Thursday, January 31, 2013

Popular Theater and Political Utopia

An article from the Warwick Knowledge Centre about how theater was used as a political tool in fin de siècle France.
 The relationship between art, theatre, politics and community wasn’t particularly a French phenomenon. Popular theatre was in favour in Russia both before and after 1917. German Volkstheater flourished in the late 19th century. Cities had boomed following the industrial revolution and with a sense of idealism, political groups vied to create communities out of the proletariat. What were the problems, however, of using art to create a narrow political community, and could art really be moulded to a narrow political and didactic purpose?

France’s republican governments’ attempts to create a republican community through theatre were, by and large, a failure, says Dr Wardhaugh. They founded a national popular theatre in 1920 but their subsidised ticket policy didn’t have the desired effect. Those who already attended the theatre took advantage of cheaper tickets whereas new attendees were persistently thin on the ground.

It wasn’t for lack of ambition on the governments’ part. The Trocadero Palace (pictured, right) in which the new National Popular Theatre was housed had been built in the 1870s for an international exhibition and could hold four to five thousand people. To its detriment it was unheated and located in an elite part of Paris far away from the working-class suburbs. The government hadn’t thought through who the ‘people’ were and what they actually wanted from their entertainment. (Read entire article.)

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