The Third Theatre

This short text by Eugenio Barba, written as an internal document for the participants of the >Third Theatre< meeting in Belgrade in 1976, quickly acquired the meaning of a >manifesto<. It was printed as a manifesto of the >Third Theatre< in the newspapers and professional journals of almost all European countries as well as in Venezuela, Peru, Bolivia, Colombia, Argentina and Japan. The Third Theatre was first published in International Theatre Informations (Paris, autumn 1976).

„A theatrical archipelago has formed in many countries over the last few years. It is almost unknown, little thought is given to it, it is not presented at festivals and critics do not write about it.

It seems to be the anonymous extreme of the forms of theatre recognised by the cultural world: On one side is institutional theatre because of the high cultural values it seems to convey, protected as a vivid image of a creative encounter between texts of past and present culture, or even subsidised as a >noble< form of the entertainment industry. On the other hand, there is the theatre of the avant-garde, of experimentation, of searching, difficult or iconoclastic, a theatre of change, of the search for ever new originality, defended in the name of the necessary overcoming of tradition and open to everything new that emerges in the encounter of the arts with society.

The Third Theatre lives on the margins, often outside or on the periphery of cultural centres. It is a theatre made by people who see themselves as actors, directors, as theatre people without having gone through the traditional career and training path and who are therefore not even recognised as professionals.

But they are not amateurs. For them, the whole day is determined by their theatre work: sometimes by what they call training, or by preparing performances that have to fight for their audience.

According to the traditional parameter for theatre, it seems to be an irrelevant problem; from a sociological point of view, however, the Third Theatre is worthy of attention.

Like islands out of touch with each other, young people meet in Europe, North and South America, Australia and Japan; they form theatre groups determined to survive.

But these groups can only survive under two conditions: Either they enter the framework of established theatre, thus accepting the laws of supply and demand, the prevailing tastes, yielding to the preferences of political and cultural ideologues and thus adapting to the latest applauded successes; or they succeed in creating their own field through continuous work. In doing so, they look for what is essential for them and try to force the others to accept this diversity.

Perhaps it is in the Third Theatre that one can see what is alive in theatre, an old meaning that brings new energies to theatre, that keeps theatre alive in spite of everything, even in our society today.

Different people in different countries of the world experience theatre as a bridge – always endangered – between the assertion of their own needs and the necessity to reach out to the environment around them by means of these needs.

Why, of all things, do they choose theatre as a means of change when we know full well that the world we live in is determined by other factors? Is it a question of blindness or self-deception?

Perhaps theatre is a means for them to find their own form of presence, what critics would call >new expressive forms< – an attempt to create more human relationships among themselves by forming social cells within which intentions, hopes and personal needs begin to be transformed into actions.

The abstract distinctions that are arbitrarily made and imposed from above are useless here: schools, styles, tendencies and other labels that give established theatre its order. Neither the styles nor the tendencies of expressivity count here. What seems to characterise the Third Theatre, what seems to be a common denominator of so many different groups and experiences, is a tension that is difficult to define.

It is as if the various personal needs-ideals, fears, various impulses that would otherwise remain more or less in the dark-are brought together in an attitude that is externally justified as an ethical imperative that is not limited to the profession but extends throughout daily life. Ultimately, however, they are the first to pay the price for their decisions.

One cannot only dream of the future and hope for the total change that seems to move further away with every step we take and still create a clear path for all the alibis, compromises and impotence of waiting.

One wants a new cell to be formed immediately, but without isolating oneself in it. To immerse oneself as a group in a world of fiction while finding the courage not to pretend… such is the paradox of the Third Theatre.“

Source: Eugenio Barba: Jenseits der schwimmenden Inseln, Hamburg 1985, p. 215-2017. Translated with on 27 May 2022.