Tania Cañas is the Arts Director at RISE Refugee, a writer in residence at the Malthouse Theatre and Lecturer at the VCA in Art & Community practice. Ahead of Tania’s appearance at Writing Live at EWF18, Tania discusses the role of contemporary theatre.

Those who are positioned as structurally-marginalised socio-political identities, are perhaps the most attuned to the role theatre plays both on and off stage. Such identities are made aware of the performance and performative demands within dominant terms of enunciation, as continuous, pervasive and exhausting.

From Franz Fanon on race, Guillermo Gómez-Peña on nationhood and borders, to Judith Butler on gender, there is a colonial and historical relationship between the performative and performance in the everyday as well as the stage.  As Conquergood (2013) suggests in Cultural Struggles: Performance, Ethnography and Praxis, “Subordinate people do not have the privilege of explicitness, the luxury of transparency, the presumptive norm of clear and direct communication, free and open debate on a level playing field that the privileged take for granted.”

We have always been aware of the performative demands, as well as the potentiality of theatre as navigation, survival and resistance.

Relational: Theatre cannot exist in isolation; it must by essence involve the relational. In this way, it provides a possibility for a particular awareness: relations in the context of power-dynamics. As a practice, theatre is in a position to interrogate these, and centre the relational as the practice itself.

Can hold contradictions: Theatre has the potentiality to stage the intersections and a multitude of contradictions in one moment. It can go counter logic and rhetoric. For bodies that sit in-between the binaries and outside of categories, theatre is where we can dwell as holistic, complicated, selves. In this way theatre can hold two or more audiences at once, it can speak to and speak against.

Theatre as a methodology: Theatre is not just what happens on stage, but might also be viewed as offering alternative models of practice with multiple entry points to a process, from knowledge creation to modes of leadership and representation.

The body: Theatre inevitably brings the inscribed body, whether unconsciously or consciously referred to, and for this reason is always a political statement. Furthermore it has the potential to position the body as a site of knowledge; in other words “the body is a way of thinking, and intellectual work can be creative practice.” (Gómez-Peña, 2011)

I am not here to give you the illusion that theatre as an industry is accessible, fair and equal. Theatre as an institution is not. There is a thin line between the collaborative and exploitative, representational and presentational, visibility and invisibility, repetition and resistance. There is also a difference between theatre and theatre as an institution. Thus perhaps it is less about why theatre, and why now but ‘how’ theatre: how does theatre exist and how might it exist?

Catch Tania talk about how writing from lived and own experience is a powerful starting point for playwriting and performance making, at Writing Live on Tuesday, 26 June.