We are responding to a century that has witnessed a proliferation of theatrical forms of activism perhaps unprecedented in its global scale, from the occupation of Seattle by an emergent global justice movement in 1999 to the more recent uprisings across the Arab world that led to a million citizens gathering in Tahrir Square in Cairo in 2011. Artists and performance groups have often played an active role in protest events, drawing on bodies, text, image, movement as imaginative projections against the perceived order of things, and as tactical interventions and communicative tools.
This blog offers the idea of ‘gesture’ as an open-ended stimulus for contributors, signalling the aim to offer a thick theorisation and documentation of theatre and performance as an activist aesthetic. However, we are also interested in contributions to the blog that challenge this idea. Gestures of protest in recent times – camping, occupying, marching, striking, moving in cells (to avoid kettling for example), swarming, dancing, going in disguise, impersonating, playing, staging, chanting, networking, blogging, hacking, tweeting – carry traces of former activist modes, and extend the domains of activism from the public life of the street and the theatre stage, to the private domain of the mobile phone and laptop. This blog explores both the historical traces and contemporary practice.
This blog is a collaborative dimension of a research project based at the University of Manchester Department of Drama. It is a space for researchers, activists and artists to contribute documentation and analysis of theatrical activism and protest performance past and present. It complements and feeds into a special issue of the journal Contemporary Theatre Review which will be published late 2014 / early 2015. Selected extracts from the blog (with the authors’ permission) will be curated and published as a “Gestural Notes” document within the issue.
We have been inspired, in part, by Giorgio Agamben’s short essay ‘Notes on Gesture’ (2000), which explores an idea of gesture as ‘pure means’ – refusing the separation of action into means and ends, as categorised for this or that proper use. We encourage critical engagement with a range of protest gestures, including those arising from social movements that might not be deemed progressive (those that involve acts of violence for example, or are aligned to neo-conservative agendas). Contributors are encouraged to analyse how protest gestures emerge from local sites and explore how the antagonisms produced are complexly inflected when considered in context and across multiple frames of reference.
If you are interested in contributing please contact us via the form below.
Simon Parry & Jenny Hughes