Monday, 12 February 2018

Agonism as a transformative experience - Theatre and audience analysis in UNREST

In this blog post, Diana González Martín (Aarhus University) of the UNREST project talks about her work analysing audience responses to Donde el bosque se espesa (Where the Forest Thickens), a play produced by UNREST partners Micomicón.

A video of the premiere of the play can be viewed here (with English subtitles).

You can also watch the teaser trailer produced for the play here.


As a work package dedicated to the creation of an agonistic theatre performance, UNREST’s WP6.1 focuses on the elaboration of a methodology for the observation and the generation of agonistic memory. During the first year of the project, Spanish theatre company Micomicón has created an original theatre performance with the collaboration of UNREST’s researchers entitled Donde el bosque se espesa (Where the Forest Thickens). It was world-premiered in June 2017 in Teatro del Bosque, Madrid.

Micomicón enjoyed total artistic freedom while creating the performance except for the fact that it should materialize agonistic memory on the stage. Among its agonistic traits, the following are worthy of mention: emphasis on socio-political contexts for the emergence of conflict and perpetration; inclusion of bystanders’, victims’ and perpetrators’ perspectives; insistence on characterizing victims as political actors with agency; aim to activate self-reflective and self-critical processes in spectators by unsettling their emotions in order to challenge their ideological assumptions.

The premiere audience discuss the play at Teatro del Bosque
A second stage of WP6.1 research, which is currently in progress, consists of a mixed-methods audience analysis to explore the impact of Donde el bosque se espesa in diverse audiences in three different European settings (Spain, Bosnia and Poland). Two main research questions drive this audience analysis:

  1. What kind of changes can be identified in the public’s modes of remembering past conflicts? Did the theatre performance contribute to unsettle fixed and essentialist memory patterns or did in any other form stimulate reflective and agonistic modes of remembering?
  2. What kind of interpretation biases can be observed between different stakeholders groups (activists, policy makers, cultural heritage professionals)?

Diana González Martin (right) and Daniela De Angeli (left)
of UNREST prepare to conduct interviews as
part of their fieldwork
Since agonism is a relational mode of remembering, we do not consider stakeholders as mere data givers and researchers as mere data collectors, but we do believe that agonism is to be generated by the interaction between artists, researchers and stakeholders. Therefore we conduct qualitative interviewing and quantitative surveys through action research approach to engage stakeholders and encourage them to become active participants. Through their participation they become co-creators of the performance and of political agonism by, for example, proposing alternative endings to the play and reflecting their own emotions and assumptions.

What this work package’s fieldwork can contribute to UNREST theoretical frame so far is a deepening of agonistic affects and an unveiling of how emotional shifts actually occur in order to get to know the way in which enemies can become political adversaries.

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