Dept. of English, Nadelberg 6, room 13
Re-shaping Realism(s) in 21st-Century US Drama: Annie Baker’s Reinvigoration of the Art of Theatrical Spectatorship in The Flick
In her chapter included in the recent volume Twenty-First Century Drama: What Happens Now (Adiseshia and LePage eds. Palgrave, 2016), Elaine Aston claims that whereas realism endures as a dominant form on the English stage, with its attentions to the 'here and now' social realities of a recognizable world, theoretical and critical studies have in the last decades made little room for a rigorous analysis of the genre, probably because of the formal and ideological conservatism to which it is associated. The same could be said of American drama, where stage realism is also a pervading aesthetic and, to a certain extent, claims to greatness continue to be defined in terms of the playwright's ability (or failure) to write plays set in the privileged space of modern drama, the family home.
In my presentation I shall refer to Annie Baker's plays and, more specifically, to the Pulitzer Prize winner The Flick (2013), whose metatheatrical interventions into realism illusion-making and fourth-wall regime of representation, together with the invitation to prolonged witnessing through extended pauses and silences, can be taken as illustrative of some of the ways in which a new generation of twenty-first-century American playwrights are reinvigorating established dramatic conventions to feminist and political ends —thus inviting us to think of realisms instead of realism as a fixed, unchanging and monolithic category. The Flick’s slowed-down pace and agonising silences prompted recurrent walkouts during the first week of performances at Playwrights Horizons, causing a minor flutter of a scandal in New York City at the time of the premiere. The audiences' visceral (both positive and negative) reactions to the naturalistic portrayal of the seemingly inconsequential working routines of three young underpaid ushers in a rundown movie theatre deserve critical attention. Thus, in my analysis, I will be concerned with understanding the connections between the use of fluid forms of realism as a means to produce significant interventions into the process of spectatorship, the effects of prolonged witnessing within the context of the endemic hurry-sickness of the media era and the reactions to the activation of spectators as witnesses of contemporary precarity.
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