Theatre in Wales

Commentary and extended critical writing on theatre, dance and performance in Wales

"Welsh Assemblies": The Phenomenon of Contemporary

An abstract from the PhD Thesis by RUTH SHADE The University of Wolverhampton

The academic study of English-language theatre in Wales as a discrete subject is a relatively small field. Indeed, only three books on Welsh theatre have been published during the 1990s. Moreover, there are those who would argue that the idea of a differentiated Welsh, English-language theatre is an oxymoron.

English-language theatre in Wales shares a linguistic mode of communication with England's theatre and a problem is that it resembles the formal properties contained within its larger neighbour's theatre practices to the point where disaggregation might seem a forlorn objective.

The stress on language, however, ignores the fundamental significance of issues of class, political orientation and socio-cultural complexion, which is where important definitions of the identity of Welsh theatre can be found. Wales is a different country and therefore we might expect it to manifest distinctive theatre practices.

But the procedures employed by the Arts Council have the effect of standardising professional theatre and of discouraging the development of critical thinking, which disqualifies many of the distinguishing characteristics of English-language, Welsh theatre. This is particularly evident in those performance practices which emanate from a working-class lived experience. The Arts Council's method of organisation can be described as a process of incorporation.

This thesis responds to the situation by investigating the relationship between the Arts Council's disciplinary procedures, which determine incorporation, the promotion of normalised English theatre and the marginalisation of Welsh, working-class theatre practices.

The problem of Welsh theatre is depicted here as contingent on the dissemination of English concepts of high standards, which is central to the post-war Arts Council project. Thus, the main argument revolves around the idea that the notion of theatre in Wales is manipulated by an external agency.

Part One of the thesis marshals concepts about power which can explain hegemonic, or dominant, cultural structures. It includes specific reference to theories advanced by Raymond Williams, Michel Foucault, Antonio Gramsci and Edward Said.

In the second part, the argument progresses through the presentation of research about the disciplinary procedures of the Arts Council as they impact on theatre forms. It also examines the standardisation of theatre practices in the UK, as a whole, and the position of Welsh theatre in that context.

Finally, it addresses the status of theatre practices in an archetypal area of the south Wales Valleys, through a micro-analysis of Aberdare and its immediate environs.



Introduction: Calling and Responding: the problem of professional English-language theatre in Wales

Part One - Methodological considerations

1 Key definitions: theatre, power, methodology
2 The conceptual framework: Foucault, Gramsci, Williams, Said
Part Two - The substantive field of enquiry

3 Panopticism and the Arts Council: the exercise of power and disciplinary procedures in the construction of theatre practice
4 The outcomes of panopticism I: incorporation and the phenomenon of professional English-language theatre in Wales
5 The outcomes of panopticism II: the unincorporated - a micro-analytical case study of theatre practice in Aberdare

author:Ruth Shade

original source: Ruth Shade
01 June 1999


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