Postdramaatiline teater ja autobiograafiline lavastus sotsiaalses kontekstis. Postdramatic Theatre and Autobiographical Performance in Its Social Context


  • Anneli Saro Tartu Ülikool



What is the relationship of postdramatic theatre--and more specifically autobiographical performance--to societal and cultural contexts within which they have emerged? This is the question I examine in this article. The term ‘postdramatic theatre’ was introduced by German theatre researcher Hans-Thies Lehmann in the 1990s, who defined it in opposition to the classical, Aristotelian form of drama: as the disappearance or withdrawal of characters, dialogue, story-line or action. In addition, in postdramatic productions, actors often do not embody or present fictional characters, but rather the physical presence of the performer(s) and performance as live action is brought to the foreground, which also includes explicit use of autobiographical material of the performer(s). The term ‘postdramatic theatre’ as an aesthetic category is widely used among theatre scholars, but more problematic is to define the notion of a ‘postdramatic world’, either fictional or real. One might just expect that means of expressions have a certain impact also on the depicted world, i.e. postdramatic theatre more or less directly depicts a postdramatic world. For answering the research question, production and reception of the following performances are investigated more closely: Meie elulood (Our Biographies, 1982) and Kui ruumid on täis…(Full rooms, 1982) by Merle Karusoo and Elud (The Lives, 2009) by Andres Keil. Merle Karusoo (b. 1944) is a theatre director who has been practicing documentary theatre since 1980, and abovementioned productions are the first in Estonian theatre where autobiographical material of the actors was explicitly used. In Our Biographies, students of the Drama School of Estonian Academy of Music and Theatre tell their childhood and adolescence memories; Full rooms is a continuation of the first project but concentrates on the adulthood of the students and the life stories of their relatives. All monologues were first taped, then the director edited the written texts and finally they were presented to spectators in fixed form. The procedure in part followed the rules of Soviet censorship, and in part it served aesthetic aims. In the 21st century, the number of autobiographical productions in Estonian drama and dance theatre is already considerable. The Lives was chosen on the basis of its similarity to the aforementioned productions. All three works have similar group constellation, level of sincerity and degree of social resonance. Andres Keil (b. 1974) is a freelance theatre critic and director, who staged the production in small project based theatre, Tartu Uus Teater (the Tartu New Theatre). He chose dozens of published interviews with Estonian prostitutes and invited two young actresses, Jekaterina Novosjolova and Elina Pähklimägi, who were newcomers on Estonian theatrical scene, to perform. Keil also decided that for the sake of honesty towards the interviewees, each other and spectators, some personal stories would also be included among the monologues of prostitutes. The personal stories were videotaped during a meeting but not edited or performed again before the dress rehearsal. In spite of the different social contexts of the productions, censorship appears to be an important topic in autobiographical theatrical discourses. Auto-censorship, and more strongly political censorship of the Soviet authorities altered spontaneous monologues of actors to a considerable degree. The troupe of The Lives also used a tool of censorship by signing agreement of confidentiality with every single spectator, threatening with fines, if performers’ personal information was publicly tackled after the performance. Comparative analysis of the productions brings to the fore two mechanisms of censorship. In the USSR, the writer/performer was silenced; in the Republic of Estonia, reader/spectator and his desire to spread information is controlled. In conclusion, all three autobiographical productions belong to the category of postdramatic theatre because of a lack of fictional characters, plot, explicit conflicts, physical or psychological action, dialogues and written text as starting point. All works consist of disconnected monologues that emphasize isolation and the loneliness of human beings, but also the sincerity of the inner voice. But at the same time strong social conflicts on national, generational and political levels are perceivable in Karusoo’s productions. Keil depicts human life as the gambling of blind Fortuna as a main source of social inequality. Thus all works are carried by implicit dramatic aspect, which makes it difficult to talk about a postdramatic world(view). In spite of differences in the level and nature of theatricality and openness of society in 1982 and 2009, no considerable phenomenological differences were detected in production and reception of the works.


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