My musings on what consitutes theatre continue and it would seem I am not the only one. My favourite theatre writer, Lyn Gardner, wrote this piece last week. While it is about the performance scene in the UK, she makes her point clearly.
Don’t box me in: why label art forms?
Is it theatre? Dance? An installation, or a pop gig? Artists are smashing boundaries – and audiences are keen to explore
Over the last couple of weeks, I’ve been to Wales to see Tir Sir Gar, which was as much tea party and installation as theatre, and Praxis Makes Perfect, as much immersive pop gig as immersive theatre. I saw Hofesh Shechter’s brilliant early works Uprising and the Art of Not Looking Back – quite clearly dance pieces. Or were they? Much of the choreographic language would be both familiar and thrilling to anyone interested in contemporary experimental theatre.
I also went on a self-guided walk (I self-guided into a bollard) around London’s Covent Garden, during one of Scary Little Girls’ and Naomi Paxton’s Living Literature Walks, which encompass live performance along the way. Was it a literary walk, or was it a theatre show that simply used the city and buildings as a vast stage-history soaked backdrop to explore the work of the Actresses Franchise League? Then there’s NoFitState’s circus show, Bianco which is currently touring across the country. Theatre, dance or neither? Oscar Mike’s the Situation Room. Game or theatre? Daniel Bye’s The Price of Everything.
Performance or economics lecture? Does it even matter?
Boundaries are being swept away and so are the expectations of audiences who are much more likely to be cultural nomads than they were just few years ago. The internet means that we are all much more likely to know what is happening across the arts and not just in our chosen art form. Even the old allegiances to venues are dying away, particularly when the most exciting events are as likely to take place in a warehouse or old building as they are in an opera house or purpose-built theatre.
Punchdrunk’s co-production of The Duchess of Malfi with ENO [English National Opera] may have been called an “opera”, but I bet that most of the audience didn’t much care. As far as they were concerned it was Punchdrunk, and it was this that drew them to Great Eastern Quay, just as The Drowned Man will draw thousands to the formerly secret location just next to London’s Paddington station.
Many of those may not even think that it’s theatre.
For other audiences, Neon Neon was the obvious draw for National Theatre of Wales’s Praxis Makes Perfect, which is touring later this month again, but for others it could be the involvement of director Wils Wilson or playwright Tim Price. It is the artists that increasingly engender loyalty, not the institution that produces them. And whether it’s called dance or theatre or opera doesn’t really concern the audience, and may even get in the way of them giving it a try.
But many newspapers and websites – including the Guardian – still classify and review by art form; Arts Council England still mostly funds on that basis; and many companies and buildings still define themselves by a predominant art form and pigeonhole events by art category. In the 21st century much of the most interesting work being made completely defies categorisation. That’s exactly what makes it so thrilling. So why continue to try and box it in?
It’s worth checking out the posts that followed her article for a few other perspectives