He makes theatre for people who don’t like theatre:’ Peter Gabriel on Robert Lepage

– Robert Lepage’s The Andersen Project, a three to four year old touring project

Lepage has received much international recognition from his experimental theatrical performances introducing multi-media and other technological devices on stage.

Concerning the use of technology in theater, he said that he doesn’t think the theater is lagging behind cinema and musicals.

Technology is a starting point of theater. When men discovered fire, people sat around the fire and spent a lot of time telling stories. Some were using the shadows and creating monsters. That’s the beginning of theater,’ he said.

– Chung Ah-young, article in The Korea Times, 2007-09-07, here

I was wrong – again – to say that with AK09, Auckland’s festival of the arts, we’ve discovered ‘avant-garde theatre.’ What we’ve in fact discovered is that what avant-garde theatre has in common with the programme for the festival is that both are primarily concerned with theatre for people who don’t like theatre.

The late 19th early 20th century practitioners of the avant-garde neither set out to establish a new tradition nor were their practices only a reaction against what had come before. However, as the earlier post regarding Reza Abdoh’s theatre practice makes clear, avant-garde theatre over the course of the last century came to constitute a corpus and does retrospectively form a tradition.

Where this tradition is most convincingly present in fact is where it is also conspicuously absent in principle: festivals encourage cutting-edge work only so far as it can be argued to sponsors, advertisers and patrons that that work is capable of attracting audiences; the Auckland festival has become a celebration of theatre for people who don’t like theatre for the reason of averting us away from an unappetising image and type of theatre, presumably, that made for people who do like theatre. In turn, the festival has become a celebration of the type of people who don’t like theatre as a distinct taste group.

Avant-garde theatre and theatre-despite-itself (made and imported for the prevailing distaste with which the majority of festival-goers are purported to feel by festival organisers and directors in collusion with advertisers, sponsors and patrons towards theatre) resemble each other at the level of the surface. They may share techniques. But this must be all that they share: as to the question of why they exist they differ entirely.

One is made for people who don’t like theatre before the fact – or surface appearance; one is made for people who don’t like theatre after the fact – or being presented, having been presented, with that surface appearance. One consists and insists as one exists.

You could say that one, in being made (or imported) against theatre is getting made (being imported) for it, the avant-garde; while that theatre which is said to be made (and is imported) for people who don’t like theatre is against theatre only insofar as it is good for business.

The latter is more show business. You might further consider whether this theatre that plays along or this group of people who don’t like theatre deserve to have their distaste celebrated in a civic festival.