Friday, July 27, 2012

Essays on "Theater and Disaster" take center stage in Critical Stages, IATC's international journal

Devastated by the tsunami:  Ishinomaki, Miyagi, Tohoku in Japan (March 2011) | Photo by Morihiro Niino
CYBERSPACE |  The sixth edition of Critical Stages, the web journal of the International Association of Theatre Critics, is now out, I am very proud to report. And it is a most extraordinary edition. Why? Because Manabu Noda, a professor at Meiji University in Tokyo (as well as a theater critic and researcher), has prepared a special section that you won't find anywhere else in the world...or on cyberspace, for that matter.

Manabu Noda-san has curated and edited together a special section, entitled “Theatre and Disaster,” focusing on the post-3/11 theater in Japan. He writes:

Four out of the five articles in this section are from Japanese contributors including the section editor. The section editor is from Japan, but the editorial intention of this is not self-pitying; it is rather to offer a documentation of the post-3/11 milieu in Japan for future reference in our future inquiry into how disasters can affect theatre as well as how theatre should react to an emergency like this. 
The only non-Japanese article in the section is the one contributed by Zain Ahmed and Hajirah Mumtaz (Pakistan), whose “Theatre in a Time of War” shows that the disasters the Pakistani theatre has had to face were not only the post-9/11 political milieu; they can be dated back from the military dictatorship that started in 1977, or even more further back, the Dramatic Performance Act that came into effect during its colonized years. The article helps us realize that theatre in the time of any disaster ought to be discussed in a long-term perspective, as the situation in Japan is still too immature to allow any such attempt, the other articles basically concerning the theatre scene in Japan after the earthquake in March 2011
Bravo to Manabu Noda-san. He has done a great service to the critical community and the theater world!

Meanwhile, I invite you to sample the Interviews section of Critical Stages.

Three of these five interviews introduce us to new voices in the international theatre: Bulgarian director Javor Gurdev, French playwright Rémi De Vos and Italian playwright Fausto Paravidino. Two other interviews offer career retrospectives of theatre artists who have made a tremendous difference in their part of their world: the American actor/director/scholar Robert Goldsby and the Romanian actor/general manager Ion Caramitru.

Read this set of interviews in this sixth edition of Critical Stages not for the subjects' nationalities, which are evident enough.  Read them for what the interviewees have to share about the states of their contemporary theater.  One value of these interviews arises from their diversity —  their differeing senses of what constitutes internationalism within the context of their theatre practices.

Bulgarian director Javor Gurdev
Unless you've spent time in Bulgaria and Russia, you may not have heard about Javor Gurdev, a 40-year-old director of film and theatre, whose productions the critic Emil Iliev is passionate about. Iliev's interview, “You Can Twist Time And Space And Find Yourself Somewhere Else,” gives us a glimpse into the mind of a stage director from the Balkans who intensely fixes on what he calls the "naked theater reality."  In so doing Gurdev's productions flirt with the mystical sides of life, as Iliev notes in the questions he asks.  We find in Gurdev a remarkably young artist who's searching for his place in a shifting, global landscape. "Theatre artists maintain different identities in each local context," Gurdev avows. "I am one person in Bulgaria, another kind of artist in Russia or America or Berlin."

French playwright Rémi De Vos
Critic Irène Sadowska-Guillon interviews the French playwright Rémi De Vos in a probing article, entitled "Un théâtre briseur des tabous."   Sadowska-Guillon gives us a crash course into De Vos's writing life.   Applying her critical faculties, she interrogates De Vos whose theater is engaged with comic absurdities and sociopolitical realities, especially in the world of work.  This is a terrain familiar to De Vos, having worked over the years as an ambulance driver, a night watchman and a metal worker while living in Paris and setting his sights to become a writer.

That peripatetic lifestyle led to pursuits abroad.  He's had residencies, workshops, immersions and productions in places as far-flung as Beirut, Vietnam, Paraguay, Peru, Turkey, Greece and the Democratic Republic of Congo.  "When I started writing theater," Rémi De Vos recalls, "I was asked to do writing workshops in in various Latin American countries for several months, for several years running. These work stays abroad helped me put into perspective my reality: the French way of life"

Italian playwright Fausto Paravidino
Critic Sadowska-Guillon also highlight the recent work of Fausto Paravidino, a young Italian playwright born in 1976 in Genoa.  After brief stints at small theatre companies and Rome's Gloriababbi Theatre, Paravidino nabbed a residency at London’s Royal Court Theatre in 2000, where he wrote La maladie de famille M (which he discusses with Sadowska-Guillon). A translator into Italian of the plays of writers such as Shakespeare, Harold Pinter and Conor McPherson, Paravidino is very much an up-and-comer. Last year, his tragic farce La maladie de famille M. was staged in the city of Taipei in Taiwan.

Romanian actor/director/general manager Ion Caramitru
Theater artists can't help but discover the nature of their work in the crucible of the international encounter.  In the case of Ion Caramitru, the legendary Romanian actor and general manager of the National Theatre in Bucharest, theatre arts is indistinguishable from statesmanship.  In a 1992 conference held in London's House of Commons, Caramitru said, "In the part of the world that I come from, a generation was born and lived which, besieged in its own country, understood that culture was the only way out.  To overcome a deep sense of metaphysical fear, this generation formed deep and trusting friendships, searched for books, went to the theatre and made great efforts to learn foreign languages.  Looking back on it now, why does it remind me of Gogol, of Dostoyevsky, of Swift? Why, at a time of lies and compromise, did I feel the need to withdraw into the theatre? Was it because everything seems possible there?"

Theater was a chance to survive for Caramitru, whom the critic Ioana Moldovan describes as as "one of the most recognizable faces that kept hope alive during the first days of the Romanian Revolution of December 1989."  Theatre was a shared language   —  the only medium in which dissent could be expressed at the time. It was no coincidence that in the 1989 revolution Romanians turned to Hamlet (i.e., Caramitru) for a leader who declared, "My army is at your disposal. Tell us where to go." Following his instinct, Caramitru directed protesting students and teenagers to the TV station where, after fierce fighting, he found the TV news studio guarded by only a single Securitate man, too frightened to raise his hand in a salute. From there Caramitru and a poet-friend made an announcement to the nation: "We're free, we've won. Don't shoot anyone. Join us."

American actor/director/designer Robert Goldsby
Hamlet serves as a signpost for another legendary figure: Robert Goldsby. In Lissa Tyler Renaud's candid and beautifully illustrated interview, “Old Souls into New Souls,” Goldsby fesses up. He says that the scholar-critic Dover Wilson's book What Happens in "Hamlet" made a strong impression upon him. He states that the title of Wilson's book on Hamlet expresses that "critical question"    —  "where I always start as a director of any play."

Goldsby played an instrumental role in guiding two Bay Area troupes    —  San Franciscio's celebrated American Conservatory Theatre in the late 1960s and the legendary Berkeley Stage Company (1974–1984), which introduced many important new plays and playwrights to the USA    —  both of which helped define USA's non-profit resident theater movement.  Goldsby explains that "the director faces the audience as the 'beast with a thousand eyes' whom he or she must persuade to laugh or cry, and they spend months making choices that they hope will connect with the public at the performance taking place in the present time." But while politics courses like blood through Ion Caramitru's veins, Robert Goldsby insists that "Doing plays for social or political ends has never appealed to me."

Enjoy these diverse conversations as much as I was thrilled to curate and edit them. — Randy Gener

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