‘An act of theatre…engaged’

Something I have been thinking about recently is to what extent can a cultural spectacle be classed as theatre. Let me elaborate.  I have a student, Eliza, who has chosen to write a theatre extended essay and her focus is the opening ceremonies of the Beijing and London Olympics, and how – in terms of form – they represent their respective cultures.


I then saw this image on a news website:

impression_lijiang_showThis is Impression Lijiang a cultural show demonstrating the traditions and lifestyles of the Naxi, Yi and Bai people of China’s Yunnan province. The show takes place inside Jade Dragon Snow Mountain Park at 3500m in an outdoor theatre specifically designed to showcase the mountain which is used as a backdrop. The production itself was designed by Zhang Yimou, famous Chinese film director and organizer of the opening ceremonies at the Beijing Olympics, with a cast of over 500 people, and a number of horses. Apparently, it is the highest altitude performance ever staged!


However, the show does not have a plot. So is it theatre? The rave reviews on TripAdvisor would seem to say it is. A few years ago I saw The Edinburgh Military Tattoo – is that theatre? Is it World theatre, as it draws ‘performances’ from right across globe? What about Songkran in Thailand, Onam in Kerala, India or Thaipusam in Penang, Malaysia?

Of course Peter Brook famously says in The Empty Space:

I can take any empty space and call it a bare stage. A man walks across this empty space whilst someone else is watching him, and this is all that is needed for an act of theatre to be engaged

I don’t know the answer, but it has got me thinking. It’s also tied up with teaching Artaud and the Theatre of Cruelty and the place of ritual within that…….but that’s another post, for another day!

Just to add to the discussion I’ve tweeted an old blog post from Lyn Gardner on this debate…..great minds and all that!



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