Intermedial performance as a public sphere

Mancewicz, Aneta (2016) Intermedial performance as a public sphere. In: IFTR 2016 : Presenting the Theatrical Past; 13 - 17 Jun 2016, Stockholm, Sweden. (Unpublished)


The public sphere, as theorized by Jürgen Habermas in "Strukturwandel der Öffentlichkeit" in 1962, has been critiqued extensively in the Anglophone world since the book was published in English translation in 1989. Consequently, the development of Habermas’s idea has coincided with the advancement of new technologies of communication and representation, as well as the growth of intermedial performance that uses digital media. The digital revolution, and the proliferation of social media in particular, has raised questions about the potential and the efficacy of theatre as a public sphere. To address these questions, I examine two productions that rely on new media in investigating key political issues in contemporary Europe: immigration and democracy. "No man’s land" by the Dutch director Dries Verhoeven is designed as an intimate journey, on which twenty immigrants take twenty spectators, with the immigrant stories told through the headphones. Performed on the streets of several European cities, including Athens in 2014, the production examines the nature of assimilation and exclusion, underlining the importance of a private experience in the setting of a public space. "Fight Night" by the Belgian collective Ontroerend Goed, in collaboration with the Australian Border Project, shown in London in 2015, invites the audience to vote, using electronic devices, with the results immediately projected on a screen. The performance reveals the pitfalls of representative democracy, as well as the makeup of the audience and the quality of a public debate surrounding elections. Drawing on these productions, I propose to look into the private and public aspects of intermedial performance and its potential to foster a civic debate. How can intermedial performance constitute a public sphere? What means of representation and civic engagement might be made available to performers and participants? Do they offer a potential for critique, resistance, and protest?

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