Academic journal article Themes in Theatre

Playing Culture: The Return Of/to the Homo Ludens

Academic journal article Themes in Theatre

Playing Culture: The Return Of/to the Homo Ludens

Article excerpt

Playing Culture, together with Cultural Context, Contextual Theatricality and Theatrical Playing, are the four conceptual categories that constitute The Theatrical Event. This model has been the intellectual, social, emotional and playful ongoing project of the IFTR (International Federation for Theatre Research) Theatrical Event Working Group in which I have been an active member for more than a decade now.

I have been drawn by the concept of playing culture since it was first introduced by Willmar Sauter, the convener of the working group. It speaks to my theatre ideology which became crystallized from my early years as an MA and then PhD candidate. As a scholar I have thoroughly studied the phenomenon of playing and the 'family resemblance' between game, dramatic play, ritual, theatre and art. Over the years I have come to perceive playing as a fundamental and underlying potential energy and mood; a constant multi-faceted process that is embodied through countless forms of symbolic articulations.2 As a theatre practitioner, and particularly as a community-based theatre animator and facilitator, I have long experienced theatre not so much as a canonic text and a version of high culture but more as a popular mode of theatrical playing.3 Richard Schechner's seminal theoretical enterprise, which presented performance as the umbrella concept for human daily and extra-daily activities, has indeed stimulated me both intellectually and practically. But at the same time, I have always deeply felt that it is playing that should stand as the core term of the various performances that constitute self, society and culture. Accordingly, I have also thought that theatre scholars should not leave this subject solely in the hands of philosophers, sociologists and anthropologists, but should attribute a more central location to playing in their research.

The idea of playing culture has been profoundly connected to the Theatrical Event, the core concept of the IFTR Theatrical Event Working Group. Thus, before farther discussing my own thoughts regarding playing and playing culture, I find it necessary to reconsider the contribution of the Theatrical Event to theatre/performance studies.

Theatre as an Event

In the family of theatre there are two concepts that have essentially focused on the formation of theatre as an event. The first, the theatrical event, was crystallized during the 1960s and 1970s by the artists of the new theatre as a radical turn from the American institutional theatre, and was later formulated by Richard Schechner as part of performance studies. The second, the Theatrical Event, has been conceptualized since 1997 by The Theatrical Event Working Group convened by Willmar Sauter within the framework of the International Federation for Theatre Research (IFTR/FIRT). Despite their similar terminology, the theatrical event and the Theatrical Event are two different concepts: the first is 'American' in origin and theatre ideology, the second is basically 'European', emerging primarily from German philosophy. Whereas the first is radical, advocating new forms of art and theatre, typically labelled the alternative theatre and lately performance art, the second is a scholarly enterprise that subscribes to the European traditional perception of theatre, which has been always more inclusive than the American. In this respect, these two concepts exemplify the ongoing debate, at times boisterous and at others subdued, between performance studies and theatre studies. Nevertheless, having been inspired by the first and a participant of the second, I suggest looking at the interface between them and how this interface can contribute to our perception of what is theatre.

The first to draw attention to the eventness of theatre were the painters, sculptors and musicians who wishing to radicalize their art by theatricalizing it created a new art form, which they called 'the new theatre'.4 Reclaiming the idea of event, Richard Schechner further developed it into the theatrical event model of his environmental theatre, which can also be applied to most of the leading groups of alternative theatre. …

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