Making Theatre Politically

The concept of ‘making theatre politically’ draws on the definition of ‘politics’ found here. As a result, Brecht’s theatre can be differentiated from what is often called ‘political theatre’. Political theatre tends to refer to theatre with an overtly political theme. Theatre about political parties, government, conspiracy theories, or power structures that exist beyond the individual tend to be put in this category. It is thus characterized by its content.

Here, ‘making theatre politically’ means that the theatre is more concerned with uncovering the politics of relationships that occur in our daily lives because our interactions with each other are all underwritten by an array of norms and expectations that often go unspoken. It is fairly obvious that no-one is born a racist, a nationalist or, for that matter, a socialist. People interact with their social context and develop views, attitudes and behaviours over time.

These interactions can have wide-ranging effects. Consider, for example, one’s emotional response to, say, starting an intimate relationship with another person. Usually, one feels an amount of happiness at this time, but what if the new partner is of the same sex or of a different race or religion? Value systems that run through families could induce shame or pride. Value systems do not simply ‘exist’, but are also subject to the norms of the society in which the family lives. A theatre that ‘makes theatre politically’ is interested in picking away what may appear to be a ‘natural’ reaction to the new relationship and ask why the family is either untroubled or upset.

In this example, even the figures’ emotional lives, in addition to their decision to get together in the first place, are open to analysis because the definition of politics has expanded to understand human relationships as essentially political. They are predicated on one’s social status, one’s place in society, and the contradictions that they signal. Once the contradictions have been clearly articulated on stage, the audience can start to speculate on both their nature and their possible resolution.

‘Making theatre politically’ is thus more concerned with form, the ways in which material is presented on stage, something aided and abetted by the Brechtian method.