One of the first things I was taught as a theatre student is that all theatre is political. Whether or not a theatrical piece has a political agenda, it cannot be ignored that by its very nature, artistic work has a point of view that reflects the society it stems from. It is no coincidence, therefore, that in times of political instability we see a corresponding effect on a nation’s theatre. Augusto Boal developed Theatre of the Oppressed during such a time of political instability in Brazil in the early 1960s. Bertolt Brecht developed his “epic theatre” in the midst of political turmoil in Europe in the early 20th century.
Theatre appears to bloom at times of political and social turmoil. The two fields, seemingly unrelated, are interlinked: Guillermo Calderón explores this phenomenon in Neva.
In the play, Anton Chekhov’s widow, actress Olga Knipper, and two other fellow artists huddle in a dimly lit rehearsal room in St. Petersburg at the turn on the 20th century. As they reenact scenes from their lives, demonstrators outside are gunned down by the Tsarist regime. Calderón juxtaposes theatre against the harsh realities of revolution and violence. In this context, theatre seems almost irrelevant. As the character Masha describes in her emotionally charged closing monologue:
“Why waste time doing this? How can you stand on stage knowing that out on the streets, in the world, people are dying? Bourgeois art, bourgeois theater. I hate the audience that comes to feel, I hate myself for being an actress.”
This “bourgeois theater” Masha refers to neglects to address the social and political climate of a nation. However, Calderón finds that theatre need not be irrelevant when compared to the sobering realities of revolution. The very fact that his theatrical pieces are so politically charged and rooted in historical context reinforce the fact that theatrical performance is influenced by, comments on and contributes to the political makeup of a nation.