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Tyrol or Not Tyrol

Theatre as History in Südtirol/Alto Adige

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Nóra de Buiteléir

On 19 June 1992 Austria and Italy declared the official resolution of the South Tyrol question – the dispute that had dominated relations between the two countries since the end of the First World War. While this bilingual province is today held up as a triumph of minority rights protection and a model for post-conflict societies across the world, the story of the South Tyrol since its amalgamation into the Italian state in 1919 has been a complex and often turbulent one.
This book investigates the political role of the theatre in reflecting, shaping and subverting patterns of cultural identity among the German-speaking South Tyrolese. Taking as its starting point the representation of history in a series of ambitious theatrical productions from the 1970s to the present, this study offers close readings of texts and performances and an examination of the belated development of professional theatre in the province. The role of theatre is analysed in terms of the broader historical and sociocultural factors at play in the shaping of South Tyrolese identity.

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CHAPTER 2 Recasting the Hero: Gaismair’s Peasants Take to the Stage

Extract

Writing in the wake of the defeats of 1848, Friedrich Engels looked to the Peasants’ War of the 1520s in the hope of identifying the roots of a previ- ously overlooked indigenous revolutionary tradition in Germany. ‘There was a time,’ he writes, when Germany produced characters that could match the best men in the revolu- tions of other countries, when the German people displayed an endurance and vigour which, in a centralised nation, would have yielded the most magnificent results and when the German peasants and plebeians were full of ideas and plans that often make their descendants shudder.1 Emerging in the aftermath of the 1972 Autonomy Statute, the Südtiroler Kulturzentrum used much the same historical material to similar political ends. This Marxist collective, founded in Bolzano in 1975, was interested not so much in overhauling South Tyrolese theatre as in overhauling the social, political and ethnic structures of the South Tyrol itself. The stage was a means rather than an end; the goal political rather than aesthetic. What distinguishes the Kulturzentrum from previous theatre groups and what 1 ‘Es gab eine Zeit wo Deutschland Charaktere hervorbrachte, die sich den besten Leuten der Revolutionen anderer Länder an die Seite stellen können, wo das deutsche Volk eine Ausdauer und Energie entwickelte, die bei einer zentralisierten Nation die großartigsten Resultate erzeugt hätte, wo deutsche Bauern und Plebejer mit Ideen und Plänen schwanger gingen, vor denen ihre Nachkommen oft genug zurückschau- dern.’ Friedrich Engels, Der...

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