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The Scarlet & Black

Lecture places street theatre as agent of change

On Monday, April 4, performance scholar Susan Haedicke gave a talk in Bucksbaum entitled “Interventionist Performance and European Street Theatre.” Over a dozen students, staff, faculty and members of the Grinnell community gathered in the Lawson Lecture Hall to attend the multimedia-based lecture. After Haidicke introduced the discipline of performance studies to the audience, she focused on three street theatre companies that she has examined in her scholarship and her working thesis that street performance might lead to radical change.

The first video Haedicke showed was initially confusing. It was a 3-minute excerpt of a 45-minute film of the Jean Simone street theatre company. The actors in the clip repeated bizarre movements, such as circling a streetlight pole, while keeping their heads touching the pole, this movement complemented by wild arm flailing. Viewers could have been puzzled by what sort of radical change would come of a performance like the one featured.

The presenter responded to such criticism of this performance by explaining that these performances constitute events, not content. The performers have targeted the “perception,” “disgust” and “tension” of the public bystanders.

The second video, Le Phun, featured a street theatre company that had transplanted a farm from the French countryside to an urban setting France. This video was bit easier to interpret immediately because the discussion was less abstract. Farmers working in a place where people rarely see farmers, talk about farms, see farming equipment or catch the dreaded down-wind whiff of manure—a phenomenon humorously highlighted in the video.

One actress walking a cow with a rope said in French, “The cow drops every time I take her on a walk.” The video made people laugh, but also made them think very seriously about what’s going on around them.One Australian farmer featured in the clip said that he appreciated the performance because it was recognition of the countryside in the Metropolis.

The third and final video of Haedicke’s presentation took place in London and amused the audience yet again. The audience at the talk seemed as astounded as the audience in the video. The actors and actresses in this performance simply disrupted the public’s day in a variety of ways. For example, at one point all the members of the troupe lay down on a stairwell, thereby forcing every pedestrian to use the other side of the stairwell.

“Taking back the streets,” Haedicke said, “just might lead to radical social change.”

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