The 5 Principles of the PoLAAT

February 4, 2010 § 1 Comment

Central to the PoLAAT is a performance lab in which participants are trained in the tactics and techniques of the Post-Living Ante-Action Theater. Classes are comprised of exercises designed to educate the participants in the five principles: 1) Estrangement, 2) Indistinction, 3) Suspension of Beliefs, 4) Mandate to Participate and 5) Inspirational Critique. Songs based on these principles are taught to the group. What follows are notes on these five principles, using examples from the Living Theatre and antiteater to illustrate:

1. Estrangement
The performer acts out the distance between themselves and what they are doing. An adaptation of the Brechtian Verfremdungseffekt, often translated as the Alienation Effect, Estrangement also incorporates elements of camp, which uses an ironic displacement or disidentification to critique the action represented. The audience, it is hoped, will be similarly engaged in an active critique of the performance and the questions it poses. Estrangement is evident in the antiteater’s use of the Alienation Effect as a performance of an ‘attitude, not a character.’

2. Indistinction
Contradictory formal and institutional distinctions are set in oppositional motion. The performer does two things at once, such as singing a love song and paying taxes. The play itself refuses to be a play and becomes a caucus, the narrative explodes with extraneous plot points and goes hyper-narrative or the signifiers of pop music are short-circuited by art-historical classification, etc. Theater as process is exemplified by the practices of antiteater. Plays were made into films and television series; films were adapted as plays, with cast members serving as both administration and crew for these various productions. This blurring of disciplines, forms and roles provides a model of production in which all participants are expected to invest their talents in a group effort that may fail, but do so spectacularly and with political commitment to democracy intact. Implicit here is a willful disregard of audience expectation, not to mention taste.

3. Suspension of Beliefs
A truism of theater is that it requires the suspension of disbelief, but in the PoLAAT model ideological and aesthetic assumptions are questioned. The performer must consider all options. With so many contradictory political positions represented by the attitudes (not characters) onstage, the effect of their technique is the suspension of beliefs, when the actors and audience find their ideological and aesthetic concerns caught in a field of contemplation. This principle is exemplified by the Living Theatre’s attempt to levitate a person in the performance of their play Frankenstein (1965).

4. Mandate to Participate
Audience and performer are the same thing. All is rehearsal and rehearsal is all in a reconfiguration of event as process. The theater is made into an open system, disrupting the hierarchical structure of the stage, where the actor is speaker and public is listener. Structures for the inclusion of participation must be made clear; chaos can be managed. The audience becomes the cast and the cast gets naked with the Living Theatre. Democracy is alive again.

5. Inspirational Critique
When the structure of institutional thought is ruptured, an inspirational critique is the result: a moment in which, for a brief second, all is questioned, allowing for an understanding of the situation that opens itself up to new possibilities.

ALEXANDRO SEGADE 2008

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