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Chapter 5 examines the role of theatre in creating economic confidence during a time of austerity. It focuses on Isles of Wonder, the theatrical performance at the heart of the opening ceremony of the 2012 Olympics in London. Isles of Wonder was an astonishingly confident performance but, more importantly, it was an exhilarating show of confidence, at a time when the UK government was imposing a strict programme of economic austerity. But this show was as much an economic one as a theatrical one, and a deeply ambigous one politically. On the one hand, Isles of Wonder contained a stirring theatrical tribute to social welfare and appeared to be a theatrical metonym of Keynesian forms of public investment and productivity. On the other hand, Isles of Wonder successfully mobilised rentier forms of Olympic infrastructure that was a travesty of that Keynesianism. Isles of Wonder demonstrated the remarkable and disorienting ability of performance to refigure what might otherwise be political economic antagonisms into a theatrically and economically productive dialectic, if only for a short – but nonetheless spectacular – while.
Chapter 3 examines the 1998 Tinderbox production of Stewart Parker’s Northern Star in the First Presbyterian Church in Belfast in relation to the “peace dividend” that has been widely promoted since the early days of the peace process in Northern Ireland but has at best been fitfully realised. This chapter takes seriously the proposition that, under certain circumstances, a single theatrical production might achieve a greater political and economic return than either the state or the market can. When Henry Joy McCracken stepped forward and addressed the audience in the First Presbyterian Church as “citizens of Belfast” in 1998, he realised a peace dividend in a very material and immediate form, to an extent that the state and the market have never convincingly been able to do in Northern Ireland. The production provided a living model of what a non-marketised peace dividend – a “citizen of Belfast” – might look and feel like, and posited theatre as the ideal (and possibly only) place to find it.
The introuduction lays out the book’s main concerns, core arguments, historical, theoretical and theatrical scope, and interdisicplinary and materialist approach. It argues that the theatres analysed in the rest of the book, when taken together, deliniate a theatre that is increasingly taking up the mantle of the mixed economy: to combine economic efficiency with social security, while promoting liberal democracy. This has occured during a period when the mixed economy has been in electoral and ideological decline. This introduction also argues that the theatres examined in subsequent chapters play three key roles within their market economies: as enactments of the real economy in economic contexts that have become increasingly dominaed by finance capital and rent-seeking; as spatial fixes to productivity problems arising both within theatre and in the wider political economy; and as localisation machines, as apparatuses that render otherwise intangible of remote political and economic relations concrete and proximate.
Theatre in Market Economies explores the complex relationship between theatre and the market economy since the 1990s. Bringing together research from the arts and social sciences, the book proposes that theatre has increasingly taken up the mission of the 'mixed economy' by seeking to combine economic efficiency with social security while promoting liberal democracy. McKinnie situates this analysis within a wider context, in which the welfare state's tools have been used to regulate, ever more closely, the lives of citizens rather than the operations of markets. In the process, the book invites us to think in new ways about longstanding economic and political problems in and through the theatre: the nature of industry, productivity, citizenship, security and economic confidence. Theatre in Market Economies depicts a theatre that is not only a familiar cultural institution but is, in unexpected and often ambiguous ways, an exemplary political-economic one as well.
Chapter 1 considers theatre as a form of industry that confronts a central problem: how to produce a performance – in the general sense of manufacturing a product rather than in the specialist sense of financing a show – and then reproduce it over time and space. This chapter explores the centrality of blocking in addressing this problem, through an analysis of the practice’s historical and contemporary significance, and of two productions by London’s National Theatre: Noises Off (2000) and Frankenstein (2011). On the one hand, blocking demonstrates the extent to which virtues commonly attributed to the theatre – its artistry, its ephemerality, its uniqueness, and so on – are inextricable from the routines, systems, and technologies upon which any production process depends. At the same time, it abstracts the work from the worker, with all the potential for both ingenuity and exploitation that can entail, and is a precondition for forms of theatrical production – from touring shows to “McTheatre” – that have taken theatrical production firmly into the realm of the (sometimes global) market for centuries.
Chapter 2 explores the productivity of performance through two adjacent, but very different sites on London’s South Bank: the collection of monumental arts centres clustered along the River Thames – especially the National Theatre – and the tunnels under Waterloo Station that have more recently been refashioned as performance venues. While the South Bank has for decades been defined by its massive, purpose-built vestiges of Britain’s welfare state, since 2009 it has been supplemented by a site only partly repurposed from its former use as a store for railway equipment. As this chapter discusses, live performance has historically been seen as unproductive in classical and contemporary economic thought. But if we observe performance through its socio-spatial infrastructure rather than its labour process, a more productive theatre emerges. This chapter suggests that contemporary London theatre has salved its productivity problems by spatialising and socialising them. And the South Bank suggests that London’s own productivity problems – made significantly worse by the financial crisis of 2008 – might in turn be solved, even if only temporarily, by theatricalising them.
Chapter 4 explores how the Haskell Free Library and Opera House, a theatre and library built directly on the US-Canada border and opened in 1904, has become both an exceptional and exemplary civic institution in a time of increased securitisation. This chapter considers the Haskell as a local institution that promises to ameliorate geopolitical and geoeconomic antagonisms, but from a position within these realms rather than outside them. The Haskell’s civic promise is an is an effect of political economy and historical geography, and is the result of more than a century-long process of securitisation. Its civic appeal depends not so much on its equidistance from the state and the market but on a deeply embedded relationship with them. Seen this way, the Haskell becomes a distinctively theatrical – and distinctively social – technology of political economic governance: it localises social bonds that state-secured marketisation threatens to disperse and, in doing so, it retrieves social exchange from its wholesale appropriation by the state and the market.
Keynes wrote this at the height of the Great Depression. Demonstrating the combination of radical intellectualism and political reformism that characterised his writings and professional life, Keynes was trying to avoid the ‘two opposed errors of pessimism’, he thought the Depression had induced ‘the pessimism of the revolutionaries who think that things are so bad that nothing can save us but violent change, and the pessimism of the reactionaries who consider the balance of our economic and social life so precarious that we must risk no experiments’. By way of countering these ‘errors’, he looked one hundred years into the future, toward a time when ‘the economic problem may be solved, or be at least within sight of solution’. The economic problem, Keynes forcefully argued, was not ‘the permanent problem of the human race’.