J’ai des rapports compliqués avec le théâtre. Comme énergie métaphorique, il conserve encore aujourd’hui une extrême importance pour moi: je vois le théâtre partout, dans l’écriture, les images, etc. Mais, quant à aller au théâtre, aller voir du théâtre, ça ne m’intéresse plus guère, je n’y vais presque plus. Disons que je reste sensible à la théâtralisation, et que celle-ci est une opération au sens que je disais tout à l'heure.
Roland Barthes, Le grain de la voix. Entretiens 1962-1980. Paris: Seuil, 1981. P.261-262.
Theater as metaphorical energy and the process of theatralization: Barthes’ rumination pinpoints two main objects of our interest. Theatralization of social and cultural interactions that we observe and discuss. Theatralization of theory that offers different interpretations of social and cultural phenomena, and its interaction with other intellectual trends in the humanities. We are mapping the new ways to think and to speak about theater, bumping heads with the media studies but seeking to sketch our own itinerary and lexicon.
Stage one: an educational project
TheatrumMundi has started as an educational endeavor. In 2007 two lecturers at the Russian State University for the Humanities, Yulia Liderman and Maria Neklyudova, affiliated with the Cultural Studies Department, organized a research seminar for the undergraduate and graduate students. Its main purpose was to encourage the exploration of conceptual possibilities provided by the theater theory and practice, and to bridge the gap between Cultural and Theater studies (one of the sad realities of Russian academy). The workshop (or laboratory as we liked to call it) had functioned for seven years, and we were proud to provide testing grounds for a number of BA and MA theses, such as Varvara Sklez’s Ineffable Experience: Jerzy Grotowski’s Theater Works and the Strategies of their Description, Vera Navernyuk’s Construction of Reality and the Meaning of World in the 17th and the 18th Century English Plays, Tatiana Platonova’s The Stage of Universe: Theater in Moscow’s Planetarium.
Stage two: an academic project
In the beginning the world of TheatrumMundi was relatively small but once the stage was set, it has started to expand. Together with Olga Roginskaya, our colleague from The Higher School of Economics, we conducted a few inter-university workshops. At the Russian State University for the Humanities we hosted conferences and (in some cases) published their proceedings. Among the most visible events of that period were two round tables, Theatricality in the Art and Beyond, where the discussion was led by the prominent critic and sociologist Boris Dubin (it was almost fully published by the New Literary Review, #111, 2011), and In place of Theater: the Great Reconstruction of Bolshoy, organized together with The Theater magazine (and published in the issues 6 and 7). We also branched out into more public activities and helped to launch the new books about theater. Thanks to the Teater.doc (an independent theater group that mostly works with documentary materials) we were able to have a public reading of the early Soviet plays (collected and edited by Violetta Gudkova, published by the New Literary Review).
Back to the present
Along the way we have had one or two identity crisis, becoming less academic and more social minded. Right now TheatrumMundi is an independent group of scholars, critics, media and cultural studies students, curators, journalists and theater practitioners. We preserve and treasure our affiliation with academic world but it proved to be too compartmentalized for what we are trying to accomplish. Our new venues include the Avant-Garde Center (set in a constructivist district of Moscow) and the Electro-theater Stanislavski (an experimental ‘rewirement’ of a traditional theater building and theater repertory). In the latter we stage a series of public debates and discussions open to the general public. While practicing ‘the art of talking about theater’, we still have several on-going research projects. One is called ‘The Transient Glossary’: we collect and analyze the lexical tools with which the theater practitioners and the public shape and convey their respective experiences (from the 18th century manuals on actor’s craft to the early formalists attempts to create ‘a theater science’ and contemporary performance theory). Another harks back to our beginning, and focuses on teaching theater history not only as the past but as our present (an ‘Archaeology of Theater’ in the Foucauldian sense).
Most of our activities are present on our Internet site, and you can follow us on Facebook, watch and listen to some of our sessions on YouTube, and see our archive of theater memorabilia (posters and paybills from the 1990s and the early 2000s). You can also contact us via e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org