Edited by

Anna R. Burzyńska



Performing Urgency #3

Edited by:

Anna R. Burzyńska

Performing Urgency Series Editor:

Florian Malzacher

Graphic Design:


Copy Editing:

Harriet Curtis

Editorial Management:

Laura Lopes


John Barrett, Jane Bemont, Leonilda Saraiva dos Anjos (1, 2, 3, 4), Peter Welchman


Alexander Verlag Berlin

Fredericiastraße 8

D-14050 Berlin


Live Art Development Agency

The White Building

Unit 7, Queen’s Yard

White Post Lane, London E9 5EN


Adelheid|Female Economy (1, 2), Pamela Albarracín, David Baltzer (1, 2, 3, 4), Julia Bauer, Blenda, Kristien Van den Brande, Richard Duyck, Zuzanna Głowacka (1, 2, 3, 4), InCompany, Kamerich & Budwilowitz, Sjoerd Knibbeler, Daniel Koch, Gunnar Lusch, Luca Mattei, Opavivará! (1, 2), Rimini Protokoll (1, 2), TeatroValleOccupato, Benno Tobler, Tea Tupajić (1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7), Antonio Vuković

ISBN 978-3-89581-449-5

Legal Deposit 417855/16

© 2016 the authors and House on Fire

All rights reserved, including the right of reproduction in whole or in part in any form.

A publication by House on Fire

House on Fire is supported by the Culture Programme of the European Union.

The European Commission support for the production of this publication does not constitute an endorsement of the contents which reflects the views only of the authors, and the Commission cannot be held responsible for any use which may be made of the information contained therein.

House on Fire are:

Archa Theatre (Prague), bit Teatergarasjen (Bergen), brut Wien (Vienna), Frascati Theater (Amsterdam),

hau Hebbel am Ufer (Berlin), Kaaitheater (Brussels), lift (London), Malta Festival Poznań,

Maria Matos Teatro Municipal / egeac (Lisbon) and Théâtre Garonne (Toulouse).



Jan Sowa

Its Political Economy, Stupid! Towards Progressive Modes of Participation

Dominique Nduhura

To Participate or Not to Participate: A Closer Look into Forum Theatre and Freedom of Expression in Africa

Antoine Pickels

Let Me Participate and Ill Tell You Who I Am


Justine Boutens

Every art proposition can potentially be experienced as participatory

Elena Basteri in Conversation with Miriam Tscholl



Roger Bernat & Roberto Fratini Serafide

Seeing Oneself Living

Ophelia Patricio Arrabal

Public Moment!

Ana Vujanović

The Emancipated Society


Tobi Müller in conversation with Helgard Haug, Stefan Kaegi and Daniel Wetzel (Rimini Protokoll)

Spectator Reincarnated

Lotte van den Berg

The Unspoken Conversation

Tea Tupajić

Too Real to be Theatre

Tom Sellar in conversation with Adelheid Roosen

The Only Playground Where We Can All Live

Wojtek Ziemilski

Participation, and Some Discontent

Adam Czirak in conversation with Johanna Freiburg and Bastian Trost (Gob Squad)

It could have been me!

House on Fire



The nineteenth century was a century of actors. The twentieth century was a century of directors. The twenty-first century is a century of spectators. With Jacques Rancière’s The Emancipated Spectator (2009) being the most discussed theatre-related text of the last decade, there is an increase in scholarly and curatorial interest in the most mysterious, potentially dangerous and, in fact, most important participant of the performance, who stays silent, motionless, and hidden in darkness: the audience. And similarly, artists desire to finally ‘meet the spectators’: to let them speak, get into a dialogue with them, invite them to involve themselves in pursuing the performance. To liberate the audience.

There are many different factors that contribute to this unexpected turn. Probably the most important one is the importance of political theatre today: artists engage in contemporary social and political issues, and scholars highlight performative aspects of political life and political aspects of theatre performances. In the world where democracy, activism, and freedom of speech become more and more important (and more and more endangered) values, theatre shouldn’t be a place where one is supposed to remain passive and silent and to accept everything that is said. Just the opposite: theatre has the potential to become a kind of ‘rehearsal space’ for democracy, a place where one’s encouraged not only to observe, but to be critical, active, and responsible for what is happening (like in Bertolt Brecht’s ‘Lehrstücke’ (‘Learning Plays’) and in Augusto Boal’s idea of ‘spect-actors’). Instead of traditional theatre that focused on the idea of passive people whose fate and destiny buzwas decided by the gods (like puppets on strings controlled from above by artists), the contemporary world demands a different model: showing people that fate and destiny is their hands and they can change the plot of their lives (and change the world) in each moment. Just as they can change the shape of performances participating in them.

But there are other important factors as well. One of them is how new media have changed the way information is received – in interactive, selective, and dialogical ways. The gap between ‘old-fashioned’ spectators sitting in front of the radio or television and today’s video game players and internet users is huge – new consumers of information and entertainment literally take matters into their own hands, choosing preferred content, navigating the story in non-linear, network style, commenting, and adding their own content.

There’s also been a significant shift in theory that has put the audience into the spotlight. Performance studies stretched the meaning behind the word ‘performance’ far beyond traditional theatre with stage and audience, incorporating ideas of contemporary anthropology, sociology, and philosophy of language into theatre studies, proving that in our everyday life we are all performers and spectators – at the same time. Also postdramatic theatre – as described by Hans-Thies Lehmann (2006) – very often requires the spectators to become active co-writers of the performance.

For a very long time, one of the most powerful weapons of political theatre (from fin-de-siècle cabaret through Dadaists, Futurists, and Bertolt Brecht to Christoph Schlingensief) was offending the audience (to quote the title of the Peter Handke’s play from 1966). Revolted, left-wing artists tried to provoke conservative middle class audiences in the principle of ‘épater le bourgeois’. Now strategies are different: more and more, artists try to invite members of the audience – especially those who are for some reason (economic, racial, cultural, religious, gender, language, etc.) excluded from society, have no political power and no chance to make their voices heard – to make theatre together. Art becomes much more powerful when performers and spectators join forces. Hence the title of this book.

Joined Forces: Audience Participation in Theatre presents various examples of audience participation in theatre linking them to problems of participation in democracy and to socially engaged art. Making theatre is always a political statement – asking about audience participation practices is asking about the possibilities of making changes both in art and in politics.

The book opens with three introductory texts that serve as the theoretical foundation for the rest of the publication. Jan Sowa reflects upon political modes of participation, analysing how the notions of ‘the public’ and ‘the common’ change in the era of Occupy movement. Dominique Nduhura diagnoses the uneasy and ever changing relationship between forum theatre and politics in the African context, and Antoine Pickels examines the current revival of participatory art forms in Europe as a big opportunity and a big risk at the same time, since making participation ‘fashionable’ leads to destroying the very sense of the idea.

The core part of the book consist of 11 essays and interviews. Artists from different countries were asked to reflect on the idea of participation, to share their experiences and write about their successes and failures, hopes and doubts. While it’s impossible to create a map of participatory art, choosing (nearly) a dozen various representative and remarkable examples can help to outline the situation of contemporary political, audience-engaging theatre as seen by its creators themselves.

The first two texts focus on places: institutions that became meeting points and enabled potential spectators, who had previously been excluded, not only to watch performances but to actively participate in them. Justine Boutens introduces a group of different artists working at the Flemish CAMPO art centre in Ghent, and Miriam Tscholl in conversation with Elena Basteri presents Bürgerbühne in Dresden as a place that enables direct communication between ‘punks, bankers, followers of Judaism and Islam, midwives, undertakers, fans of the Dynamo Dresden football team and men in the midst of a midlife crisis’.

The next part of the book is entitled Anti-manifestos, as it challenges apparent dichotomies between a mechanism of participation as a promise of emancipation and a traditional mechanism as a guarantee of oppression (Roger Bernat and Roberto Fratini Serafide), individual and collective (Ophélia Patrício Arrabal), political and aesthetic (Ana Vujanović). The authors balance artistic, curatorial, and academic point of views, setting together different theories, notions, and ideas and calling the ‘participatory utopia’ into question.

The final six contributions describe artists’ experiences, including successful and failed attempts to invite the audience to co-create theatre. Tobi Müller interviews Rimini Protokoll members (Helgard Haug, Stefan Kaegi, and Daniel Wetzel) whose idea of replacing professional actors with ‘experts of the everyday’ has become emblematic for contemporary documentary theatre. Lotte van den Berg writes about her long-term project Building Conversation, that examines conversation ‘as a joint creation, a collective improvisation, a work of art’. Tea Tupajić recalls her work in Israel and events that inspired the creation of a performative installation The Disco. Adelheid Roosen speaks to Tom Sellar about projects created via her foundation Adelheid|Female Economy that challenge the new ethos of intercultural exchange. Wojtek Ziemilski makes a list of different problems with participation that he has encountered when trying to activate his audience and create a common space for both artists and spectators. Finally, Johanna Freiburg and Bastian Trost from Gob Squad in conversation with Adam Czirak discuss different strategies of involving not only theatre-goers, but also passers-by into their performances.

Of course, the book lacks many important names: from ‘founding fathers’ (and mothers) like Augusto Boal, Guillermo Gómez-Peña, and members of the Living Theatre through Jeremy Deller, inviting huge masses of people to take part in his reenactments of historical events, to diverse young artists such as duo deufert&plischke, experimenting with participative choreography, and Laila Soliman, whose performances are genuine ‘lessons of revolting’ for spectators in Arab countries. Some of these artists already appeared in Not Just a Mirror: Looking for the Political Theatre of Today and Turn, Turtle! Reenacting the Institute, the first and the second part of the publication series Performing Urgency; the list of important politically involved theatre artists around the world, whose work deserves analysis, could go on and on. I hope that the end of this book will be a beginning of another.

Anna R. Burzyńska


Jan Sowa

It’s Political Economy, Stupid! Towards Progressive Modes Of Participation