Re-ecologizing theatre

How to open up the infrastructures and architectonics of Western theatre into an other-than-human space and time? And how to cultivate alternative stage imaginaries in a time of techno-ecological mutations? The French-Basque director Vincent Roumagnac tells us more about his doctoral artistic research, Reacclimating the Stage (Skenomorphoses), conducted at the Performing Arts Research Centre (Tutke) in the University of the Arts Helsinki’s Theatre Academy.
Image: Roumagnac's defence streamed online (screenshot taken during the preparatory lecture A Solastalgic Epilogue)

My doctoral project Reacclimating the Stage (Skenomorphoses) takes place at the intersection of scenic and visual arts and directs attention towards the future by examining new conditions for making theatre through exploring a post-anthropocentric age and transforming, or opening up, the infrastructures and architectonics of Western theatre into an other-than-human space; it also explores time on an enlarged “stage-milieu” where alternative stage imaginaries can be cultivated in a time of techno-ecological mutations. 

The research is anchored in and executed through my artistic practice as theatre director, fuelled by the past ten years doubts I developed concerning what I perceive as fundamental anthropocentrism – that is to say, the philosophical viewpoint arguing that human beings are the central or most significant entities in the world – embedded in the very mechanism of theatre, especially in its conventional, temporal settings. Like many of my peers, I consider this humanist foundation outdated in a time when human activity poses a profound biospheric and technological impact on the environment, and the human-centred forms and perspectives that are generated from such a world-view to be ineffective in producing a sustainable commons. 

For this purpose, I have taken apart theatre as a whole, and I engaged its discrete elements as potential tools for reformulating the notion of stage beyond the disciplinary field of the theatre. Theatre in the research is thus re-evaluated as a manner of being in the world both now and further on, in an ecological and ecosophical manner through alternative forms and experiences of stagings in which what is at stake is a refusal or at least a renegotiation of the human-centred and anthropogenic conventions or traditions of producing and organising what we used to call a “stage”. 

Transformations: from directing to redirecting

I have employed strategies of « re » – re-acclimating, re-staging, re-setting, re-scalingbut also of unsettling, deconstructing, drifting some of the agential, spatial and temporal conventions of Western theatre and the archetypal tools and habits of “theatre directing” that I have ventured to rename as “theatre redirecting”. 

I think that the very mechanisms of theatre are still based on dominating distinctions and categorising, and hence build on straight dichotomies. Throughout my artistic research, the division of stage and backstage has been, for example, examined as a manifestation of a taken-for-granted binary theatrical system. 

I have thus endeavoured to queer and diffract the notion of stage into multiple potentials of definitions and affordances, attempting to free it from inherited rigid dichotomies. This exponential multiplicity, for example, appeared concretely in the project weS.A.N.K., which I co-convened with the architect and researcher Emmanuelle Chiappone-Piriou, and which was examined as the second and last artistic part of my doctoral project in 2018.

Over the course of two years, we gathered in different cities with local artists and architects to prototype what we termed “the stage of the future”, at the meeting point of contemporary thinking in architecture and speculative concepts stemming from my own research. A total of 161 prototypes were made in Tokyo, Barcelona, Paris, Daegu and Helsinki from general themes – including theatre and architecture, stage and time ecology, big data and post-industrial landscapes, dystopian narratives and daily rituals, networks, climate, memory, energy and affect.

Hyperdramatic theatre

As many directors of my generation, I set, at the turn of the millennium, my stage practice at the light of Hans-Thies Lehmann’s postdramatic theatre. Hyperdramatic theatre is a continuation of a process of deconstruction of Western theatre, adding to Lehmann’s views post- and non-human concerns. 

Hyperdramatic theatre is among the tentative concepts I playfully introduce in the research among other neologisms and reformulations such as neganthroposcenic chronotopias, xenoperformativity, skenomorphosis, post-theatre drama etc. All those monsters can be found in a glossary, somewhen in the doctoral publication. In short, the term hyperdramatic was directly derived from Timothy Morton‘s notion of “hyperobjects” (2014), entities of such vast temporal and spatial dimensions that they defeat traditional ideas about what a thing is in the first place, such as, e.g., global warming or big data. 

Hyperdramatic theatre means the scenic responses that might emerge when asking how to re-design or direct or perform a stage on the brink of environmental collapse, or how the stage mutates through larger-than-humans-could-possibly-grasp climate-morphing and techno-conditioning; and therefore, how to reposition and ecologically renegotiate the human, aesthetic production of a stage-taking in consideration of rescaled networks and temporalities beyond the exclusive human sphere. 

The Final Stage

Despite difficulties, Covid-19 has also provided a new research vantage from which to probe environmentally transformative circumstances and their effects on scenic imagination and practice, reiterating – here literally – the motif of “theatre without theatre”, which I have been working on over the last years and, as said above, within the questioning of how to give hospitality to nonhuman scenic participation. 

The whole project seeks to find a transformative dynamic of theatre, as a genre and space, through a reinitialized time ecology. Considering the current dramatic restrictions or even lockdowns that theatres are undergoing in Europe, I am interested in continuing to ponder the question of the infrastructural transformation, instead of thinking of solutions for replacement in terms of plan Bs that still take as reference theatre as we “know” it. 

Taking theatre outdoors, for example, because of the temporary impossibility of performing indoors, with the same old conventions and regimes of directing, acting and representing, does not tackle a pandemic that is directly linked to a climate crisis that demands urgent infrastructural revision.

Now, when it comes to the public defence, I decided to welcome the direct and indirect presence of the virus as an aesthetic factor that, despite all the suffering and anxiety it has been sadly carrying, allowed me to somehow avoid the conventional, hyperpresent, logocentred, timely, unitary “live” ritual by the transformation of the exercise into a diffracted, multi-staged, pluri-temporal event that managed to fit better in the aesthetic thinking of the whole project.

The Final Stage consisted of a one-week installation in a black-box-like studio in Theatre Academy, at the end of which the public examination was held on-site and simultaneously online. Alone, in the middle of the artworks generated over the doctoral project course, I discussed with the remote jury online and the examination was streamed online. This conclusion of the project appeared therefore as a trans-performative and polyphonic act, aggregating artworks’ voices, intertwined live and deferred acting and spectating, an episode of diffracted reality that accounted aesthetically and epistemically for the whole project in a just way for me. 

What’s next?

I am privileged to still have a one-year research grant from Kone Foundation remaining from the multiyear funding. It will enable the launch of a postdoctoral research project titled Data Ocean Theatre (D.O.T.) through new art projects and the continuation of the transdisciplinary implementations on the connections between art and research within the artistic research milieu. While continuing to probe the theatrical qualities and quantities of the expanding tech-environments, the project will look at how so-called artificial growth may scenically meet the (hyper)dramatic biospheric changes of planet Earth and especially the alarming rise of the seas and oceans.

Author

Vincent Roumagnac

Vincent Roumagnac is a French-Basque theatre artist and researcher based in Finland and France who has presented his works broadly in different domestic and international platforms. His work materializes through multiple forms such as installations, performances, and videoscenic acts. In September Roumagnac successfully defended his doctoral artistic research, Reacclimating the Stage (Skenomorphoses), conducted at the Performing Arts Research Centre (Tutke) in the University of the Arts Helsinki’s Theatre Academy.
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