Kamarck, Edward (ed.) / Arts in society: the arts of activism
Notes and discussion: looking for the third world: theatre report from England, pp. -444 PDF (6.6 MB)
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 students 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 active 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 Cologne "Happening" would - at any other time and in any other society - quite properly have been identified as psychotic behavior, and treated accordingly. Yet the 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 long now tried to brush these questions aside as irrelevant. They are, on the contrary, 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, screaming 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 to me, that there are other than these two extreme alternatives to choose from. Surely 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 some 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, in 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 them 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 somewhere 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 real, 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 theatre, for the remaining decades of our lives.