Blogbox | Culture

Is theater losing its identity?

By - 01.02.2021

Originality loses its meaning when we try to change it.

It all started with rituals devoted to the deities. These rituals were held in Ancient Greece, where the people’s belief in deities reached a very high spiritual level. The starting point was the cult of Dionysus, the deity of wine and fertility, who was among the Olympians. Dionysus’ companions were satirists, drunken half-human and half-animal creatures, and the maenads, his “raving” followers.

In Ancient Greece, Dionysus’ companions would take on roles as satirists or maenads and sing, drink and dance in honor of their deity. These manifestations would occur during religious rituals. Later, about 2,500 years ago, a person called a Thespis, a Dionysian priest, leaves the choir and takes on the role of an actor. He plays Dionysus’ myth through spoken dialogue instead of singing.

This was the beginning of what we today call “theater.” After the antiquity period, new social stages followed and dramatic art went on to become more enriched.

Theorists, playwrights, and theater practitioners built particular systems, methods, and styles that advanced the expressive power of theater. The period of antiquity was distinguished by authors such as Aeschylus, Heraclitus, Sophocles, etc. The Middle Ages were marked by the writer Dante Alighieri. The world later recognized well-known playwrights such as William Shakespeare, Miguel de Cervantes, and others from the Renaissance era. Moliere, Pierre Corneille, and Jean Racine from the era of classicism, and Henrik Ibsen, August Strindberg, Tennessee Williams and many other authors from the period of modernism who created works that entwined theatrical characters with spectators who came and watched the performances.

As can be seen from these few names mentioned, the historical gender gap has been and continues to be present in the world of theater. It was not until the 19th century and onward that female playwrights began to emerge, whose works sparked much discussion in a changing world of creativity; among them are Charlotte Lennox, Agatha Christie, Maya Angelou, Sarah Kane, etc.

Theater at war with cinema

The birth of cinema in the late 19th century faded the penetrating power of theater. A technical medium such as film had several advantages over theater because it generated greater financial revenue and technology gave the advantage of having the footage distributed worldwide — so the chances of watching a film production were greater than to see a play.

But most of the actors who starred in the movies were originally actors in theater, so everything was derived directly from the base. Cinema undoubtedly brought freshness, change and was an innovative invention, although efforts to create a figure in motion had existed since antiquity.

With the spread of the COVID-19 virus, cultural life was forced to find alternative ways to breathe.

Today, when advanced technology has been introduced into almost every pore of life, we see theatrical performances that have in their composition large projectors, video shoots or various special effects, where the influence of film can be felt. For many, this minimizes the uniqueness of the audience’s experience of the actors’ performance on stage.

What happens on stage is a unique, indescribable emotion for the spectators. Actors embody characters from the past, while the concept of re-embodiment makes sense when we see a theatrical performance, with multiple transformations of actors from one character to another.

Losing identity

With the spread of the COVID-19 virus, cultural life was forced to find alternative ways to breathe. So, in Kosovo but also around the world, online platforms enabled the broadcast of various plays from the past, but also with actors who recited dialogues from long distances.

Such a thing, though functional, had no effect on theatrical performance where the spectator becomes one with the characters; there he experiences strong emotions, strange sensations, moments of liberation and amusement and looks at the living art. Then we have the aesthetic side, the beauty; the characters, the costumes, the scenography, the props and the lights look different when we are in front of them and when we see a broadcast and everything seems fainter and shrunken.

Since its inception the aim has been to enact performances in front of the public — when we go back to the rituals of antiquity, the different cultures of the world developed new techniques, depending on their beliefs. They conveyed various energies and emotions to the people who were present during the performances. During these acts the subconscious side of man was awakened, the dormant sensations of the soul were awakened, in a process where the mind and body together reached the zenith.

The great theater practitioner and theorist Konstantin Stanislavski, who with his system of “art of experience” emphasized credibility on stage, with the actor who had to experience the role to the core and this magical moment of experiencing the role would excite the public with the illusion that what they are seeing is real. According to him, the actor does not dare to pretend for a moment, or execute tricks in order to deceive the public, on the contrary he believed that the artist can only be called such when he deeply believes in his actions and play.

As an illustration of this is the film “A Clockwork Orange” by director Stanley Kubrick, made in 1971. This was a film consisting of several genres intertwined in a completely unusual way. The title itself indicates that something natural like orange is presented in another form — that is, mechanical.

We find the explanation in the story of the main character, a boy named Alex Delarge, who is a very unruly and violent teenager, who also leads a gang of youngsters. When he is arrested by the police, he is subjected to a revolutionary method of the time, which tries to eradicate from him any desire to commit criminal offenses. Initially the method works and Alex loses some diabolical thoughts, but in the end he returns to what he once was in the past.

Originality can never be othered, only modified. The uniqueness of theater is defined by the writer Antonin Artaud in his book “The Theater and its Double,” when he says that “the theater is the only place in the world where a gesture, once made, can never be made the same way twice.” Therefore any tendency to remove it from its origin must be stopped.

Feature image: Arrita Katona / K2.0.