Ibsen Award for Back to Back Theatre: Appropriation and Recognition


Australia's Back to Back Theater has been inclusive for more than 40 years. On Sunday they received the Ibsen Theater Prize in Oslo.

Actor Simon Laherty sits cross-legged in his underwear on a couch, with stuffed wild cats next to him

Simon Laherty in The Shadow Whose Prey the Hunter Becomes Photo: Jeff Busby

“Get down on the floor properly,” yells able-bodied actor David Woods as “director” Mark Deans at a disabled actor at the National Theater in Oslo. Deans, in his own mixture of cunning, defiance and childishness, is wrong again, no dead person looks like that. None just shot by the so slim and gentle looking Hitler actor Simon Laferty. "You have the brain of a goldfish," yells David Woods.

When Mark Deans is asked if he agrees – he nods. in the piece "Ganesh versus the Third World" some taboos are broken. Actually, it is the fairytale story of how the Indian Hindu god Ganesh wants to get back the swastika, culturally appropriated as a swastika by the Nazis, and travels through Germany to do so.

Again and again, the ensemble of the Australian Back to Back Theater steps out of the mythical plot, the enchanted stage landscape with shadow plays turns into simple plastic curtains in bright light, the "neurodiverse" actors discuss the meta-levels of the play, the inherent power structures: Is an actor allowed to , whose language and body correspond to the norm, say something like that to a mentally handicapped performer on stage - or does it reproduce violence that should be abolished?

Do they even have the right to play Jews or Indian gods? Ultimately, they come to the realization: yes.

At one point, they all lunge at the increasingly manipulative David Woods and wrestle him to the ground. To discuss with him immediately afterwards: Do you even have the right to play Jews or Indian gods? Ultimately, they come to the realization: yes. After all, the five-strong ensemble would have been directly affected by the Nazi extermination program.

"Nobel Prize in Theater"

Founded in 1987, Back to Back Theater's production is more than ten years old, but the questions it raises seem just as urgent. Ten years ago, however, that would have been the case Ensemble from Geelong, Australia Probably not yet received this prize: The Ibsen Award, presented at the National Theater in Oslo, the workplace of the Norwegian great dramatist, is the most valuable theater prize in the world, it is often called the "Nobel Prize of Theater" (even if the almost 260,000 euros do not match the prize money ), Peter Brook and Ariane Mnouchkine won it.

The award to an inclusive ensemble that has a non-disabled director (Bruce Gladwin) and non-disabled guests, but otherwise sets its own themes, may also mark a quantum leap in the debate about representation in the theater: who has the right, for whom speak?

The award ceremony on Sunday in the National Theater, which still looks the same as it did in Ibsen's time with stucco, red velvet and gold decoration, also brings these questions into the ceremony: because the Back to Back Theater explicitly points out that they are on stolen land in Australia of the people of Wadawurrung, the first word of the ceremony was given by three members of the Sami National Theater who traveled from Northern Norway.

The Back to Back Theater also works intensively locally with indigenous communities, as well as with schools, students and people with disabilities. "I want you to see that I have a voice," says ensemble member Sarah Mainwaring in her slow, swinging way of speaking in an impressive spoken-word performance at the awards ceremony: "I want to tell stories that you won't forget for a long time should."

Perhaps one can look at the matter as in her latest play, "The Shadow Whose Prey the Hunter Becomes": If the world is soon to be ruled by artificial intelligence - won't we all have to deal with our intellectual disabilities?



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