Agitprop, a compression of agitational propaganda, can be considered as both a theatrical form and a distinctive function for artistic works (Szanto 1978). Evolved during the Russian Revolution, it was employed by socialist activists throughout Europe and the United States to raise the consciousness of the masses. It was revived in the 1960s in Britain in response to the demands of political campaigners, pressure groups and trade unions trying to communicate political analysis to popular audiences. The earliest company, formed in 1965, was Cartoon Archetypal Slogan Theatre (CAST). For CAST, rock and roll music was the main formative influence. Performances were characterized by direct audience address, swiftly interchanging sketches, documentary and music so that metaphors were created to explain the underlying politics of current events. An AgitProp collective was formed in London in 1968 which promoted a range of cultural political interventions, including street theatre. Other companies such as Red Ladder, Broadside Mobile Workers Theatre and Northwest Spanner developed similar short revue performances which were taken on to the street and to political meetings, working men’s clubs and picket lines. More extended treatments were also possible, such as in Red Ladder’s ‘Strike While The Iron is Hot’ (1974) addressing equal pay issues.
   Three main factors reduced the use of agitprop as a political weapon over the course of the 1970s and 1980s. First, there was a loss of confidence in the relationships between left-wing theatres (see leftwing theatre), an increasingly fractured and ineffective political left, and popular audiences. Second, while the work was usually the product of collective creation, frustration at the perceived crudeness of analysis allowed by the form led writers like David Edgar into other dramatic modes. Third, following the 1979 election, the Arts Council progressively withdrew funding from leftwing theatre companies in England. In the absence of income, professional companies either split up or moved away from such polemic material. In Scotland, agitprop survived into the 1980s in the work of companies like 7:84 (Scotland), Wildcat Stage Productions and The Merry Mac Fun Company. By the 1990s, however, professional agitprop had largely disappeared and the form reverted to its origins in the community activism of companies like Kirkby Response on Merseyside.
   Further reading
    Itzin, C. (1980) Stages in the Revolution: Political Theatre in Britain since 1968, London: Eyre Methuen.
    Szanto, G.H. (1978) Theater and Propaganda, Austin, TX: University of Texas Press.

Encyclopedia of contemporary British culture . . 2014.

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