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For over five decades, there has been a transnational phenomenon of theatre practice that has largely gone unnoticed by scholars and the wider theatre community. Characterised by diverse small-scale groups with a laboratory ethos. Third Theatre continues to be a dynamic and persistent force. The aim of this publication is to foreground and critically frame the ways in which a poetics of Third Theatre operates as much politically and ethically as it does aesthetically. Divided into three Parts, this book thus provides the reader with:

  • • An overview of the history ofThird Theatre as a concept and as a community of practice.
  • • Specific examples of innovative praxis developed by key groups in Europe and Latin America.
  • • A critical realignment of Third Theatre praxis away from notions of the intercultural. As will be argued, the complexity of the embodied labour underpinning performer training necessitates a fresh analytical approach that moves away from the binary categorisations and focuses on performance underpinning the Intercultural Debates. By foregrounding issues of embodiment and focusing on exemplary exercises, we argue that Third Theatre praxis rather consists of a transnational form of cultural performance characterised by an expanded laboratory ethos, which operates interstitially whilst importantly blurring the boundaries between art and life.

Thus, the meaningful status ofThird Theatre is demonstrated as a vital component of a wider theatre history, whose praxical strategies can positively impact on the work of current theatre makers and small-scale theatrical groups worldwide.

Third Theatre

The term ‘Third Theatre’ was coined in a short text written over 40 years ago by renowned theatre director Eugenio Barba, founder of Odin Teatret - the pioneering theatre group established in 1964 and based in Holstebro, Denmark.1 Barba used the term to describe a generation of theatre groups that had emerged in the 1960s as experimental groups but which by the 1970s had become established. Barba suggests that these groups neither associated themselves with mainstream (First Theatre) nor avant-guard theatre (Second Theatre).2 Rather, the fundamental characteristics of Third Theatre were: marginality, auto-didactism, the existential and ethical dimensions of the actor’s craft and a new social vocation. His brief text quickly assumed the value of a manifesto, becoming a reference point for many practitioners, particularly in Europe and Latin America.

Barba’s original account of Third Theatre, delivered as a report to UNESCO in 1976, followed his organisation of a gathering of theatre groups in Belgrade, entitled The International Workshop of Theatrical Research. In the report he states:

The Third Theatre lives on the fringe, often outside or on the outskirts of the centres and capitals of culture ... Like islands without contact between themselves, ... people gather to form theatre groups, determined to survive ... It is as if the personal needs ... wanted to be transformed into work according to an attitude ... an ethical imperative, not limited to the profession only, but extending through the whole of daily life.

(Barba, 1979: 145-147)

Whilst the Odin may well be the most famous proponent of this particular ‘small tradition’3 in Europe, Third Theatre always already transcended Barba and Odin Teatret, reflecting the deep-seated motivations of a range of artists with a similar ethos. Prior to their encounters with the Odin, the many groups that originally comprised this community in the late 1970s possessed distinct identities which they continued to cultivate in numerous ways afterwards.4 By the same token, the more assured emerging artists who engaged with the community at a later date often went on to generate innovative and distinctive models of practice, which have also become deeply rooted. These deserve the greater scrutiny and consideration in their own right that this book will give. Indeed, the aim of the book is to demonstrate the multifarious assemblage that is Third Theatre and how this has contributed to the development of rich and diverse theatrical ecosystems across mainland Europe and Latin America from the mid-twentieth century onwards.

Thus, the purpose of this book is:

  • 1. To critically address, in Part 1: Chapters 1 and 2, the historical development of Third Theatre in both Europe and Latin America as a phenomenon and a concept. Third Theatre first emerged out of a growing tide of group theatre practice that developed over the course of the 1950s and 1960s, in which a laboratory attitude was already present. This historiographic overview allows us to interrogate how a transnational cultural performance practice has emerged, grounded in a dynamic set of values comprised of unconditional hospitality, artisanal craft, and (re)enchantment.5 These are the grounding principles which, we argue, underpin a poetics of Third Theatre.
  • 2. We then go on to interrogate, in Part 2: Chapters 3, 4 and 5, the ways in which a poetics of Third Theatre manifests concretely through modes of performer training, dramaturgy and cultural action, by focusing on key Case Study groups: LUME (Brazil), Grupo Cultural Yuyachkani (Peru) and Triangle Theatre (UK).
  • 3. The continued valence of this embodied cultural performance will be further unpacked in Part 2: Chapter 6 by focusing on the changing status and operational activities of Nordisk Teaterlaboratorium (NTL), the umbrella organisation encompassing Odin Teatret and the other branches of activities initiated by group members, which is reconfiguring the theatre laboratory and developing a model of an artistic incubation programme in order to respond to the needs of emerging Third Theatre artists in the twenty-first century.
  • 4. Importantly, in Part 3: Chapters 7 and 8, with reference to the practice reviewed in the previous chapters, we question prior critical framings of Third Theatre practice stemming from the Intercultural Debates of the 1990s and 2000s. Rather than a primarily intercultural phenomenon, we suggest that the complex embodiment underscoring Third Theatre practice operates at an interstitial level. By interstitial, we refer to the ways in which the work developed by Third Theatre groups crosses borders and exists in the gaps between cultural, temporal and geographical frontiers, establishing a unique form of embodied cultural performance.
  • 5. The transnational cultural performance of the Third Theatre community is epitomised in Part 3: Chapter 9 by a curated selection of exercises taken from the Case Study groups and NTL. Whilst these exercises offer embodied insights into the expanded laboratory practices of Triangle, LUME, Yuyachkani and assorted NTL artists, we would argue that, collectively, they are redolent of broader tendencies within Third Theatre. By charting a progression from exercises linked to performer training to strategies for developing dramaturgical material and/or cultural action, we demonstrate the connections between the body of the individual actor, the body of the group and the wider social corpus. Thus, this chapter potentially offers the reader an experiential pathway into the multifarious poetics of Third Theatre.
  • 6. In the Conclusion, it is argued that the Third Theatre community chooses to reside on the margins of mainstream culture, maintaining a political ethos and a theatrical practice that is often in opposition to the dominant ideas and approaches supported by cultural and political authority. Third

Theatre offers a way of being together for the diverse/foreign/unruly theatre practices of a range of groups and individual artists, who are united by their shared belief in the centrality of the actor’s body in performance, and the impact performance can have on the social corpus.

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