrunk'; a British theatre company whose works eliminate the boundaries between the stage and the audience.
In their works, the auditorium expands to swallow the stage deconstructing not only the separation between performer and audience but also the linear progression of a show.

'Punchdrunk' pioneer a form of 'immersive' presentation in which the audience is free to choose what to watch and where to go. This format is related to what we classically consider as 'promenade theatre'.

In a Punchdrunk production, audience members are free to roam the performance site, which can be as large as a five-story industrial warehouse. They can either follow the performers and themes (there are usually multiple threads at any instant) or simply explore the world of the performance, treating the production as a large art installation.

Lyn Gardner in her review from the Guardian wrote of Punchdrunk.

' Punchdrunk's shows are always a bit of a puzzle. Those with a detective's frame of mind can indulge in a treasure hunt created by Gideon Reeling and a mysterious BAC artist called Coney. The clues are hidden throughout the show and will lead those who seek to a treasure buried somewhere in London. If you want to take part, here's a clue: make sure you read Poe's story The Gold-Bug before you go.'

Now let us move to our second point, we can see the seeds of future theatre coming from, the emergence again of certain theatrical movements of the last century.

There are three movements from the past that we can identify on the rise. Their impact is filtering through slowly and establishing a foot hold in many current theatre companies and groups.

Let us be clear, the current appropriation and implementation of these movements into new theatrical works differ in form from the way they have been incorporated in the past.

The first movement is the rise of 'The Theatre of the Oppressed'. We can see this clearly in the Middle East, Latin America, India, and 58 other countries worldwide.

They utilise the tools of that movement in their struggle for social and political change. We can see this dominate many theatrical groups in Egypt, Tunisia, Palestine especially during and after the famous Arab Spring.

The Theatre of the Oppressed movement is a method started and by the Brazilian director Augusto Boal. It offers everyone the aesthetic means to analyse their past, in the context of their present, and subsequently to invent their future, without waiting for it.

The Theatre of the Oppressed helps human beings to recover a language they already possess — they learn how to live in society by playing theatre. They learn how to feel by feeling; how to think by thinking; how to act by acting. Theatre of the Oppressed is a rehearsal for reality.

The oppressed are those individuals or groups who are socially, culturally, politically, economically, racially, sexually, or in any other way deprived of their right to dialogue or in any way impaired to exercise this right.

The Theatre of the Oppressed is based on the principle that all human relationships should be of a dialogic nature, among men and women, races, families, groups and nations, dialogue should prevail. In reality, all dialogues have the tendency to become monologues, which creates the relationship between oppressors and oppressed. Acknowledging this reality, the main principle of ' Theatre of the Oppressed ' is to help restore dialogue among human beings.

This method uses theatre as means of knowledge and transformation of the interior reality in the social and relational field. The public becomes active, so that the spectators and actors explore, show, analyse and transform the reality in which they are living.

Here is a small example of how it works; of course with many variations of that form. As explained by The International Theatre of The Oppressed Organisation.

'the actors (either professional actors or non-professionals drawn from oppressed communities) perform a play with a scripted core, in which an oppression relevant to the audience is played out.'

'After reaching the scripted conclusion, in which the oppressed character(s) fail to overturn their oppression, the actors begin the production again, although often in a condensed form. At any point during this second performance, any spectator or actor may call out "stop!" and take the place of the actor portraying the oppressed individual (this actor stays on stage but to the side, giving suggestions to the spectator or actor who has replaced (him/her).'
'The spectator/actor then attempts to overturn the oppression using some method unused by the actors, while the actors portraying the oppressors improvise to attempt to bring the production to its original, scripted ending.'

'If the audience believes that the spectator or actor’s actions are too unrealistic to be utilised in reality, they may call out "magic!", and the spectator or actor must modify the actions accordingly.'

'If this spectator/actor fails to overthrow the oppression, the actor resumes his/her character and continues the production until another spectator/actor calls out "stop!" and attempts a different method.'
'If and when the oppression has been overthrown by spectator/actor, the production changes again: the spectator/actor now have the opportunity to replace the oppressors, and find new ways of challenging the oppressed character.'

'In this way, a more realistic depiction of the oppression can be made by the audience, who are often victims of the oppression. The whole process is designed to be dialectic, coming to a conclusion through the consideration of opposing arguments, rather than didactic, in which the moral argument is one-sided and pushed from the actors with no chance'.

There are more than 65 theatre companies and groups using and implementing techniques from the theatre of the oppressed worldwide. All part of an international collective called ‘The International Theatre of The Oppressed Organisation'.

The second theatrical movement on the rise is 'The Physical Theatre'
. Any serious theatre worker will know something about what we mean by term 'physical theatre'. But the amazing thing is that most will argue a different definition of physical theatre and how it came to be.

As this is not the place or the arena for that debate, we will say with some confidence that physical theatre was influenced mainly throughout western culture by theatrical experimentalists such as Antonin Artaud, Jean Louis Barrault, Bertolt Brecht, Jerzy Grotowski, Tadashi Suzuki and Steven Rumblew.

To get out of any argument about what exactly the physical theatre is let us use for the time being Wikipedia’s definition.

'Physical Theatre is used to describe any mode of performance that pursues storytelling or drama through primarily physical and secondarily mental means. Several traditions of performance all describe themselves as ‘physical theatre.’ It can be used to help the actors gain a better understanding of the plays, but there has been some considerable confusion as to how physical theatre should be defined. The means of expression seem to be primarily physical rather than textual, often augmented by musical elements.'

If you go through the theatre companies and the groups, we list in this book you will notice that many physical theatre concepts frequently reoccur but with new twists that incorporate modern social and technological concerns. Remember, we live in the 21st century.

Theatre groups such as
'Forced Entertainment' and 'Double Edge Theatre Company' both implement the concepts of physical theatre in differing ways.

The interesting part is that the concepts and processes of physical theatre in preparing, rehearsing and performing is filtering upward to the established large theatre companies through the works of directors using it in their productions.

The third movement to discuss here is 'The Environmental Theatre' movement. And that is an unexpected surprise. Environmental theatre strives to heighten audience awareness of the medium by eliminating the distinction between the audience and the actors space.

The term coined by the American Richard Schechner in 1968 refers to the non-frontal, spectator-incorporative theatre he was then creating with the Performance Group.

Here are two descriptions of the environmental theatre to give you a general idea.

The first definition, Richard Schechner’s environmental productions Dionysus in 69, Macbeth, and Commune were performed in his Performing Garage on Off-Off-Broadway in New York City.

Schechner and the Performance Group (founded 1968) shaped the theatre to conform to each play, constructing different audience frameworks for each production.
The sets were usually based on multilevel platforms, balconies, ramps, and scaffolds surrounding a stage that encroached on the audience’s territory, providing a wider range of space for the actors and a greater flexibility of interaction between the audience and performers.

The audience of the environmental theatre was invited, even expected, to participate. The minimum involvement for the production of Commune, for example, was the audience’s removal of its shoes upon entering the garage.

To enhance the immediacy of experience the multiple-focus theatre replaced the traditional single focus, allowing more than one scene to be staged at the same time.

Schechner’s theatrical experiments, inherited from the Polish director Jerzy Grotowski, included the use of psychophysical conditioning exercises for actors, the collaging of texts, and the shaping of theatre space.

The concept of the environmental theatre was taken to greater extremes by radical artistic groups such as 'Welfare State International', based in England, and the 'Bread and Puppet Theater', based in the United States.

Both took art to the streets, often working in derelict urban neighbourhoods in the latter half of the 20th century and at the beginning of the 21st.

Numerous other experimental companies defied the traditional boundaries of audience-actor relationships, especially in non-theatre venues.

The second definition, again, to get out of any argument about what exactly the environmental theatre is let us use for the time being this definition .

' The concept could be traced to the processional and church-based productions of medieval theatre in Europe, as well as many forms of traditional Asian theatre and various folk performances.'

Whereas most representational theatre creates a frontal or oppositional relationship between the stage and auditorium—and creates an aesthetic distance through an implicit or explicit separation of performer and spectator space—environmental theatre seeks to incorporate the spectator in some way within the performance and to diminish the sense of aesthetic distance.

As a general rule, environmental theatre can be defined as any form of theatre in which a spectator cannot apprehend the total performance space within the normal frontal lines of vision.

Audience incorporation may be achieved in several ways and in varying degrees.

The stage or scenery may partially or completely surround the audience. Such approaches may range from the merely atmospheric, as when an auditorium is decorated to enhance mood but the relationship to the stage does not change, to the structural, as with ring-like stages that surround the audience, or projecting stages such as the hanamichi of kabuki theatre, or the futuristic projects of artists such as Jacques Polieri, Frederick Kiesler, or Walter Gropius which placed audiences in the midst of spherical theatre, to totally enveloping environments as in some happenings and some of the work of Jerzy Grotowski, Tadeusz Kantor, and others in which all the space is potentially available to actors as well as spectators.

Similarly, processional performances which move through a city, civic structure, or sacred or festival space—such as the medieval mysteries and biblical plays of England or Spain, royal entries, the Ram Lila of India, or contemporary parades and pageants—are environmental in that they traverse great distances that cannot be completely observed by a single stationary spectator, while at the same time implicitly transforming the urban architecture into a scenographic space.

Whereas religious, folk and traditional performances around the world have evolved environmental strategies with little theory, much twentieth-century Western theatre has self-consciously experimented with non-frontal staging either as an attempt at greater naturalism (as with the productions in Moscow of Nikolai Okhlopkov's Realistic Theatre or the Living Theatre's staging of Jack Gelber's The Connection in New York).

More often artists have used environmental staging as a means of thwarting conventional illusion, as in various productions of Meyerhold, Eugenio Barba, Ariane Mnouchkine, the Bread and Puppet Theatre, and others.

Of more recent vintage is ‘site-specific performance’ in which a production is staged not in a purpose-built playhouse but in an existing structure or natural environment that is chosen either because of its theatrical qualities or its appropriateness for the theme of the style of the production.

In such cases, the site becomes the theatrical environment, and the spectator is surrounded by the scenography whether the entire space is used for the performance or not.

Several performance artists, postmodern dancers, and production organisations such as
En Garde Arts (USA) and Forced Entertainment (UK) have presented works on beaches, railway stations, hotels, art galleries, city streets, factories, and the like. In site-specific work, as in much environmental theatre, the environment itself often becomes the central aspect of the performance and incorporates performer and spectator equally.

Last but not least, an interesting theatre movement starting to establish itself as a serious new theatrical form is ' The Hip-hop Theatre '.

Hip-hop theatre is a form of theatre combining hip-hop dance, dialogue, and urban music that presents 'contemporary stories told in the vocabulary of hip-hop'.

Other cultural markers of hip-hop such as spoken word, graffiti art, beat boxing, and DJing can be included as well, although they are not always present. What is most important is the language of the theatrical piece and the plot's relevance to the world.

Danny Hoch, the founder of the Hip-Hop Theatre Festival, further defines it as.

'Hip-hop theatre must fit into the realm of theatrical performance, and it must be by, about and for the hip-hop generation, participants in hip-hop culture, or both.'

Hip-hop theatre productions appear in a wide range of platforms from single performances, to week-long festivals, to travelling repertory companies.

Marc Bamuthi Joseph is an award winning spoken word artist and dancer who has been commissioned several times to create and direct single hip-hop theatre works. British choreographer Jonzi D is the artistic director of the London based Breakin' Convention, a week long hip-hop theatre festival.

Rennie Harris, Mourad Merzouk, and Victor Quijada are artistic directors who run hip-hop theatre companies in the U.S., France, and Canada respectively.
The Rock Steady Crew, Magnificent Force, and the Rhythm Technicians are pioneers of this theatrical genre which started in the United States.

Though hip-hop culture has managed to establish itself on film, on television, in fashion, in music, and in the dance industry, it has not gained the same momentum in theatre.

Stage productions are few in number but growing. Two of the earliest stage shows were 1990's off Broadway musical
'So! What Happens Now?' and 1995's 'Jam on the Groove' both performed by the Rock Steady Crew, Magnificent Force, and the Rhythm Technicians.

Aside from the pioneers in New York we also find Lorenzo
'Rennie' Harris' Puremovement (RHPM) hip-hop theatre company started in 1992 in Philadelphia.

So, as we come to the end of our short introduction covering the theatre today. We are sure that when you read through 'Theatre TODAY' you will come to a simple conclusion.

All the above movements, concepts and processes intermingled and became the under-current seen in many of the theatrical performances of companies and groups we review in this book.

This is part of the excitement of reading 'Theatre Today'. It will give you a comprehensive, panoramic view of what’s going worldwide in the theatre today.

In compiling this book, we never intended to draw any facts or conclusions about what the future will be. We are just taking you on a journey to experience what is happening in the theatre during 2017−2018.

'Theatre DODAY' , 2017 Edition will be released early December 2017. You can get from the major Bookshops and Amazon.