Their authors simply start from the fact that memory (=history) – today – must be interpreted with a decent amount of passion, and not only with a cool head. “The past is so complex and filled with layers of so many centuries, it is so much more multi-dimensional, fragmented and patchy that we can enter its content hidden behind numberless gates only by using different and refined keys of interpretation. Our awareness of this fact is as old as the muse Clio. And yet, it is only in this day and time that it has been given its civil rights.” (Bertoša, 2007: 39)
Today, the proponents and practitioners of the “school of new historians” show deep respect for the fact that that historiography should constantly bear in mind the important, perhaps even too important, memorabilia of statesmen, military leaders, personages of all kinds, all the protagonists there are of the crucial events that have given their stamp to a specific period…However, it should simultaneously deal with the small memories of the common people, random passers-by, children and adolescents, old people and people from the margins of life, all those who remember how it once was, but their memories have always and in all times been “skipped” or looked down upon. To the “new historians” the importance of the margin becomes equal to that of the centre. Basically, they leave the impression that their priority is precisely this systematic redefining (relativization, deconstruction) of those prevailing stereotypes that determine both our memory and our lives: centre/margin, big/small, public/private, rational/emotional, collective/individual…In history and in memory nothing must remain as it once was!
In our discourse, the qualifier “once” is always directed to memories which preserved and now keep some period of time or some time somebody has lived through. In contrast, time fixed in a work of art – that which belongs to the visual arts, literature, film or the theatre… – is no exception. Every attempt to fix time in the form of an artifact (oil on canvas, a music piece, a printed book, a theatre performance…) promotes this artifact in a kind of an intimate testimony “authorized” in a specific way. The French and other “new historians” qualify such testimonies as ego-histories.
Time memorizes not only the decisive events (those that concern all people or at least a large majority) but also certain small/personal stories narrated in the first person singular, in the I –form. What do we do with such stories? Where should they be “stored”? How should they be interpreted?
Historians, even the most rigid ones, those who would never admit it, have capitulated before the charm of such an “intimate method” of storing/interpretation of facts. Thanks to this method, we all store/memorize even those “unimportant”, sometimes difficult to explain, things which (nevertheless, nevertheless…) we remember so clearly and so long. Almost forever, “for life”. Sometimes we even remember some of those important/even too important events because of seemingly insignificant details, such as the colour of the sunset, the smell of a flower (or food), the sound of the train that passed by exactly at some dramatic moment.
World poetry teems with such brilliant examples/moments of the synesthesia of memorabilia, whose suggestibility can hardly be denied. All plots in fiction (“the sequence of events that creates the narrative component of a particular work”, as the theoreticians say) – even when it is not evident at first sight! – flirt with the seduction of this type. The best plays in world drama – for instance, those by Chekhov! – play very skillfully with its exceptional evocative potential. Even those who take the theatre literally should not dare reduce the dull sound of the crickets (recorded highly precisely in the play texts of Uncle Vanya or The Cherry Orchard) to a “random” stage/theatrical effect with which the playwright intended to expand, emphasize or “illustrate” some action.
Scholarship – and not only that which concerns historiography – has learned long ago that the psychological component of history (memory/memorizing) must not only be respected but also treated as a universal paradigm of memorabilia. The past is not recorded only in the “insensitive” archive sources (asthenic, material, made of paper or digital, but always “indifferent”…) but it is also impressed on the personal/intimate memories of people, in (alas!) the memory with which have had our disputes since the dawn of civilization. Memory has never been nor could it ever be “relieved of the burden” of the emotional charge. On the contrary, it has always been and remains “overburdened” with its human weight, be it bitter or sweet!
2. Theatre as a Place of Memory
Regardless of how we read, interpret or experience it, the theatre persistently imposes itself on us as a very specific place – a place “overburdened” by emotions of all kinds.
Whether we define theatrical art as complex, complicated, undoubtedly synthetic, interactive, evocative, provocative or representational, each of the numerous definitions points to its unusual and absolutely hybrid nature: evidently, this is an art form which permanently strives to conform to its own laws/principles/norms but, at the same time, it also attempts to express itself as a “multipractic” synthesis (conglomerate, juxtaposition…) of several other art forms.
Whenever they talk about the theatre, its fanatics love to refer to some special kind of magic, a metaphysical aura which (allegedly) hovers above every genuine (read: aesthetically relevant) theatrical act. However, it cannot be seen (except with the mind’s eye), but only felt. And even that, just for a brief couple of moments.
Traditionally not inclined to any kind of metaphysics, theatrology puts a great deal of effort into explaining/interpreting the theatre pragmatically, precisely and, as much as possible, comprehensibly.
One of the undisputed coryphées of theatrology, the renowned Anglo-French man of the theatre, Peter Brook, the legitimate owner of an absolutely paradigmatic theatrical biography which is hybrid by all standards (theatre director, essayist, theoretician of the “general” type, theatre manager, dramaturge, proponent of multiculturalism, cultural nomad…) as early as four decades ago decided to explain the phenomenon of the theatre through spatial paradigms. His study The Empty Space begins with the statement which, in the meantime, has become prophetic. In simple terms, this statement that has acquired a cult status, finally places at the centre of our theoretical and practical focus an indispensable theatrical element – Its Majesty the Space. This is what the statement says:
“I can take any empty space and call it a bare stage. A man walks across this empty space whilst someone else is watching him, and this is all that is needed for an act of theatre to be engaged.” (Brook, 1988:7).
Choosing precisely this space as the focus of his theatrical interest, Brook acts first as a practitioner – a director who cannot think in abstract terms, but only in clear, visible and palpable categories. These, in addition, must exist in their three-dimensional form. It is undoubted that directing a play is a skill which requires that a certain space be thought through (filled, “settled” with something/someone). Once the space has been defined (in terms of its length, width, height, depth), the director must gradually “engage” it with the help of the actors, stage design, light, sound, text…Without being implemented in a concrete stage space, any play text works quite one-dimensionally and in a single direction – as “something written on paper” which can also have certain traits characteristic of literature.