What is theatre?
What could theatre be, if it cannot just be what it currently is? And how is an ever-changing theatre to be conceived of and experimented with?
The Institute of Applied Theatre Studies at the Justus-Liebig-University Gießen conceives of its teaching and research as an attempt to always challenge the supposedly given definitions and conceptions of theatre. It seeks to continuously question theatre, to consider it negotiable and to reconceptualize theatre by means of risky and necessarily contingent models.
Within this experimental mindset, theatre becomes a locus for debate, at which our practice and ideas about theater are intentionally put at risk, a place for experience, where our means and ways of seeing, hearing, feeling and thinking are challenged and become a place for the political, where we have to clarify each time anew the nature of the community generated when the subjects on stage and the audience engage with each other. In short, a place that reinvents and critically questions itself every time.
Openness as program
In order to meet these expectations regarding the production, performance and reflection of theatre in our teaching and research, the Institute for Applied Theatre Studies pursues a program of openness that is equally central to the Bachelor program Applied Theatre Studies, the MA programs Applied Theatre Studies and Choreography and Performance, as it is to the various research projects at the Institute. This „opening up“ obviously must apply first of all to the definition of theatre itself. At the Institute of Applied Theatre Studies, theatre has never been identified primarily with acting and the staging of dramatical texts, but with an open space for all the different articulations of theatre, dance and performance. In the free-spirited composition of different theatrical means, sound, light and objects can become equally important partners to the voice and bodies of the actors, dancers or performers – or appear on stage in their own right and independent of the human body. Similarly, new media, like video and the internet, are understood as potentially integral to theatre. And, last but not least, site-specific performances, installations, audio plays and other theatrical and performative formats and offstage processes are also understood as objects worthy of study and research.
With the opening of the definition of theatre, a reconfiguration of focus takes place within the inquiry into theatre: On one hand, particular focus will be laid on contemporary performance aesthetics and theoretical discourses as the place where new ideas about theatre are negotiated. When historical contexts are appropriated, these are always evaluated for their importance to contemporary developments. On the other hand, against the background of this wider understanding of theatre, the specificity of theatre and the aesthetic disparity to life move to the foreground of our academic and artistic questioning.
These wide definitions of theatre are accompanied by an interdisciplinary methodology. Not exclusively academic or practical, the teaching and research within the Applied Theatre Studies is marked by a twofold approach to theatre – an idea it carries in its name: The term „applied“ is not to be understood solely as the immediate application of science onto theatre as that would only produce a scientific theatre or a theatre of scientific theories. Rather, science attends theatre and theatre attends science. By paying attention to the sensual qualities of theatre, science can shine new light on its own theoretical and analytical questions and problems with theatre. In reverse, theatre can arrive at a new self-understanding when it tries to understand its production and performance in scientific terms. In this process of application and mirroring, theatre and science never dissolve into each other, nor do they lead to the complete understanding of each one. Instead, the always-unfinished result leads to a continuous problematization of each, making visible ever new scientific and artistic sets of problems and answers.
Last but not least, this program of openness up affects the notion of artistic teaching. The artistic part of the studies does not aim to teach the student particular techniques fitted to a specialized profession, such as directing, acting or light design; rather, the aim is to provide a thorough understanding of all professional aspects of theatre. In different artistic projects, the students have the chance to test themselves as performer and simultaneously costume designer or as dramaturge and simultaneously sound designer. Students can also experiment with group work where fields of responsibility are shared. By learning about different approaches to theatre, students become independent theatre-makers with a sense for the responsibility for the theatre as a complex whole and the collaborations with other artists that constitutes theatre. This openness and width in the artistic production also becomes the prerequisite for the search of new theatre forms. This presents a real challenge to the boundaries of conceived theatre definitions.
The goal of this multifold opening – an open definition of theatre, the mutual application of theoretical work and theatre and the non-specialization of the work conducted in the theatre– is to provide students with a thorough and wide basis for academic and artistic practice; to allow them to search for new forms of theatre with an awareness and sensibility in both art and academics; to reflect their own thinking of and actions in the theatre from different angles; and thus to ultimately become part of a theatre that always strives to become more than it currently is. (Georg Döcker, 2012, translation by Christopher Weickenmeier)
© Institut für Angewandte Theaterwissenschaft