Street theatre and the production of postindustrial space explores how street theatre transforms industrial space into postindustrial space. Deindustrializing communities have increasingly turned to cultural projects to commemorate industrial heritage while simultaneously generating surplus value and jobs in a changing economy. Through analysis of French street theatre companies working out of converted industrial sites, this book reveals how theatre and performance more generally participate in and make historical sense of ongoing urban and economic change. The book argues, firstly, that deindustrialization and redevelopment rely on the spatial and temporal logics of theatre and performance. Redevelopment requires theatrical events and performative acts that revise, resituate, and re-embody particular pasts. The book proposes working memory as a central metaphor for these processes. The book argues, secondly, that in contemporary France street theatre has emerged as working memory's privileged artistic form. If the transition from industrial to postindustrial space relies on theatrical logics, those logics will manifest differently depending on geographic context. The book links the proliferation of street theatre in France since the 1970s to the crisis in Fordist-Taylorist modernity. How have street theatre companies converted spaces of manufacturing into spaces of theatrical production? How do these companies (with municipal governments and developers) connect their work to the work that occurred in these spaces in the past? How do those connections manifest in theatrical events, and how do such events give shape and meaning to redevelopment? Street theatre’s function is both economic and historiographic. It makes the past intelligible as past and useful to the present.
This chapter introduces the book's primary focus: street theatre's production of postindustrial space. The introduction makes clear that there is no such thing as a postindustrial society: forms of labour accumulate rather than cleanly replacing each other. Nonetheless, deindustrializing communities have a vested interest in relegating industry to the past and presenting themselves as happily and healthily postindustrial. Street theatre is crucial to this process as a theatrical form that claims space as public, carves events from ongoing situations, and rescripts everyday behaviours. The necessity of street theatre to the production of the postindustrial means that street theatre companies benefit from and participate in redevelopment, but it also means that through street theatre the industrial may reassert itself in unanticipated ways. The introduction proposes working memory as a central metaphor for the theatrical and performative processes analysed throughout the book.
This chapter interrogates contemporary French street theatre's dominant origin stories, which link the form to the festive protests of May 1968 and to a premodern carnivalesque. After the collapse of the Fordist compromise, street theatre is supposed to have reanimated public space through its transgression of boundaries and its invocation of a pre-industrial past. This chapter brings together street theatre historiography and analysis of key performances by Théâtre de l’Unité and Générik Vapeur to examine the complex and at times contradictory connections between street theatre’s anti-functionalist politics and its anti-theatrical prejudices. Ultimately the chapter argues that street theatre thrives in the remains of the modern industrial city because of its anxious relationship to a mythic urban ideal. This examination of street theatre's complex nostalgia challenges persistent assumptions about street theatre's temporal, spatial, and political work.
This chapter analyses the conversion of a rural factory (camera case manufacturer Photosacs in Corbigny) into an arts centre and base of operations for street theatre company Metalovoice, a project designed to transform Corbigny into a rural cultural hub. But it risks being intelligible as part of a scenario of development that has long subordinated rural workers (especially women) to urban markets and consumers. In response, Metalovoice position themselves as artisans with familial ties to industrial heritage. The discourses produced by and about a street theatre institution and the industrial aesthetics of Metalovoice's inaugural event are linked by the folded logic of reincorporation: material from the past is resurrected for use in the present, changing the meaning of past and present in the process. Attempts to refashion history by discursively and aesthetically linking industrial workers and artists might grant both groups symbolic clout, but they might also obscure the gendered specificities of a local labour history. Through an intentionally micro-level analysis – of one event at one factory in one small town – the chapter links street theatre’s present economic function to its ability to reorder people, spaces, and times.
This chapter analyses the discourses and practices of the creative economy and reveals its fraught relationship to forms of labour and leisure it has supposedly replaced. The conversion of the Nantes shipyards into a tourist and cultural destination and base of operations for street theatre company La Machine has reconfigured the site as both public space and workspace. In keeping with the model of the creative city, spectators are invited to actively participate in the project, but this chapter questions the nature of that participation. The chapter further demonstrates that La Machine company members must simultaneously be industrial workers and replace them; they embody past repertoires even as they herald a post-Fordist transition to affective or immaterial labour. Ultimately this urban redevelopment project and its theatrical components must promote the selective memory of industry's success while smoothing over the rupture of its collapse.
This chapter explores how a street theatre company deploys different aesthetic and rhetorical tactics to engage with working-class heritage and local identity before and during urban redevelopment. PlayRec (2006–08) and SPP (2011–12), by KompleXKapharnaüM, offer two models of theatre archaeology that re-enact the excavation of the industrial past and the construction of local memory. PlayRec uses montage and shock aesthetics to restage the collection and distortion of personal testimony. SPP plays on the relation between irony and authenticity to engage spectators in the construction of a blatantly invented past for a blatantly invented neighbourhood (the Carré de Soie, straddling Villeurbanne and Vaulx-en-Velin, on the eastern outskirts of Lyon). The peculiar theatricality of each project reveals how street theatre can engage in critical praxis while caught up in redevelopment: its capacity to make change is linked to its capacity to make sense of change.
This concluding chapter analyses two works of outdoor installation art that exemplify the production of postindustrial space. Compagnie Fer à Coudre’s Floraferrique and Fabrice Giraud’s Le Murmure des Plantes 2.0 fuse natural flora with industrial aesthetics. This chapter examines the installations as street theatre, demonstrating how they invite spectatorial participation even as they create a doubled temporality that complicates the call to action. Through their interplay of human and non-human agency, engagement with ecology, and construction of alternate pasts and futures, these projects offer new insight into street theatre's temporal, spatial, and political work.