Postdramatic Theatre and Postmodern Theatre: WTF? An introduction to Hans Theis Lehmann

Hello and welcome to a new series here
on my channel where I aim to give a brief and hopefully accessible
introduction to some key academic concepts and theories. I’ve become acutely
aware recently that at the beginning of the next academic year I have to start
doing a little bit of teaching. And, as part of that, I’ve been really keen to
make sure I’m going back and revisiting some really core academic texts. In
reconnecting with some of those core ideas,
I thought a way to make it a little bit more fun to myself, as well as to provide
some wonderful content for my youtube channel, I would create some short
videos in which I sum up some particular ideas. As always, I’m going to start from
theatre, but I’m likely to slowly spiral out and start to bring in some concepts
which will be applicable to many other fields of study as well. So, without
further ado, here is the first episode of What the Theory in which I look at
postdramatic theatre. So, I directed a piece as part of a short
play festival recently and, gradually, throughout the process I realised that
none of the pieces were what I would describe as plays. And this got me
thinking a lot about postdramatic theatre which I feel is something we
talk about an awful lot in an academic context but is a term which hasn’t
particularly traveled an awful lot into mainstream theatremaking. So, here’s a
brief introduction the term. Postdramatic theatre was coined by
Hans-Thies Lehmann in his 1999 book of the same name. It was published in
Germany in 1999 but wasn’t translated into English until 2006. Now, just as with
the broader artistic and philosophical movement of post-modernism, which postdramaticism is part of, we can’t really understand postdramatic theatre
without understanding what dramatic theatre is. Plays, basically. Dramatic
theatre is, broadly speaking, mimetic in that it aims to mimic real life. It is
also totalising, it creates a complete world, a fictional world and populates it
with characters and asks an audience to believe wholly and completely in
those characters. It may or may not invoke the idea of a fourth wall in
which the characters are not aware that an audience is there; the use of
monologue or soliloquy does not mean a piece of theatre is not dramatic as long
as the characters are still addressing the audience as their fictional
character. Dramatic theatre also has a closed logic. So time may move forwards
backwards or hop around and we may hop between many different locations but we
will always do so for a reason. Characters will also always be very
specific and have particular backgrounds and particular desires for the future.
Increasingly, however, over the latter half of the 20th century, dramatists and
theatre makers sought to experiment with the flaws in this mimetic type of
theatre. Dramatists started to carry out playful explorations of the failure of
this totalizing representative act. Martin Crimp’s Attempts on her Life is
a particularly good example. Consisting of 17 scenes, the play is a number
attempts to describe or define or characterise the central character. Anne,
who never appears on the stage, is at once an actress, a terrorist, a victim, a
hero, even a car at one point. Some of the scenes, when we view them alongside each
other, we can begin to draw links from, but just as many seem to be describing a
completely different individual. The play is a barrage of information which in
many ways doesn’t add up to a simple, single, logical conclusion. And this is
very typical of postdramatic theatre, it explores the idea that our experience
of the world is very rarely as causal and logical as our experience of
traditional fiction is. In being so logical, then, dramatic theatre actually
fails to mimic our experience of the real world. We can see similar ideas in
some of Sarah Kane’s later work and in Caryl Churchill’s plays where, quite
often, there is the use of blank verse which, instead of being attributed to
particular characters in the playtext, is left up to the creative team to
distribute it within the rehearsal room. In some of their plays, too, it is not the
journey of a character which is explored but the dramaturgy of an idea.
Increasingly, a dramatist or playwright might not be involved in this process at
all. An awful lot of postdramatic theatre is devised. Characters may
actually introduce themselves as the performer that is playing them, they may
introduce themselves with their actual real-world name. In these cases, fiction
is done away with all together. For examples of this kind of work we can
look at the work of Ontroerend Goed, Forced Entertainment and GETINTHEBACKOFTHEVAN. As I mentioned at the beginning, postdramatic theatre is
largely defined in opposition to dramatic theatre. In many ways, it is what
it is not. It can vary hugely in form and content but central to it is the idea of
a rejection of simple, logical, causal sense being made from a piece of theatre.
As a movement, it contests that the world is best represented through things
which make simple, logical, causal sense but in the conflicting the contested and
the unreconcilable multiple logics. Thank you very much for watching
this very first episode of What the Theory. It would be really interesting to
find out if there’s any particular concepts or anything
you’d like me to focus on. It’s been quite fun to do something slightly new. As usual, please do consider subscribing or giving the video a thumbs up. Thanks very
much and have a great week!


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