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Kamarck, Edward (ed.) / Arts in society: the arts of activism

Rosenberg, James
Notes and discussion: looking for the third world: theatre report from England,   pp. [437]-444 PDF (6.6 MB)

Page 444

by the University Board of Regents, etc., all of it adding up to what I only
can describe
as a "square backlash," analogous to the "white backlash"
and carrying many of the
same connotations. Actually, the "square backlash" against protesting
has already built up considerable power here in Britain and threatens not
only to curb
the more idiotic excesses of student activism but also, alas, to squelch
all the
positive and creative forces in the student movement. And yet I must confess,
as one of the middle-aged minority who has, nevertheless, for long lent his
sympathy to the black, the poor, and the young, I find myself today far more
emotionally responsive to the "backlash" than I would ever have
thought possible a
year or two ago. And I can't help reflecting that performances such as the
"Happening" would - at any other time and in any other society
- quite properly
have been identified as psychotic behavior, and treated accordingly. Yet
temptation to dismiss such performances quite so comfortably cannot be given
in to.
There is something of much deeper importance going on here - a questioning,
not just of certain artistic forms and formulas, as with Ibsen and Shaw -
but of the very foundations of theatre, and, by extension, of society, itself.
And those
of us in the Establishment, whether of theatre or of society, have for too
now tried to brush these questions aside as irrelevant. They are, on the
profoundly relevant, and we must either find good answers to them or go under
the wave of the New Barbarianism. Undoubtedly, there is much dead wood that
needs to be swept away, although when I pause to reflect that these naked,
barbarians would destroy, not only the dead bourgeois commodity theatre of
the past
couple of centuries, but also Aeschylus, Sophocles, Euripides, Aristophanes,
Shakespeare, Moliere, Chekhov, Brecht (yes, even he has become old-hat!)
- then, as one
of those old-fashioned squares who still has some roots in a viable past,
I can only say,
"Stop. Thus far, and no further." On the other hand, though, I
must confess that,
if I were offered the choice between the brutish reversions of Cologne and
the placid
cliches of THE FORSYTE SAGA, I would unhesitatingly choose Cologne, for-
curiously enough -for all their violence and destructiveness and nihilism,
they are,
444        in an odd but important way, on the side of life, while the Forsytes,
in all their
dullness and comfort, are on the side of death (both socially and artistically),
and, as
long as I am moving about and drawing breath, there is really only one side
I can be on.
Quite clearly, however, my hope is that this is not the sole choice offered
me, that there are other than these two extreme alternatives to choose from.
there must be, for the theatre as well as for society, a "third world"
lying somewhere
in that vast territory between Cologne and Galsworthy. I believe I have caught
glimpses of it, in performances by a group of Swedish students at the Festival,
who, without resorting to nudity, obscenity, or destruction, nevertheless,
with wit,
vitality, and intelligence, presented a potent challenge to established forms
and ideas
both on and off the stage (and every word in Swedish!). I would travel far
to see
them again. I caught glimpses of it at the Edinburgh Festival last Summer,
Frankfurt's ROSENCRANTZ AND GUILDENSTERN, in fleeting moments at Stratford
and in London, now and then on the cinema screen, and even, once in a while,
on TV! But they remain glimpses, fragments, moments. The task is to build
into coherence and permanence.
I am convinced that the future - if there is to be a viable future, either
for the
theatre as a form of action, or for the whole human experiment per se -lies
in this kind of "third world." It is already being actively pursued
in the large arena
of politics and government, but the search is much the same, and just as
in the smaller cockpit of the theatre.
In the more alive and exciting centers of theatrical activity on both sides
of the
Atlantic, this is the search that I see going on, and that I think will continue,
on the
part of those of us who still believe that there is a future for man in the
for the remaining decades of our lives.

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