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  • Writer's pictureJOE WOODWARD

Imagine a Festival of Performance on a Spaceship to Oblivian

Performing Arts on a Spaceship to Oblivion

"I cried when I realised there was no direction and no ending and no beginning ... I cried tears of joy and energies of anger! For we existed in a void so deprived of history and tradition! At once liberating while at the same time terrifying! The transparent painting of current identity on canvases of smoke only added to the ennui of nightmares and the falling sky that threatens to smother us into that straitjacket of infant perceptions and semantic chains of reductionism into total insignificance!" ("Festival in a Spaceship" by Joe Woodward, 2024)

Oh Dear ... and so the dance of oblivion is the hit of the Festival of Performance on a Spaceship to each of our destinies. At least, so the metaphor goes.


Occasionally, I ponder the wonderment of being so attracted to the absurdist comedies of Ionesco, Beckett, Pinter, Albee and others! Being called Satan by some colleagues because of my gravitation to the absurd and the comic riddles of absurdist dramas has left me wondering if I am the true neurosis or simply the observer of the cultural rhinoceros! In a post modern world, even murder and massacres can be turned into the actions of saints, martyrs and freedom! The opposite of one's values can be embraced as the holiest of one's considerations! The semantics of bullshit can be elevated to the inspiration for cultural action for justice and freedom! And the anti-offence league polices the offing of all aspirants to creative and artistic insight! The vacuum has its own hysterical voice of sanctimony that screams in the ears of all who might protest the given certainties that can't be challenged. And so the spaceship drifts through twilight zones of antithetical asteroids of limited thinking and irrational emotions all garnered to the agendas of universe eating monsters from the local sham factory.

And speaking of riddles ...

So as an artist, educator, existent individual in the world ... can we seriously nail our dogma or our hands for that matter to the cross of any particular belief? I wrote an essay "To Believe Is To Kill" in 2008 and updated in 2022. In that essay, I commented:

BELIEF is bigger than perpetration. Belief is the following of unproven notions that inspire action. How often over the centuries have we heard the phrase: "willing to die for one’s beliefs"?

But would it not be a more truthful phrase and one more in tune with the whims of history to say:

"willing to kill for one’s beliefs"?

Is this not the true nature of the crusade or the jihad or the "just war" or the right to defend oneself or enacting the judgement of god … Is not the very notion of belief itself the energizer that sets in motion the blades of the reaper? The hangman’s rope? The flames of the inquisitor? The bullets of the soldier? The diseases of the conqueror? The destination of the bombs? The words of fear? The gods of Babel? And isn’t it a paradox that the words of faith and the belief in the rightness of causes can, perhaps unwittingly, bring down the angel of death on unsuspecting recipients of the good news? Cultural decimation at the hands of the righteous beliefs of the inspired carriers of god’s word and god’s work has been the pattern of experience hand in glove with imperialism and imperialistic action from the religious and the secular adherents of rock solid and certain beliefs.

The despicable actions of Hamas on October 7, 2023 in the glorifying of death and then followed by the genocidal actions of the Jewish state government in its attempt at the total destruction of a whole group of people and their existence in Gaza illustrate the madness and the existential power of belief to mobilise whole groups of people in consistent action to cause the self-destruct strategies that ensure annihilation of both self and the other!

Both cases illustrate more than the actions of any individual evil perpetrators: both illustrate the collective consciousness of hundreds of thousands of people. From whatever side you stand upon, once you side with the killing of one family or other, you are a perpetrator of death! Your faith releases your conscience to not only feel empathy but to actively engage in the dismembering of children's bodies and the bleeding of whole human entities of their spiritual and physical selves ... To believe is too kill!


If we think Absurdist drama is simply a nihilist cultural reaction to the horrors of war and brutal cultural edifices, then think again! Absurdist drama brings out in stark contrasts the relationship between the individual conscience and the societal acceptance of barbarism and stupidity. "The Bald Prima Donna" might seem an offence-less comedy of total ridicule of English mores. On a closer examination it is a damming indictment of insular narcissism and the withdrawal of humanity from the humane! In today's post-modern political and social dilemmas and the fabrication of truths, we see the absurdist dimensions of such logic. It is indeed frightening in its scope.

But yes ... Ionesco is comedy! And so it should be ...


And now I am working with students to create a Festival of Performance ... a near impossible project to promote! Eight productions plus a short film evening is simply absurd! Comedy at best! It is like being on a spaceship where the participant astronauts are asked to present a play or performance to keep morale high ... yet each participant is aware of their own absurdity and limitation as a performer! Students of Drama are often made aware of their own absurdity in trying to shape performances because of their interest in theatre and performing! They are told of the waste of time they spend on such frivolous endeavours when they could be devoting their skills to serious subjects that have real value in a post-modern world where spirituality and art are dirty concepts!

However, this said, students are struggling with the works of key practitioners, writers and advocates of the 20th and 21st centuries. Will they be successful WHEN only 2 audience members clap at the end of the performance? Will Mum and Dad admonish their naivete in taking up such an anti-establishment view of theatre and art? Are we and our students on a spaceship to oblivion?

Albee, Chekhov, Ionesco? Even shades of Pinter ... The right to create our own expressions of what is happening in the given universe? Are such workings in such a suffocating vacuum that the spaceship is doomed to crash on some lonely planet of extinction?

Joe Woodward

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