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The Theatre & Its Poor: Performance, Politics and the Powerless

A Department of Drama seminar
Speaker(s)Prof Alan Read
Date8 February 2012
Place Alexander Building TS2

Since Puritans defaced Inigo Jones' West Face Portico of the medieval Paule's Church in London in 1650 the site has been contested for its symbolic, theological and political capital. Stopping short of Paternoster Square and establishing base camp just feet from Wren's more recent intervention in this longer history, Occupy London protesters in late 2011 might not have consciously presumed to trade off this economy of power and the weak. But with their appeal against eviction long since lost, and the bailiffs preparing for action, this might be a moment to reflect on the profoundly performative gesture that Occupy has effected, to quote Walter Benjamin, ‘in a revelation that has done justice to the secret’

Carl Schmitt's well-known conceit that all political concepts are retooled theological ones reminds us that there might be some purpose to rethinking, or re-meaning the current predicament of Occupy with respect to its current location – as an act of resistance to the demeaning of their ’inchoate’ claims in the right wing press. To contribute another voice to this process of remeaning I will explore in this talk how resources of hope might arise from unlikely theatrical sites when placed alongside Occupy. I will start in the theological terrain of Romeo Castellucci’s controversial, and now censored work, On The Concept of the Face: Regarding the Son of God, and will find my way from the Barbican, where it played in 2011, via Occupy at St Pauls to the Queen’s Theatre in Shaftesbury Avenue where something not wholly disassociated has been running for somewhat longer.

From behind the barricades in Victor Hugo's Les Miserables, enjoying a revolutionary run barely a mile from St Paul’s, the songs might be more lustily sung, the public more tearful and sympathetic to the communards, and the seats better upholstered, but geographical proximity reminds us that both spectacles are, in the end, a matter again, of the theatre and its poor.


Alan Read was a student in the first year of the single honours Drama course at Exeter University between 1976 and 1979 and worked on a PhD at the University of Washington between 1979 and 1982. His first paid work was with Peter Hulton at Dartington College of Arts coordinating The Council of Europe Workshop on Theatre & Communities, which took place in 1983, and then moved on to Rotherhithe Theatre Workshop in the Docklands area of south-east London for the rest of the decade. In the early 1990s he spent four years working on the relationship between folklore and fakelore in the Catalan performance tradition of Corre Foc (fire run) in Barcelona. He was Director of Talks at the Institute of Contemporary Talks through the mid 1990s and then appointed the first Professor of Theatre at Roehampton University. He is currently Professor of Theatre at King's College London (alan.read@kcl.ac.uk) where he is developing the Performance Foundation based in the Anatomy Theatre & Museum on the 
Strand and the Inigo Rooms in the East Wing of Somerset House. The first two projects of the Foundation are a Leverhulme supported enquiry (2010-2013) into politics and spectacle entitled: Engineering Spectacle: Inigo Jones, Past & Present Performance at Somerset House, and an EPSRC funded project (2011-2014) Bridging the Gaps in collaboration with the Institute of Making at University College London. 

Alan Read is the author of Theatre & Everyday Life (Routledge: 1995) and Theatre, Intimacy & Engagement (Palgrave: 2008). He is the editor of The Fact of Blackness (Bay Press: 1996) and Architecturally Speaking (Routledge: 2000). As a founding Consultant Editor 
of Performance Research Alan Read has edited two issues of the 
journal “On Animals” (2000) and “On Civility” (2004). Alan Read has worked closely with, and written for and about the work of: Het Werkteater, Els Comediants, Romeo Castellucci and SRS, Forced Entertainment, and Goat Island. His current theatre research concerns the fate of the dramatically insignificant for a book entitled: The Theatre & Its Poor: Performance, Politics and the Powerless.

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