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Making the Representation Real: The Actor and the Spectator in Milo Rau’s ‘Theatrical Essays’ Mitleid and La Reprise

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  19 July 2021


Exceptional in demonstrating the political engagement emerging in twenty-first-century performance is the corpus of the writer and director Milo Rau, whose practice is distinguished by its (re)meditation of the real. With detailed reference to Mitleid (2016) and La Reprise (2018), this article examines Rau’s self-reflexive strategies in (re)presenting testimony or an event as a means not of depicting the real, but of making the theatrical representation itself real in order to change the world rather than merely to portray it. The article focuses in particular on strategies relating to the actor-character and spectatorship. Rau’s interest in the positions of the actor and spectator illuminates issues that have arisen in the discourse of theatre witnessing and in recent scholarship on dramaturgical approaches and spectatorship in contemporary political performance. Essentially, Rau makes the performer’s habitus transparent, and challenges the spectator’s reflexivity, effectively rebutting the largely unchallenged assumption that characters who perform witnesses necessarily leave little room for the spectator to be a performing witness. Stuart Young is Professor of Theatre Studies at the University of Otago. His recent publications include the co-edited Ethical Exchanges: Translation, Adaptation, Dramaturgy (Brill Rodopi, 2017), while his practice-led research into Theatre of the Real includes The Keys are in the Margarine: A Verbatim Play about Dementia (2014).

Research Article
© Cambridge University Press 2021

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