Date of Award
Bachelor of Arts
theatre, politics, art, power, theater, communication
Theatre and politics are intrinsically connected. The art of politics is extremely theatrical and the art of theatre has always been infused with political relationships. This congruity stems from the fact that both fields of practice originate from the same fundamental source: power. Both arts are different expressions of the same concept. This can be seen in the shared theatrical/political focus on argument; both theatre and politics have the same goal - convincing people by leading them to certain conclusions. Both politics and theatre necessitate getting others to believe what one is saying. The performer requires his audience to believe in his character and the world he creates; the political actor requires his peers to trust in his decisions and delegate authority to him. In this way politics and theatre are both principally tools of persuasion, a function of the power one person has in relation to others. As I will define, power is inherent in all relationships between people, working in concert to create new things. While this is obvious in terms of government and authority, I will not be using the classical definitions of power pertaining to rule of one person over another, but rather what results when people cooperate. As an expression of power – theatre allows for experimentation in human relationships and an examination of society and the power relationships contained within it – the theatre can be a tool for illuminating what power structures exist now or arguing for which structures should exist. With this in mind, how could one harness the power of the theatre as a political instrument? Further, what politics are implied by different theories of performance and different theatrical techniques? That is the focus of this thesis. By revisiting theatre history with a view informed in political theory, I attempt to outline the changing power relationships implied by different theatrical movements throughout the development of
Western theatre, from Ancient Egypt until today. By tracing these changes in theatrical practice, I identify the inherent examinations of power in these techniques, analyze them and develop a collection of working terms and conditions to apply to a new form of political theatre. After surveying the power relationships shown by previous theatrical genres, I suggest a movement of my own that embraces the theatre/politics connection and seeks to use theatre politically. The goal: a theatre technique that focuses on examining power with the purpose of educating/training citizens, safe political experimentation and increasing inter-societal dialogue. With these goals in mind, this method of theatre will seek to function as a place for power experimentation which should benefit the political processes of debate, dialogue and persuasion that are necessary for a democracy. I especially apply Hannah Arendt’s definition of power, Plato’s city/soul connection and Michel Foucault’s concepts of “governmentality,” the “technologies of the self” and Stoic “melete,” in order to lay the groundwork for examining the power inherent in these theatrical relationships. In the broadest sense I outline a theatre which will operate under a regime of democratic governmentality – examining and experimenting with power with the intent of political action. In my extensive research into theatrical techniques, I came upon many that would be useful in such a theatre, which I outline in my first chapter. These include Aristotelian catharsis, the Horatian concept of theatre that “delights and instructs,” the political calls to action of Bertolt Brecht and Augusto Boal and many others. My principal conclusion is that theatre is useful to examine the power relationships that exist in society between people and decide whether or not they should remain that way. Furthermore, the art of theatre itself is especially useful for exploring political problems because it creates a series of imagined circumstances, wherein the performers, creators and spectators of the piece can experiment with power arrangements and learn through them. One act of theatre can have a multitude of potential messages and discoveries as to the nature of power and society that are worth pursuing. Additionally, theatre can serve as an act of Stoic “melete” (which Foucault describes as meditation) which is a kind of thought-experiment where one experiments hypothetical situations with the goal of learning something about oneself and the validity of one’s beliefs. Theatre can fulfill this function by allowing participants to live through whatever power struggle can be imagined and learn something about power (and themselves) through the experience. The spectators of theatre also live vicariously through the performers and gain some knowledge as well. The primary conclusion I come to in my exploration of the potential of these theatrical techniques and methods is that a political theatre should fulfill a didactic and enlightening role – identifying political realities and essentially judging them, while simultaneously offering alternatives to current situations and experimenting in new arrangements of power. Rather than serve as mere entertainment, the theatre could be used as a political platform to take some of the uncertainty out of political science (which stems from the lack of a “laboratory” for the science) and bring the democratic citizen into a thoughtful engagement with their political life. As the purpose of art is to share ideas and initiate dialogue – the artist should have something to say to the audience, and I believe theatre is the most effective way to have that discussion. And as an art form solely focused upon the interactions of individuals – the theatre is well-equipped to deal with questions of politics, the most personal of subjects. Over the course of my research, I came to believe in the power of the theatre to shed light on society’s problems and participate in the attempt to solve them.
Leahy, Richard A., "The theatre as an examination of power: Combining political theory and theatre history" (2008). Honors Theses. 1576.