The Survival of Comedy, Amfiteater – Journal of Performing Arts Theory Academic Symposium
Amfiteater – Journal of Performing Arts Theory Academic Symposium
The Survival of Comedy
5-6 October 2023
Slovenian Theatre Institute, Ljubljana
In 1961, George Steiner finally buried tragedy. After several centuries of crisis and the slow decline of what was once the most respected dramatic genre, even the staunchest defenders of the traditional genre divide finally had to admit that the Aristotelian dichotomy no longer exists on the contemporary stage. The process of its theoretical abolition – a division that has never been entirely consistent in theatre practice – was first begun by the romanticists in their reaction to neoclassicism and completed by the last of the modernists: the absurdist playwrights. By emphasising the tragicomedy and the grotesque, they successfully consigned the binary opposition of tragedy-comedy – which, with its iconography, has become even the most recognisable visual symbol of the theatre – to the dustbin of literary history.
Yet a glimpse at the repertoires of theatres in the third millennium quickly shows that at least comedy has survived the attempt to abolish it. Although it is supposed to have been replaced by more genre-elusive texts in postmodern society, even the non-hyphenated comedy – interested only in entertaining the audience – still regularly appears on the stage. In many respects, comedy has remained more or less unchanged since the first plays of Aristophanes, Menander, Plautus and Terence. Even avant-garde authors and experimental theatres, for example, Charles Ludlam or 26000 couverts, return again and again to well-tested comic characters and forms. Does this mean that there is no symmetry in dramatic genres?
If Jacques Derrida is right when he says that “there are no texts without a genre” and then immediately adds that “such participation does not mean belonging”, then the endurance of comedy could be explained simply as a consequence of the fact that it is, by definition, only interested in participation – in the audience’s participation by laughing – and that it never aspires to belong. Comedy is a genre that exists only in the present here and now; it can only be fully understood by its audience in a specific historical moment and cultural context. In all other cases, it necessarily adapts – either to linguistic differences or to a foreign environment and new social conditions. And this is the reason why it is so well-equipped to survive. While even such popular and important literary genres as tragedy or epos have slowly fallen out of favour and even often eventually disappeared, comedy continues to successfully resist the pressures of development.
Amfiteater journal’s symposium will be primarily interested in the following research questions:
• How has comedy in theatre responded to the emergence of new media (film, radio, TV, internet)?
• What is really new in new forms of comedy, such as sketch, standup and improvisation?
• Does comedy necessarily liberate, or does it always defend the mediocre?
• Has the decline of modern rationalism and Enlightenment ideas influenced the development of comedy?
• Will the “cancel culture” also succeed in abolishing a sense of humour?
• Can comedy survive the stage debacle?
• How does comedy deal (or should it deal) with sensitive topics and themes?
• How does comedy facilitate the manifestation of social criticism and/or political activism?
• Does the comic character change or remain static?
• How are the body and embodiment manifested in grotesque drama/theatre?
• What is grotesque in contemporary drama?
• Is there still an interest in the grotesque today, or is it a category committed to a romanticist (Wolfgang Kayser) and (post)modernist worldview (e.g., Bakhtin’s theory of carnival and the carnivalesque)?
• The normalisation of comic characters in contemporary drama
• Types of comedy in contemporary Slovenian drama
• The intimate and the social in contemporary Slovenian comedy
• Philosophical and sociological theories of comedy.
PROGRAMME OF THE SYMPOSIUM
Thursday, 5 October 2023
10.00: Opening of the symposium:
prof. Tomaž Gubenšek, Academy of Theatre, Radio, Film and Television, University of Ljubljana
dr. Gašper Troha, Slovenian Theatre Institute
Lada Čale Feldman: Alceste à bicyclette and Molière’s Melancholic Comedy – a Rejuvenation or a Turn Off?
11.30: coffee break
Moderator: Maja Murnik
Ljudmil Dimitrov: The Birth of Comedy from the Living Corpse of Tragedy. The Chekhov Case
Mateja Pezdirc Bartol: Gender Stereotypes in Contemporary Slovene Comedy
Tomaž Toporišič: Paratactic Absurdism and (No Longer) Dramatic Comedy from Jesih to Semenič and Beyond
Moderator: Jure Gantar
Radka Kunderová: Stultifying Laughter? Comedy and the Political in Petr Lébl’s Our Our Swaggerers
Gašper Troha: Social criticism in comedy on the example of ecological themes
Ana Kocjančič: Edmond Audran: La Mascotte (The Girl of Happiness), an operetta that became a modern commedia dell’arte under the direction of Bratko Kreft
Martina Peštaj, Benjamin Zajc: Comedy in art for children and young audiences: How children and young people perceive and respond to humour
16.45: coffee break
Panel discussion: Gregor Moder, Iva Š. Slosar.
Moderator: Jakob Ribič
Friday, 6. October 2023
Jure Gantar: Anatomy of Failure
11.10: coffee break
Moderator: Gašper Troha
Jakob Ribič: Brecht and comedy
Maša Radi Buh, Nik Žnidaršič: Where Are the Boundaries? “Cancel culture” and the Comedy
Samo Oleami: Improvisational Comedy Beyond the Reliance on the Lowest Common Denominators – The Practice of Maja Dekleva Lapajne
13.00: final discussion of the symposium
Videos of the symposium
Head of the symposium: Jure Gantar
Organising Committee: Jure Gantar, Mateja Pezdirc Bartol, Blaž Lukan, Maja Murnik, Gregor Moder, Gašper Troha, Miha Čepeljnik
Slovenian Theatre Institute
Mestni trg 17, 1000 Ljubljana, Slovenia
T +386 31 504 432
Organizers of the symposium
The Slovenian Theatre Institute (SLOGI) is a national public institution founded in 2014 as the legal successor of the National Theatre Museum of Slovenia, founded in 1952. The Institute aims at the continued evolution of theatre culture at the national level and to raise the awareness of the role and importance of theatre in the development of society and individuals. The Institute is engaged in collecting, preserving, documenting, researching, examining, interpreting, promoting and presenting Slovenian theatre culture, of its heritage and as contemporary theatre arts, both at the national and international levels.
The Academy of Theatre, Radio, Film and Television of the University of Ljubljana (UL AGRFT) performs educational, artistic and research work in the fields of theatre, radio, film and television. From its founding in 1945 to 1975, it operated as an independent higher education institution with a rector, and then became a member of the University of Ljubljana.
Amfiteater – Journal of Performing Arts Theory, is a scientific journal that publishes original articles on performing arts with a broad spectrum from dramatic theatre, drama, dance, performance and hybrid art forms. Authors can analyse the forms and content of artwork and art phenomena from the field of performing arts, their history, their present, and their future, as well as their relationship to other art forms and the broader (social, cultural, political…) context.
The symposium is organized in cooperation with the University of Ljubljana, Academy of Theatre, Radio, Film and Television, within the framework of the Theatre and Interart Research programme (project No. P6-0376), co-financed by the Slovenian Research Agency from the state budget.