Date of Degree

6-2020

Document Type

Dissertation

Degree Name

Ph.D.

Program

Theatre and Performance

Advisor

Peter Eckersall

Committee Members

Marvin Carlson

David Savran

Subject Categories

Arts Management | Nonprofit Administration and Management | Other Theatre and Performance Studies | Sociology of Culture | Theatre and Performance Studies | Theatre History

Keywords

complicite, Arts Council, Simon McBurney, Annabel Arden, Marcello Magni, National Theatre

Abstract

Founded in 1983, Théâtre de Complicité emerged among the fringe theatre sector in Britain but have since become one of the leading theatremakers there, as well as on the international theatre-festival circuit. At the start, their early collectivist leanings, collaborative organizational structures, and use of devising processes inspired by the teachings of Jacques Lecoq, Philippe Gaulier, and Monika Pagneux, marked this evolving ensemble of performers and other artistic collaborators as alternative or outside the mainstream. Complicité quickly developed a cultlike following for their work, but their cultural standing improved significantly after they began a long-term creative producing relationship with the National Theatre, which early on produced a clash of cultures. In part, their survival has been possible due to government support, especially through the Arts Council, although this support involved complications. Since those early years, Complicité continued employing devising processes to make a range of successful projects, and the company became synonymous with the idea of devised theatre. Ideologically and organizationally, however, the company drifted closer to dominant norms. Some theatremakers and scholars characterized Complicité’s transformation as natural or inevitable, but I have called that view into question. As Complicité have been making theatre to this day, in my research of the group, I adopted an ethnographic methodological approach, as well as a cultural materialist methodology, in order to examine Complicité and their work within social, political, economic, and creative contexts. My research revealed that outside forces promoting a neoliberal vision of theatre—especially those emanating from the Arts Council—contributed significantly to shifts in Complicité’s thinking, organizing, and in certain ways, approaches to theatremaking. Under these funding pressures, the core-collective that had been at the heart of Complicité for most of their first fourteen years fractured, and the creative focus of the group shifted in favor of the individual artistic journey of cofounder Simon McBurney. Since then, Complicité developed a wide range of successful projects, but more-recent transformations have led to Complicité seeming to function even less like an ongoing ensemble and more like a cross between a producing entity and a brand. Complicité have not been alone in facing these kinds of pressures. Complicité’s struggles to maintain an artistic vision and survive financially demonstrate how difficult it can be for theatremakers in Britain (and elsewhere in the West) to challenge dominant, neoliberal norms and survive—no matter how strong the creative work may be—and the risks this situation poses to creative possibilities.

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