Dante's Inferno: Theatre of Transformation

Elisabeth Burke, University of New South Wales

This essay examines the relevance of ethics within a theatre production of Dante’s Inferno. Following a very brief overview of the structure, context and dramaturgy of the production I then elaborate some behind-the-scene stories that emerged during the period of the production. Each story is followed by a reflection on the impact of relationships on art making or of art practices on non-arts communities. Could theatre & arts practices hold the germ of an ethics approach for the non-arts community? I feel an urgency to explore this terrain as both the arts- and non-arts communities are increasingly indistinguishable. Both focus on product over process, entertainment over art, training over education, profits over people. I am less interested in examining the moral dimensions of the SUBJECT in art; such an emphasis can lead to censorship, or to regulatory ethics. Rather, my interest is both in how creativity and imagination is forged within the flux of relationships, and in that delicate balance between individual human flourishing and the community or group-dynamic. Process is important because it gives spirit to a product. All the stories in this essay are from and about relationships; each emerged from the threshold of life and theatre, from the group dynamics that were forged or became manifest in the processes and planning of the theatrical event P not on the stage itself. Many big ethical subjects emerge: power, knowledge, recognition, money – between the institutions and the individual, between professional artists and the amateur. At core were issues of trust and personal integrity. I conclude that conditions for a moral minimum of an ethics of creativity and imagination might include the need to: leave space within relationships for individuals to flourish on their own terms; re-enforce the value of working towards mutuality between the individual and community; maintain a deep critical perspective on the pitfalls of groups and organisations to regulate behaviour and thus create an amoral environment; have the courage to invest passion and take risks in one’s relationships with others; take hope from the fact that placing people and the quality of relationships before aesthetic and commercial outcomes enables the heart to dance with reason and imagination and enables human flourishing to begin; be willing to change and break through patterns of our personality that prevent us communing positively with others. These and other characteristics become a blueprint for a theatre of transformation.

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