Feature in Issue 18-4 | Winter 2006

Once if asked what ‘total theatre’ was I’d launch into a pretty lengthy rant on the history of the term, the coming together of various strands of visual and performing arts practices, the evolution of this magazine and the organisation that publishes it and so on and so forth. Now, when asked the same question, I tend to point to the contents page of Total Theatre Magazine and say ‘See all this? This is total theatre.’

Looking through the contents page of this issue, there’s a pretty extraordinary range of performance work covered. What can the street arts fun and frolics of dotComedy, the extreme body art of Ron Athey (see Monsters), the ‘singing body’ work of Pan Theatre, the moving pictures of Artus (from Hungary), the polyphonic singing of our Total Theatre Award winning cover stars Farm in the Cave, and the intense physical theatre of Al Seed (see Beyond the Fringe) have in common? What brings them all together here on these pages?

There are many possible answers, but the most obvious one for me is that this is performer-centred work, evolved from the ideas of the artists who are themselves creators, not interpreters, of the work.

Whilst it is probably still true that for most people out there in the wider world the word ‘theatre’ means writer-led literary theatre, this is shifting. A look at the supported artists of the National Theatre and the recently-established National Theatre of Scotland, at the reviews pages of our national newspapers, and at the programming of many arts centres throughout the country, reveals that there has been a sea change over the past year.

Visual, physical and devised theatre is very much there in the frontline: Improbable, Punchdrunk, Kneehigh Theatre, Shunt, Grid Iron – just some of the names that have been gaining in profile and reaching bigger audiences over the past year or two.

In art galleries, performance work has finally entered the consciousness of the visual arts hierarchies, with regular live art and performance evenings over the past year at Tates Modern and Britain, at the Hayward and at the Baltic in Newcastle, amongst other places, Venues such as the Chelsea Theatre have made an about-turn in programming policy, inviting live art and experimental devised theatre into their space.

Outside of the dedicated theatre and art spaces, the massive event that was The Sultan’s Elephant (May 2006) introduced thousands of people to high quality puppetry/animation enacted within a streets arts context. This I am sure will be looked back on as a defining year for street arts in the UK because of the achievement of producers Helen Marriage and Nicky Webb in bringing this event to London.

So as 2006 draws to close and we look towards 2007, it is with an anticipation that ‘our’ sort of theatre – all the things that you find within –will be going from strength to strength, reaching out ever further to new audiences, new artistic collaborations, and new hybrids of performance practice. Total Theatre Magazine will, it is hoped, also be growing and reaching out to new territories. To infinity and beyond… stay with us.

This article in the magazine

Issue 18-4
p. 2