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Who Are We Now? Theatre Alberta Essay Series – Lebogang Disele

Brave Girl – Lunchbox Theatre
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Who Are We Now? Theatre Alberta Essay Series – Lebogang Disele


Pandemic Round 1:

Nextfest goes online. I submit my performance in the form of a video excerpt.

Pandemic Round 2:

Antidote to Violence as Care, a collaborative project led by Brandon Wint, shifts from a live performance to something along the lines of a visual album.

Pandemic Round 3:

I join rehearsals for Azimuth Theatre’s production of All that Binds Us via Zoom from Botswana.

Pandemic Round 4:

I am invited to participate as a story collector in SkirtsAFire’s digital offering for the 2021 festival, Covid Collections. I interview my storytellers through zoom while they record themselves on their devices as we navigate new Covid-19 restrictions.

Pandemic Round 5:

I am still in Botswana. I am awarded a grant by the Signature Area of Research at the Intersections of Gender (RIG) to restage and record my dissertation project. Yay! But the country is under curfew. Bleh! There is no time to have a live audience, however limited, we don’t trust the internet enough to try to stream live so we decide to skip a live performance and just record the show.

In the time of the Coronavirus pandemic, we have resorted to recording and/or streaming performances to allow us to keep creating, and keep artists employed in the midst of social distancing, movement restrictions, bans on public gatherings and other protocols.

I am grateful that I was able to be a part of All That Binds Us. I am grateful that we were able to record Antidote. I am grateful that “performing” in these productions from Botswana allowed me to spread the financial love to my colleagues here. I am grateful for the RIG grant. I am grateful. I am… But I worry. I can’t shake that little voice in my head telling me that this does not bode well for theatre and the performing arts.

I know that life as we know it has changed, and necessarily so. But how much further can we adjust to the so-called new normal before we reach a point of no return? Before we find that we have lost the thing that makes us, us?

Philip Auslander warns against creating a binary between the live (theatre and other performing arts) and the mediatized (film and television). I agree that this may be a false binary, but without the live aspect what makes theatre, theatre?

Theatre has had a strained relationship with recorded media since the advent of film and television. It seems that for much of my post-secondary life I have been confronting the question of what sets theatre apart from film and television, and, it seems now, from social media. What makes theatre “theatre”? Does it matter?

What’s in a name? A rose by any other name would still smell as sweet”  ~ William Shakespeare, Romeo and Juliet.

What does a post-Covid life look like for theatre production? We seem to be leaning towards a greater integration of digital platforms into our lived experience. But what does this mean for those of us whose jobs are premised on sharing space with other people? Should we just call it a day and transition to film, television, and social media? Or does our work remain “theatre” because we call it theatre?

Is it enough that the actors share space with each other and the production crew? Does live-streaming make it ok? I worry that in the quest to keep going by any means necessary, to adapt, to survive, we are diminishing the value of human connection. And it is that which I hold dear about theatre, that every night is a new performance because regardless of the form it takes – proscenium arch, immersive, interactive, intermedial, site-responsive, and so on – it is co-created with the audience attending that particular performance at that particular time.

I can’t help but think about the future of theatre and the performing arts. Perhaps I am assuming that liveness is or should be premised on physical presence, of both the performer and the viewer. Am I old-fashioned? Behind the times? I have been resistant towards the mediatization of theatre beyond documentation because theatre and performance are ephemeral, and I feel that mediatization somehow interferes with this ephemerality (Ok, that and the fact that relying on technology gives me anxiety).

To put it bluntly, the general response of live performance to the oppression and economic superiority of mediatized forms has been to become as much like them as possible.  ~ Auslander 7

While it could be argued that live streaming can maintain that element of ephemerality, what makes that different from live television? #RandomThoughts of a #MadBlackGirl

Lebogang Disele is a PhD candidate at the University of Alberta. She is an interdisciplinary performer whose work focuses on issues of marginalization, particularly with regards to gender.



References and Citations

Auslander, Philip. Liveness: Performance in a mediatized culture. Routledge, 1999.

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