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  • Writer's pictureJOE WOODWARD

Theatre and the Escape from Equilibrium

image from Stefan Keller

We all seek equilibrium in our lives. The artist however seeks to disrupt that equilibrium.

Even the funny guy who tells stupid jokes to fascist audiences in community halls in order to survive and actually live, knows that to keep going, they need to produce moments that effect un-censored laughter and response.

So if theatre is to remain relevant for any culture and not simply amplify the affirmation of dominant cultural ideologies of the Left and of the Right, then it needs to master the ability to break the equilibrium of dominant and authoritarian thought that threatens each individual who participates in and adheres to a presence in theatre presentation. We need to acknowledge that many in our audience might well be comfortable in a Mussolini inspired rally. Do we admonish them for this? I suggest not! But our work needs to be capable of escaping from the equilibrium of gravitation towards conservative and even fascist values.

So wipe that smirk of your face

You will most probably disagree with much of what I present here.

Jesus is quoted as saying:

“Do not think that I have come to bring peace to the earth; I have not come to bring peace, but a sword. For I have come to set a man against his father, and a daughter against her mother, and a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law; and one’s foes will be members of one’s own household” (Matthew 10:34-36).

The statement is a truth about how any shaking of equilibrium will cause disruption to one's personal life; any breaking of the unseen flow of "how things are" is going to bring crises to personal relationships and one's own ease of existing. Let's face it; "peace" is not necessarily equilibrium. Once an equilibrium is reached there may well be a kind of false peace; a peace where there are smiles all round disguising the reality of submission, abuse and even enslavement.

Art and the Seeking of One's Own Death

Is it so outlandish to suggest that the only goal of an artist and a creator is to seek the avenue of one's own death; the obliteration of self both on a physical and a spiritual level? This is the ultimate shaking and obliteration of any equilibrium. In disrupting of the equilibrium is one really advancing the march towards mortality and the disappearing of self into the nothingness of time? And if we think this is simply a semantic trick of wordplay, then consider the narcissistic Dorian Gray who demands reality be put on hold as reality becomes a fake image; one's own reality is but the image one creates of oneself and presents to others? While all the time the real self decays in a cupboard of one's own anxiety and never-acknowledged decrepitude!

The young brilliant artist who has been sold lies that they can be whatever they choose and their masters are never challenged ... consider the neurosis of such a person! Consider the logical syllogism of such an existence where fantasy and illusion are given academic credence that only hastens the drift into the institutional control that is the ultimate prison for such crimes. Consider how YOU contribute to this enforced destruction of such brilliance and such potential while adhering to the cultural Narcissism that is the dominant cartoon picture of the age! Consider all this and then decide if death actually exists or if there is some alternative name and some semantic game that can supplant the finality that is such necessity! The ultimate insanity would be to scream aloud that Death is simply a passing faze and that it was socially constructed to support the dominant ideology of the age!

But the artist, if indeed there is still such a figure, will challenge the semantics of ideological death and be prepared for the burning of the flesh and the arrow to the heart and the shaming by the multitudes who throw rotten fruit at the head in the stocks in some equivalent of the medieval shaming or the cultural revolutionaries who pandar to the dictates of the little red booklets ... such artists will challenge semantics of smiling crocodile sincerities who claim with all sincerity their love of humanity and proclaim their victim-hoods as shields and advance weapons to quell any claims of reason and rationality.

The Devils

The smiling persuaders of contemporary life and their political effectiveness has never been more accurately portrayed in film than in Ken Russel's "The Devils". Click on the link if you haven't seen it. A most flawed character with insight and an ability to learn and revise wasted years yet who has an ability to rise above the sanctimonious certainty of agenderists using their persuasive muscle to achieve their political and social aims is depicted with such succinct clarity that will make you shiver.

The depiction of the smiling passive-aggressive activist for the dominant political / religious hegemony is so disturbing and cynical. Yet the movie is about the past while being prophetic of the future.

I hear a ten year old girl proclaim this week that she hates all white American males; said as a matter of fact because she sees "whiteness as evil", yet she is a white Australian child. Where does this notion come from? The Devils use whatever it takes to encourage racist wars of mutual destruction.

Fyodor Dostoevsky's novel "Demons" portrays irrational and idealistic forces "portrayed in their ordinary human weakness, drawn into the world of destructive ideas through vanity, naïveté, idealism, and the susceptibility of youth ..." (WIKIPEDIA accessed 23 Feb 2023) The more conservative leaning former radical Dostoevsky sees the possibility of rational discussion actually being a neurotic tool for irrational action.

1971 University Of Queensland Students' Union Meeting

The Springboks Rugby Union team was coming to Brisbane. The Anti-Apartheid action was organized to protest. I was newly elected as an Education Rep on the University of Queensland students' union. I was also a Rugby Union referee and was scheduled to referee a curtain raiser to the Australia vs The Springboks test. Prior to a meeting of the Students' Union, I remember being in the Uni Refec and a number of radical students had returned from the Regatta Hotel where a demonstration had ended up. Someone in the room shouted that Dan O'Neill, a prominent and radical English lecturer at the University had been arrested. Some clown in the audience, obviously misreading the significance of such a statement, made a joke of the announcement. To his horror, a number of student shouted him down and surrounded him as if to beat the crap out of him ... luckily this did not happen. But the potential violence in the moment was very evident.

In that week a number of students painted their faces black supposedly in solidarity with black Africans. This wasn't seen as insulting. In fact they were sincerely trying to show solidarity with the oppressed South African population who were true victims of racism and horrific laws that made them less than second-class citizens of their own country. Thirty years later all of these students would decry and denounce "black face" under any circumstances. People would be surprised to learn of exactly who these students were as some become quite famous in later years.

The equilibrium of Queensland society was being disrupted by symbolic actions of activists donning theatrical and symbolic demonstrations counter to the dominant ideological tentacles of the time. Growing from this time was a radical theatre movement in Brisbane that saw places like La Boite Theatre and the university's output in The Popular Theatre Troupe. Janet Mahoney, later well known as Janet Fielding who played Tegan in Dr Who, had earlier donned the black face in demonstrations against Apartheid and then became active with Errol O'Neill and Richard Fotheringham in the Popular Theatre Troupe as it toured the UK. Theatre in the 1970s was a potent weapon against fascist tendencies in Queensland society and politics. This wasn't simply because of the content of its offering. That was generally fairly conservative. But it spawned a generation of activists who were willing to step outside of the acceptable compliancy within the social contract of citizen and state.

Theatre and a Death Wish

It is easy to be radical and even hostile to your society, community and family when you are part of a scene or part of a dominant artistic and social movement. But this begs the question of what if you are not? What if your perceptions, observations, inane or innate and very core understandings challenge the peer-sanctioned viewpoints that you might generally support but which cause severe and major questioning and doubts? Chances are you will be a gutless arse and surrender. Chances are you will sacrifice your feelings and considerations in order to achieve sanctioning rather than suffer crucifixion on the altar of correctness according the gospels of the anointed!

So we come back to theatre, art and death! The charlatan artist will appeal to the coterie of sanctioned artistic work that might well be antagonistic to the dominant hegemonies of a time. But this very sanctioning is the problem. The non-charlatan artist is likely to probe the sanctioned art and sanctioned position of even one's own social and political stances. And ultimately this requires a commitment to Death!

Joe Woodward 23 Feb 2023

See also: a student movie directed by Joe Woodward made on a zero budget

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