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David Calder

Disorderly Spaces for Uncertain Times: Street Theatre after Bataclan

The state of exception sometimes referred to as the War on Terror is self-perpetuating: as an abstract concept, terror is unable to surrender, and as an emotion, terror is generated or intensified by the very war that would see its end. The French 'anti-terror' law that replaced the country's 2015-2017 state of emergency demonstrates the strange temporality of the durational state of exception, as threat becomes both imminent and indefinite. This, in turn, is used to justify ongoing restrictions on public space. In this paper I explore how these reconfigurations of space and time have posed a challenge to the other reconfigurations of space and time characteristic of contemporary French street theatre, and how street theatre has responded. Since the 2015 Paris terror attacks and the ensuing declaration of emergency, how has street theatre attempted to create spaces of possibility and imagine alternative futures in a restricted public sphere?

I take as my primary case study the inaugural event of the 2017 street theatre festival in Aurillac. Although this was technically the 32nd annual festival, organisers dubbed it the 69th edition, projecting attendees into an imagined future whilst cheekily alluding to the bodily pleasures and mutual gratification celebrated by so many of that year's performances. The festival's inauguration featured (among other things) nearly nude performers smearing each other with rainbow body paint and scaling town hall to raise a rainbow flag. I examine the festival's inauguration neither as a retreat from politics nor as a dated celebration of free love. Rather, I suggest that its foregrounding of the flesh parodies the interplay of security and precarity, exposure and concealment, at the heart of the state of exception, and that it models alternative -- perhaps utopian -- possibilities for being vulnerable, together, in public space.

Dr David Calder is Lecturer in Theatre & Performance Studies at the University of Manchester. His first book, Street theatre and the production of postindustrial space: Working memories, was published in 2019 by Manchester University Press. His articles on street theatre have appeared in Theatre Journal and TDR: The Drama Review. He is a recipient of the David Bradby Award from the Standing Conference of University Drama Departments (SCUDD).