“Theatre is always group work”. This was stated at an artist talk with ScriptedReality and White Horse on Friday evening, and isn’t it true that in theatre (contrary to performance art) we are all dependent on each other no matter if you are the light designer, the performer, a performance collective or the audience. The crucial question is how the collaborative work is organised in the artistic process. Is there a hierarchical structure, a flat structure or a completely different structure? Since every group constellation works differently there is no simple answer to what a group work can be in theatre, but that theatre is a group work there can be no doubt.
In this context, it is interesting to look at the examples of group works/group performances the that curator(s) of Works at Work have chosen for their festival, but before I start writing about the actual works I want to comment on my observation that non of the groups presented had members coming from light design, sound design, scenography etc. I have been thinking about why the festival’s focus on groups formed by performers struck me as rather peculiar.
In my time as a student at the Norwegian Theatre Academy, I was presented to roughly speaking two traditions within the post-dramatic theatre/performance theatre. One tradition had Forced Entertainment and Baktruppen (NO) as frontrunners focusing mainly on the performers and their interaction on stage catalysing theoretic terms like playfulness, presence and bad acting. While the other tradition was fronted by Robert Wilson (who of course is not a group, but to a large extend works with the same group of people), Verdensteateret (NO) and you could add our own Hotel Pro Forma to this artistic expression. Here, light, sound and scenography performs on equal terms as the human body, hence the theoretical concept of equal dramaturgy. And then you have everything in between: Other genres, other theoretical foundations, other groups.
In Denmark, the default mode in theatre is to focus on the performers and their actions on stage. The reason might be that Denmark does not have a professional education in post-dramatic theatre/performance theatre that can challenge this norm. Coming from my educational background, I could have wished for Works at Work to include group works that practiced equal dramaturgy not only to create diversity in the aesthetic expressions presented, but also to question the existing hierarchies in (Danish) theatre.