Otherness: Essays & Studies 5.1

Edited by Rita Sebestyén

and Matthias Stephan


Introduction

by Rita Sebestyén

 

Re/shaping Otherness is the focus of the current, special issue that explores performative and theatrical representations of Otherness. Within the spaces of theatre and the performing arts, the differential bounds demarcating otherness, such as national, cultural, religious, socio-political, sexual, gender, and diasporic delineations, are continually and constantly dramatized, disrupted, negotiated, and redrawn. 

In light of the heated debates on globalization and multiculturalism in recent years, new, heterogeneous inter- and cross-cultural approaches to fluid, migrant, hybrid, transcultural worlds have emerged. In this respect, the question of Otherness is vital to the quests that arise as a result of their emergence: How do we approach these new intersubjective and dialogical perspectives of identity-seeking, self-definition, indeed, community cohesion in such a milieu? In a world increasingly global yet local, uniform yet diversified, how do these perspectives complicate relations to and understandings of others and Otherness? How is the relationship between dominant and peripheral cultures, self and other, reflexively re-negotiated? In the following articles we will consider a surprisingly vast array of topics: most recurrent being embodiment, representation, participation, différance, act and reflection, and also methods of approach: ranging from theoretical analysis to essay-manifesto and performance-as-research methodology. This open and loosely waved narrative, offering philosophical, socio-cultural and artistic insights, also induces a series of quests related to Performing Arts being challenged with regards to its genre, role, socio-cultural-political involvement and responsivity/responsibility.

 

 

The exchange of gazes is the pivotal question of Ádám Czirák’s study: Becoming Someone Else. Experiences of Seeing and Being Seen in Contemporary Theatre and Performance.His study deals with the production trend based on the mutual visualization of the participants that inevitably induces a process of subjectification, in which looking at someone else is accompanied by being looked at. The relation of a new Self and the Other is embedded in these performances that transform the classical subject-object duality into a contingent subject-subject relation. Through examining, from this point of view, performance by Franco B., She She Pop and Dries Verhoeven, Czirák pints to the importance of fashioning new guidelines of a performance analysis approach, and the genre becoming crucial to consider political questions of representation.

Stemming from and leading to direct socio-political considerations, namely the refugees’ situation in a relatively tangential country like Romania –  and one case in Tajikistan -- thenext article raises all the questions of displacement, socio-cultural otherness, cultural geography and of representation. Based on his own research, creative processes and performances, and subsequently even the audience’s feedback, David Schwartz, artist and activist outlines a double narrative in his article: Born to Run. Political Theatre Supporting the Struggles of the Refugees; a personal, local, historical, political, cultural description of the refugees’ struggles, and the artistic and human experience of the artists and refugees taking part in the creative practice. The article offers the broadest possible horizon of performance as research: hermeneutical-descriptive methods, interwoven with socio-political considerations and a reflective gaze on his own work, leading ultimately to a complex yet by its descriptive aspect easily approachable social-artistic action research. Born in the Wrong Place as performance, Migration Stories as performance, followed by debates and the involvement of the refugees and their opinions brings up crucial questions of ‘foreignness’, prejudice and ethical questions of self-representations.

Likewise, migration and refugees’ social integration are the topics of the article by Azadeh Sharifi: Mentality X - Jugendtheaterbüro Berlin and its theatrical space for Urban youth of Color, this time shedding light on a phenomenon that both socially and artistically indicates a further step on the matter in question: post-migrant theatre. The term itself being recently coined by researchers, it expresses a phenomenon of self-empowerment, self-representation of the second generation migrant communities, who, through often cross-genre artistic forms of the performing arts and hip-hop, take in their hands the discourse on their own precariousness and transit-state in the German society, deconstruct racist narratives and occupy physical, artistic and aesthetic space through their manifestos and actions. Through festivals, own narratives and aesthetics created by Mentality X, they inevitably push critical reflection, social awareness into discourses that regard them as artistically-socially-politically decisive factors.

Roughly speaking, a manifesto can be regarded as a plan of and call for action projected into the future, often related to (and challenging) socio-political and artistic environments. By putting forward a new aesthetics, method, discourse, community, and a new artistic view that have been marginalized before, Emily Hunka, the author of the next article entitled Method in our madness: Seeking a theatre for the psychically disabled other merges the descriptive methods of existing phenomena and the cast-in-the-future gesture of the manifesto. She raises her voice for discovering the possibility of a theatre that can provide the psychically disabled young people with a space that turns the margins into a comfortable place to live and create. Operating with the significance of ‘social capital’ and ‘human capital’, also giving abundant examples from Shakespeare to Nietzsche, Kierkegaard, Schopenhauer, and the power of the creation that through the limbic resonance of the artist reframes the socially viewed oddity into works of art, Hunka provides both scientific and aesthetic considerations and challenges the socially restrictive frame of the atypical emotion/behaviour.

A historically, socio-politically and culturally representative, post-colonialist issue is addressed by Marco Galea in The Pantomime Other: Building Fences in Pantomime Performance in Malta. Starting from a historical event, more than 200 years ago, a blockade that lasted 18 months in Malta, Galea unfolds a complex network of social and cultural colonization, a hidden and many-faceted othering endured by the Maltese, condensed in one theatrical metaphor: “black skin, white masks”. Maltese and British amateur and professional theatres and their traditions – e.g. the apparently innocent action of writing a pantomime – become dangerous and harmful instruments of colonial control; the anglicized Maltese still being present in the cultural landscape of Malta: the speaking subject that describes the rest of the population as the Other, the different, the subaltern.

As opposed to the colonized representation of the Maltese in the former article, a witty, almost cunning self-representation and self-empowerment emerges from the article of Anikó Oroszlán: “Mute Hieroglyphics”: Representing Femininity in the Early Stuart Court Masques, dealing with early English actresses in the 16th and 17th centuries. Oroszlán draws our attention to the radical dichotomy between the fact that, on the one hand, the women who performed in those times were regarded as corrupt and amoral, and on the other hand, even the reigning queen was able to show herself in public, like an ‘actress’. Through civic pageants, guild plays and royal processions, posing the questions of professional and amateur theatre artists, the social status of the performers and the influence of another culture – in this particular case the Italian touring companies, the article focuses on the emergence of the body of the queen, representing royalty, but on the other hand, inevitably, the controversially regarded female performer, while tackling at the same time the metamorphoses thematized in the masques of Ben Jonson’s plays.

Theatre as a place where physicality is (also) displayed, being an emblematic metaphor of mutability and the ephemeral, is contrapuntal, yet represented in films that deal with and reveal different strata and approaches of Mozart’s otherness – closely related to the socio-cultural frame of his contemporary Vienna. Marie Bennett scrutinizes in Representing Mozart’s ‘Otherness’ in Film Mozart’s social otherness, such as  his incapability to relate, while several accounts portray him as a social prodigy, as well. A predilection to the use of Turkish music as mystic, oriental Otherness, and also Otherness of nationality and class are closely examined in the films Wuthering Heights (1939), The Truman Show (1998), The Heart is a Lonely Hunter (1968), and Kind Hearts and Coronets (1949), in strong interdependence with the dramaturgy of the music used in them, is examined in this paper on Mozart’s Otherness. 

Eszter Horváth’s The Other and its Double closes this special issue, dealing with questions of Otherness and bodily representation, starting from Rimbaud’s metaphor: ‘I is another’. Like in most of the previously mentioned articles, questions of corporeality, representation, discourse creation and emergence come up as main topics. In this last article the theoretical, mostly phenomenological approach of Otherness in performing arts summarizes and encapsulates most theories that the issue tackles: repetition, re-presentation, difference (Deleuze); human bodies being socially constructed (Butler), reconsiderations of corporeality in the discourse of the Other, as well as the actor seen as a conscious body, acting upon its constitutive differences.

Many thanks to our contributors.