Article by Vida Cerkvenik Bren
‘I have striven not to laugh at human actions, not to weep at them, not to hate them, but to understand them.’
Baruch Spinoza, Tractatus Politicus, 1679
‘We are indeed all stuck here for a while, so let’s at least do what we can to understand why we are so easily divided into hostile groups, each one certain of its righteousness.’
Jonathan Haidt, The Righteous Mind, 2012
“Table theatre is a form that is still in its early days and is being developed by Kud Ljud in dialogue with its found- ers, German director Harry Fuhrmann and dramaturge Christiane Wiegand. It is a new model of engaged doc- umentary theatre combining anthropological research with artistic creation which, as the name suggests, takes place around a table in dialogue with the audience. The director, dramaturge or an entire team of creators including the actors carry out interviews in a specific re- gion focusing on a selected topic. These interviews serve as the basis for a 10–15-minute theatre piece, usually a dialogue that can be performed around the table in a private residence, a bar, a library, a park, a pub or even in the theatre. The piece is normally performed in front of one to ten viewers (possibly also a larger group). The characters in the piece advocate diametrically opposing views, are representatives of dif- ferent generations, supporters of different political parties, have different cultural identities, etc. Each performance is followed by a discussion that is discreetly moderated, if necessary, by the director, dramaturge or another member of the creative team. The performed scene serves as a catalyst and provides a basis for the debate, it ‘breaks the ice’ by emotionally en- gaging the viewers/participants while also allowing them to enter the discussion by proxy of fictional characters. Because they are not required to immediately reveal their personal views, it is easier for the participants to overcome potential conflicts among themselves. Table the- atre allows societal issues to be seen over a broader time horizon, thereby reducing their emotional charge and facilitating a deeper understanding. We are creating table theatre to be able to better understand the ‘different sides of the same story’, to nurture a culture of listening, openness and empathy that prevail over one’s desire to ‘be right at any cost’. This method allows us to tackle contentious issues in a neutralised environment; in a space of dialogue between reality and fiction where art can playfully soften and question entrenched opinions. The actors (puppets/dancers) and the audience sit around the same table which creates an informal, more relaxed atmosphere that is conducive to communication. The performed scene is designed as a dialogue between the two actors that escalates into a conflict which the performers (actors/puppets) then resolve with the help of the audience. The main virtue of table theatre consists in the establishment of an artistic framework and a safe environment which allows a genuine exchange (of views, personal histories and emo- tions) among “active viewers” to take place. Furthermore, discussions bring to the surface new stories that can be used by the creative team as the basis for new scenes. Performing these scenes generates material for further writing and creation, which is how table theatre evolves. A cyclical artistic process which is also a tool of socially engaged research (and vice-versa) gives rise to ever new theatre pieces which may at some point even come together to form an integral whole (ambiental or stage production).
Cycles of gathering material, artistic transformation, performances and discussions usually culminate in a final production which is a series of scenes of various styles and genres tied together by two joint elements: a common topic and the table as the venue. Final perfor- mances are more demanding in terms of production and may last between 2 and 3 hours. Viewers move from scene to scene (i.e. from table to table) while the actors keep repeating the scenes, allowing each member of the audience to see all the scenes. If deemed more appropriate, all the scenes can also be performed one after the other at the same table, to be followed by a joint discussion. During the performance, the visitors start off as passive observers/voyeurs and gradually become interlocutors until they end up as co-cre- ators of a heterogeneous performance halfway between reality and imagination.”
Quotation from the book Myth behind the community.