Hannah Ray – Noncathartic tragic experience: David Greig’s The Events


Hannah Ray


Noncathartic tragic experience: David Greig’s The Events

In his 2016 monograph Tragedy and Dramatic Theatre, Hans-Thies Lehmann not only furthers the argument that political theatre no longer take the form of drama he made in the influential Postdramatic Theatre (2006), but argues that tragic experience belongs not to the dramatic protagonist, but to the theatrical spectator. However, contemporary views on political theatre and tragedy have tended to oscillate between Lehmann’s contention that the restrictions of dramatic form negate the specificity of individual responses (Lehmann, 2006; Lehmann, 2013; Lehmann, 2016) and the ongoing need to reimagine the possibilities of collective political engagement in the theatre through the reinvigoration of historical avant-garde forms (Hughes, 2011; Reinelt, 2019; Stevens, 2016). Consequently, this paper seeks to address overlooked examples of dramatic form which feature elements of co-authorship, participation and audience collaboration typically associated with the postdramatic paradigm. This paper will focus on David Greig’s The Events (2013). The  follows a narrative of grief following a mass shooting, and includes a volunteer choir from each community in which it is performed. However, the choir performs a limited role in the dramatic performance, functioning to frustrate the spectator’s desire for the narrative resolution of grief and revealing the compromised attachments and relationships embedded in these political and intersubjective relationships. The paper explore the role of anxiety as an affective response to loss which extends far after the performance event, and so troubles established and systems of identification by indicating a greater connection than what the performance might have seemed to offer. Finally, drawing on Adorno’s concept of mimesis, I contend that this contradictory and affective phenomenon constitutes tragic experience in participatory drama. 

Hannah Ray is undertaking her PhD in Theatre and Performance Studies at UNSW. She completed her BA (hons) at the University of Manchester in 2015.   

Greig D (2013) The Events. London: Faber and Faber.

Hughes J (2011) Performance in a time of terror : critical mimesis and the age of uncertainty. Manchester ;: Manchester University Press.

Lehmann H-T (2006) Postdramatic theatre. London ; New York: Routledge.

Lehmann H-T (2013) A Future for Tragedy? Remarks on the Political and the Postdramatic. In: Carroll J, Giles S and Jürs-Munby K (eds) Postdramatic theatre and the political : international perspectives on contemporary performance. New York: Bloomsbury Publishing.

Lehmann H-T (2016) Tragedy and dramatic theatre. Milton Park, Abingdon, Oxon ;: Routledge.

Reinelt J (2019) Parsing the Post: the post-political and its utility (or not) for performance. In: Eckersall PaG, Helena (ed) The Routledge Companion to Theatre and Politics. pp.58-63.

Stevens L (2016) Anti-War Theatre After Brecht : Dialectical Aesthetics in the Twenty-First Century. London: Palgrave Macmillan UK.

Sarah Balkin – “The boundless exaggeration uttered most demurely”: Deadpan before Deadpan


Sarah Balkin

University of Melbourne

“The boundless exaggeration uttered most demurely”: Deadpan before Deadpan

Scholars often cite the first recorded instance of a term or phrase—in the Oxford English Dictionary or in John S. Farmer’s 1891 Slang and Its Analogues Past and Present, for example—in order to help historicize a given phenomenon. This practice helps us avoid anachronistically projecting our own concepts and definitions back onto a past to which they may be inapplicable. Nonetheless, in this paper I ask what can be gained by taking the emergence of a term as an endpoint rather than a beginning. My current research traces the historical emergence of deadpan, a performance of seriousness or normalcy intended to inspire laughter. The first recorded use of the term “deadpan” was in 1927, but the gap between subject matter and style of delivery as a central aspect of comedy, I argue, developed about a century earlier in a transatlantic context. I pay particular attention to the terminology reviewers, theatregoers, and artists used to describe comic styles I understand as emergent deadpan. For example, in January 1867 the English poet and critic Gerald Massey described “the racy and hilarious yet matter-of-fact hyperbole…the boundless exaggeration uttered most demurely, the knowing unconsciousness” of American humor in the Quarterly Review. Historicizing deadpan in this way, I argue, presents methodological opportunities for understanding a style during the century before it was named. It also suggests how historical evidence, including performance ephemera and textual descriptions of style, can reveal structures of feeling that developed alongside and competed with nineteenth-century investments in authenticity, earnestness, and composure.

Sarah Balkin is a Lecturer in English and Theatre Studies at the University of Melbourne. She is the author of Spectral Characters: Genre and Materiality on the Modern Stage (University of Michigan Press 2019) and articles on nineteenth, twentieth, and twenty-first-century literature, theatre, and performance. Her current research examines the historical emergence of deadpan performance (1830-1930) and its derivations in contemporary queer and feminist comedy.