Theron Schmidt, 1 March 2012

Our next London Theatre Seminar is 1 March, 6.30pm, in Room 261 (Senate House, second floor).

The speaker will be Theron Schmidt (King’s College London):

Acting, disabled: Back to Back Theatre and the politics of appearance

For Hans-Thies Lehmann, the political relevance of postdramatic theatre derives from its potential opposition to spectacle and representation.  Referencing Debord, Lehmann writes, ‘the task of theatre must be to create situations rather than spectacles,’ such that ‘the structural problem becomes exactly how to suspend the fundamental law of the spectacle itself.’  The work of Australian theatre company Back to Back, which for over 20 years has employed performers with intellectual disabilities, might at first glance appear to embody the kind of resistance to spectacle that Lehmann describes.  The ‘realness’ of the performers’ disability might be understood to transform the theatre-event into a situation rather than a spectacle, to which audiences are witnesses rather than spectators (to borrow Tim Etchells’ distinction).

And yet, Back to Back’s recent production Food Court (2008) seems to engage with questions and dynamics of theatrical spectacle and dramatic representation – not in order to overcome them, but rather as a way of engaging with the politics of appearance itself.  Rather than getting to the ‘real’ politics behind these representational surfaces, the work stages the idea that disability is precisely a question of appearance (or non-appearance), and that, as Jacques Rancière has argued, the distribution of appearance is the domain of politics.