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Modern Languages and Literature

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Staging politics is a process that can be understood in two distinct ways. First, it can refer to the act of bringing politics to the theater in the form of a political play. Second, it can imply the act of creating a spectacle of politics, which can include anything from a highly affective or rhetorical political speech to a theatrical street demonstration.2 In the case of bringing politics to the theater, the stage is a fixed location; in the second figuration, the stage is any place where political spectacle might publicly occur. Throughout history the relationship between these two processes of staging politics has been and continues to be marked by an ontological question: at what point does politics become theater and vice versa? Of course this is not simply a question of place, for as Ngũgĩ wa Thiong’o has asserted, any site of “social, physical, and psychic forces of society” can be a performance space (13). Indeed, such “forces of society” certainly appeared to undergird the recent period of massive, highly visible, and performative demonstrations that occurred on the squares and in the streets across the globe in the early part of this decade: the Syntagma Square protests in Athens (2010), the Arab Spring (2010), Occupy Wall Street and beyond (2011), the Plaza de Catalunya in Barcelona protests (2011), Refugee Tent Action in Berlin (2012), the Gezi Park protests (2013), and the Ferguson protests and beyond (2014). In the wake of these mass demonstrations, we might be inclined to suggest that the stage of politics in this age is first and foremost the exterior urban public space: the square, the street. Yet in cities like Berlin it would not be an overstatement to say that the space of political and social dialogue and performance is (also) the theater. The regularity with which a spate of Berlin theaters, among them, Maxim Gorki, Ballhaus Naunynstraße, Hebbel am Ufer (HAU), Heimathafen, and the Volksbühne, rigorously bring contemporary local and international politics to the stage commands our attention. Precisely this ostensible exception brings me to the germ of my critique. Engaging recent theories of dispossession, theater, and performance, in the following I will examine the performative relationship of politics in the street and politics in the theater not as displacements of one another, but as complements and extensions of each other. From the pioneering work of Bertolt Brecht (epic) to Erwin Piscator (documentary) and Hans-Thies Lehmann (postdramatic), German theater history of the twentieth and twenty-first centuries no doubt has a capacious repertoire of representative political theater and its methods. This genealogical degree of reciprocity of theater and politics emphatically and productively plays out in the recent German-Greek collaborative theatrical production, Telemachos—Should I Stay or Should I Go?, which will serve as the focus of this exploration. Here I will chart the way in which the Greek financial crisis has been staged both in the exteriors of Athens and on the theater stage in Berlin and consider how these two types of stagings potentially intersect and diverge.

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