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Redefining Theatre: Theatre and Society in Transition

The online conference will be held at the Freie Universität Berlin via Webex on May 28-29, 2021. 

The recent coronavirus pandemic has yet again shown us the strength of theatre’s interrelation with the society and just how easily theatre’s social relevance can shift at the time of a profound social change. The relationship between theatre and the society is indeed one of the key issues in Theatre Studies and this perspective had been growing in gravity and prevalence even before the pandemic. In the recent decade, theatre scholars have been paying particularly close attention to theatre’s relation to the public sphere and to the multilayered power relations in theatre and its social and political contexts. 

In what ways can we reflect on theatre in both institutional and aesthetic terms in times of societal transition? What happens to theatre when the public spheres are being fundamentally reshaped? Or, conversely, how can theatre influence comprehensive societal changes? Which power relations become the most relevant in theatre and its political, institutional and social frameworks when societal transition is taking place? And what means do we possess to articulate the re-definition of theatre’s social function and relevance?

Taking a European perspective, the interrelation between theatre and societal transition can be particularly well investigated on the example of the post-1989 transformations in the countries of the former Eastern Bloc. These processes were arguably the most fundamental societal transition to have occurred in Europe in the past thirty years. During the 1990s, countries like the former East Germany, Poland and the Baltic states experienced sweeping political and social changes, yet the influence such transformation exerted over theatre has not been systematically examined. Theatre historians have tended to label the 1990s as the time of “theatre crisis” but the period is yet to be surveyed to a greater depth.

How was theatre’s social function redefined in the countries of the former Eastern Bloc after the fall of the communist regimes? How can we comprehend and articulate the relationship between theatre and the gradually consolidating, reshaped public spheres during the 1990s? How was theatre’s attitude to the political redefined? And how did the theatre aesthetic respond (or failed to respond) to the changing political and social contexts in different “Eastern” European countries? 

The conference will focus on theatre in times of societal transition both in general terms and with a specific focus on the post-1989 transformations in Central and Eastern Europe. 

The event is a part of the EU Marie Skłodowska-Curie research project “Redefining the Agency: Post-1989 Crisis of the Czech and Former East German Theatre” (abbreviated as ”Theatre ReDefined”) conducted by the Principal Investigator Dr. Radka Kunderová at the Institute for Theatre Studies at the Freie Universität Berlin.

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