Stages of Utopia and Dissent : 50 years on

Loughborough University London

People protesting outside

Stages of Utopia and Dissent is a one-day conference organised by the Theatre and Performance Research Group at Loughborough University.

15 May 1968: the Odeon theatre in Paris is occupied by students and becomes the insurgent headquarters where every night militants recount the days' action in occupied factories to an audience of people camping in the auditorium. 15 June 1968: the Odeon theatre is cleared by the CRS forces, nothing remains but one banderole “solidarité avec les tra­vailleurs en lutte” symbolising the general strike voted in May by theatre practitioners in solidarity with the workers’ struggle. While the May revolt did not radically change workers’ conditions, it perennially inscribed some of the boldness and inventiveness of the 1960s in performing arts upon the French stage: a theatre of bodies rebelling against the established order and inviting the audience to be involved as creative participants and not as mere consumers anymore. The same spirit led to the creation, a year later, of the Centre universitaire expérimental de Vincennes, where students could create their own individualised cross-disciplinary curriculum and were taught by thinkers such as Gilles Deleuze, Jean-François Lyotard, Michel Foucault, Alain Badiou or Hélène Cixous. There were other students protesting against wars or fundamental liberties in other parts of the world at the time, but youth rebellion was never as mythologised as that of the French students’ fight against institutional oppression.
The effects were felt across the Channel, too – but the nature of those effects was, and remains, disputed. It certainly galvanised the growth of a theatrical counter-culture which encompassed agit-prop and T-i-E, community theatre and performance art, childrens’ theatre and the avant-garde. For some, like Catherine Itzin May 1968 was the high point of “a historic year which … clearly marked the end of an era in a historically unprecedented fashion and the beginning of a period of equally unprecedented political consciousness and activism.” Howard Brenton saw it rather differently and much less positively: “May 1968 was crucial…” he said. “[It] disinherited my generation in two ways. First it destroyed any remaining affection for official culture… But it also, secondly, destroyed the notions of personal freedom, anarchist political action. And it failed. It was defeated. A generation dreaming of a beautiful utopia was kicked – kicked awake and not dead. I’ve got to believe not kicked dead. May 68 gave me a desperation I still have.”
50 years on… where are we? What remains of the dream of a possible union of students and workers in protest? What remains of autogestion and emancipatory education? What remains of theatre inventiveness and sedition? What remains of a need for participatory audiences? What remains of utopia and dissent?


10.30am Registration and coffee


Fred Dalmasso


Keynote 1:

Olivier Tonneau -  The French Revolution’s Furtive Translations


Panel 1:

  • Camille Mayer - Youth Utopia and Dissent: Anarchist Theatre in France since 1968
  • Ralph Yarrow - Un Théâtre Hors du Théâtre (Post-68 and the Theatre of the Oppressed)
  • Sarah Thornton - Collective Encounters and the Multitude of Opposition

Provocations/Installations (over lunch)

  • Gillian Whiteley - Demand communal luxury daily! An assemblage of print-based ephemera savouring suspensions of time, cracks in the pavement, and other recent ruptures
  • Marina Dumont - Have you ever met a purveyor of dreams? Have you ever been able to buy the right dream for you in an exhaustive catalog? 

Panel 2:

  • David Bell - Musical Improvisation and the Restaging of Utopia(nism)
  • Jennifer Hankin - Locating the Utopic within Contemporary Installation Practice

Keynote 2:

  • Baz Kershaw - Senseless Acts of Futurity

Coffee and discussion

Mick Mangan



Book your place