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Fighting in the Streets: Dramaturgies of Popular Protest, 1968—1989

  • Baz Kershaw


Everybody would agree that agitational political theatre has fallen on hard times, but whether this is due to a changed political climate, a changed theatre, or a more politicized relationship between companies and funding bodies remains a matter for debate. Here, Baz Kershaw adopts a lateral approach to the problem, looking not at dramatized forms of protest but at protest as an action which has itself become increasingly theatricalized – in part owing to its own tactics and choices, in part to the ways in which media coverage creates its own version of politics as performance. After looking at the major focuses of protest in two decades after 1968, Baz Kershaw examines the ways in which political and performance theory has and has not addressed the issue. Presently Head of the Department of Theatre Studies in the University of Lancaster, his previous publications include Engineers of the Imagination: the Welfare State Handbook (with Tony Coult, 1983) and the Politics of Performance: Political Theatre as Cultural Intervention (1992).



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Notes and References

1. Versions of this argument have been explored in Holderness, Graham, ed., The Politics of Theatre and Drama (London: Macmillan, 1992); Case, Sue-Ellen and Reinelt, Janelle, eds., The Performance of Power: Theatrical Discourse and Politics (Iowa: University of Iowa Press, 1991).

2. For a relevant discussion, see Kershaw, Baz, ‘The Politics of Performance in a Postmodern Age’, in Analyzing Performance: a Critical Reader, ed. Campbell, Patrick (Manchester: Manchester University Press, 1996).

3. See, for example, Auslander, Philip, Presence and Resistance: Postmodernism and Performance in Contemporary American Performance (Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 1992); for an account of Welfare State's Glasgow All Lit Up! see Kershaw, op. cit.

4. Williams, Raymond, Culture (Glasgow: Fontana, 1981), especially Chapter 1.

5. Lahr, John and Price, Jonathan, Life Show: How to See Theater in Life and Life in Theater (New York: Viking Press, 1973); Schechner, Richard, ‘Invasions Friendly and Unfriendly: the Dramaturgy of Direct Theatre’, in Reinelt, Janelle G. and Roach, Joseph R., eds., Critical Theory and Performance (Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 1992); and ‘The Street is the Stage’, in Schechner, Richard, The Future of Ritual: Writings on Culture and Performance (London: Routledge, 1993). In some ways my argument constitutes an ongoing conversation with Schechner's ideas, and if at times the tone gets more than a little immoderate it is because, paradoxically, I have much respect for the pioneering nature of his work.

6. For the ‘sixties, see Hewison, Robert, Too Much: Art and Society in the Sixties, 1960–75 (London: Methuen, 1986); for the ‘eighties, see Feigon, Lee, China Rising: the Meaning of Tienanmen (Chicago: Ivan Dee, 1990); Chipowski, Peter, Revolution in Eastern Europe (London: John Wiley, 1991).

7. See Debord, Guy, The Society of the Spectacle (Detroit: Black and Red, 1977); Baudrillard, Jean, Simulations (New York: Semiotext[e], 1983).

8. See, for example: Foucault, Michel, Discipline and Punish: the Birth of the Prison (New York: Vintage Books, 1979); Baudrillard, op. cit.; Fiske, John, Power Plays Power Works (London: Verso, 1993); and Strong, Roy, who indicates a long historical lineage in Art and Power: Renaissance Festivals, 1650–1850 (Woodbridge: Boydell, 1984).

9. See Kershaw, Baz, ‘Framing the Audience for Theatre’, in The Authority of the Consumer, ed. Keat, Russell, Whiteley, Nigel, and Abercrombie, Nicholas (London: Routledge, 1994).

10. See Orr, John and Klaic, Dragan, eds., Terrorism and Modern Drama (Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press, 1990). I am grateful to Clive Barker for drawing my attention to this lively collection.

11. See, for example: Morgan, Kenneth O., The People's Peace: British History 1945–1990 (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1990) p. 294 (though Morgan seems to confuse the relatively peaceful October 1968 demonstration with the one in March).

12. British Pathe News, 1968 – a Year to Remember, videotape (London: Ingram, 1990).

13. The classic account is Roszak, Theodore, The Making of a Counter Culture: Reflections on the Technocratic Society and its Youthful Opposition (New York: Doubleday, 1969).

14. Bedarida, Francois, A Social History of England, 1851–1975 (London: Methuen, 1979); Marwick, Arthur, British Society Since 1945 (Harmondsworth: Pelican, 1982).

15. Trotsky, Leon, ‘The Proletariat and the Revolution’, in The Age of Permanent Revolution: a Trotsky Anthology, ed. Deutscher, Isaac (New York: Dell Publishing, 1964).

16. See Ali, Tariq, 1968 and After: Inside the Revolution (London: Blond and Briggs, 1978).

17. See Derrida, Jaques, ‘From Psyche – Invention of the Other’, in Acts of Literature, ed. Attridge, Derek (London: Routledge, 1992), p. 340 (‘The very movement of this fabulous repetition [through the logic of supplementary] can, through a merging of chance and necessity, produce the new of an event. Not only with the singular invention of a performative, since every performative presupposes conventions and rules – but by bending these rules themselves in order to allow the other to come or to annnounce its coming in the opening of this dehiscence. That is perhaps what we call deconstruction’).

18. Debord, op. cit.; see below for Hoffman and Rubin; McLuhan, Marshall, Understanding Media: the Extensions of Man (New York: Signet, 1964); Marcuse, Herbert, Eros and Civilization (London: Sphere, 1969) and One Dimensional Man (London: Sphere, 1968); Bottomore, Tom, The Frankfurt School (Chichester: Ellis Hor-wood, 1984). For a useful critique of the Frankfurt School, see also Thompson, John B., Ideology and Modern Culture (Cambridge: Polity Press, 1990), Chapter 3.

19. See de Certeau, Michel, The Practice of Everyday Life (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1984).

20. The basic text is Gleick, James, Chaos: Making a New Science (London: Sphere, 1988).

21. For usefully measured analysis, see Cerny, Philip G., ed., Social Movements and Protest in France (London: Frances Pinter, 1982); and Reader, Keith A., The May 1968 Events in France: Reproductions and Interpretations (London: St. Martin's, 1993); for more descriptive accounts, see Absalom, Roger, France: the May Events, 1968 (London: Longman, 1971); Seale, Patrick and McConville, Maureen, French Revolution 1968 (Harmondsworth: Penguin, 1968).

22. See Plant, Sadie, The Most Radical Gesture: the Situationist International in a Postmodern Age (London: Routledge, 1992), especially p. 133–41.

23. Neville, Richard, Play Power (St. Albans: Paladin, 1971), p. 37.

24. Trotsky, Leon, The History of the Russian Revolution (London: Gollancz, 1935).

25. Scheduler, op. cit.

26. Ibid., p. 65–7.

27. Baxandall, Lee, ‘Spectacles and Scenarios: a Dramaturgy of Radical Activity’, in Radical Perspectives in the Arts (Harmondsworth: Penguin, 1972), Note to Illus. 12. This essay was the main inspiration for the present argument.

28. Davis, R. G., The San Franscisco Mime Troupe: the First Ten Years (Palo Alto: Ramparts Press, 1975); Brecht, Stephan, The Bread and Puppet Theatre, two vols. (London: Methuen, 1988); Biner, Pierre, The Living Theatre (New York: Avon Books, 1972).

29. Hoffman, Abbie, Revolution for the Hell of It (New York: Dial Books, 1968), p. 30,183, quoted by Scheduler, op. cit., p. 64.

30. Rubin, Jerry, Do It! (New York: Simon and Schuster, 1970), p. 250, quoted by Shechner, op. cit.

31. For the theatrical context to the yippie interventions, see R. G. Davis's essays on guerilla theatre in The San Francisco Mime Troupe: The First Ten Years, op. cit.; Lesnick, Henry, Guerrilla Street Theatre (New York: Avon Books, 1973); Sainer, Arthur, The Radical Theatre Notebook (New York: Avon Books, 1975); Wiseman, John, Guerrilla Theatre: Scenarios for Revolution (New York: Anchor, 1973).

32. The ground-breaking work is Bristol, Michael D., Carnival and Theatre: Plebeian Culture and the Structure of Authority in Renaissance England (London: Methuen, 1985).

33. Scheduler, op cit., p. 47.

34. Geertz, Clifford, Local Knowledge: Further Essays in Interpretive Anthropology (London: Fontana, 1993), p. 27.

35. Ibid., p. 34.

36. Scheduler, op. cit., p. 86.

37. See, for example, Brake, Michael, Comparative Youth Culture: the Sociology of Youth Culture and Youth Subcultures in America, Britain, and Canada (London: Routledge, 1985); Hall, Stuart and Jefferson, Tony, eds., Resistance Through Rituals (London: Hutchinson, 1976); Hebdige, Dick, Subculture: the Meaning of Style (London: Methuen, 1979).

38. Chipkowski, Peter, Revolution in Eastern Europe (London: John Wiley, 1991), p. 77.

39. Ibid., p. 80.

40. Esherick, Joseph W. and Wasserstrom, Jeffrey N., ‘Acting out Democracy: Political Theatre in Modern China’, The Journal of Asian Studies, XLIX, No. 4 (11 1990), p. 839, also in Wasserstrom, Jeffrey N. and Perry, Elizabeth J., eds., Popular Protest and Political Culture in Modern China, second ed. (Oxford: Westview Press, 1994).

41. Ibid., p. 842.

42. Ibid., p. 841.

43. Schechner, op. cit., p. 88.

44. Esherick and Wasserstrom, op. cit., p. 841.

45. Ibid. A fuller description which underlines the eclectic style of the Goddess can be found in Minzhu, Han, Cries for Democracy: Writing and Speeches from the 1989 Chinese Democracy Movement (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1990), p. 342–8; and by Tsao Tsingyuan, in Wasserstrom and Perry, op. cit., p. 140–7.

46. See, for example, Gordon, Alec, ‘Thoughts Out of Season on Counter Culture’, in Introduction to Con-temporary Cultural Studies, ed. Punter, David (London: Longman, 1986); Martin, Bernice, A Sociology of Contemporary Cultural Change (Oxford: Blackwell, 1981); Musgrove, Frank, Ecstasy and Holiness: Counter Culture and the Open Society (London: Methuen, 1974).

47. See Chipowski, op. cit., and Wasserstrom and Perry, op. cit.

48. Quoted in Robert Hewison, Too Much, op. cit., p. 147.

49. Ibid., p. 148.

50. See, for example: Held, David, Models of Democracy (Cambridge: Polity Press, 1987), especially Chapter 7.

51. For an entertaining account, see McKay, George, Senseless Acts of Beauty: Cultures of Resistance since the Sixties (London: Verso, 1996).

52. See Fiske, John, Power Plays Power Works (London: Verso, 1993).

53. See, for example, Phelan, Peggy, Unmarked: the Politics of Performance (London: Routledge, 1993); Diamond, Elin, ed., Performance and Cultural Politics (London: Routledge, 1996).

54. See Connor, Steven, Postmodernist Culture: an Introduction to the Theories of the Contemporary (Oxford: Blackwell, 1989); and Harvey, David, The Condition of Postmodernity (Oxford: Blackwell, 1990). A particularly useful approach to this issue in relation to the dramaturgy of protest is provided by Wark, McKenzie, Virtual Geography: Living with Global Media Events (Bloomington; Indianapolis: Indiana University Press, 1994). I am grateful to Tim Raphael of Northwestern University for drawing my attention to Wark's work, unfortunately too late for it to have the impact on my argument that it deserves.


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