Based in Montréal, Québec, Optative Theatrical Laboratories is a non-hierarchical dramatic collective whose mandate is to “theatrically challenge hegemonic thinking and oppressive systems.” Its community-based project is both activist and theatrical, occupying the unique transformative space between the two fields. Facing issues of oppression in the age of globalization, the OTL was conceived at the turn of the millennium (at the University of Calgary) as a new form of 21st Century performance-activism. The word optative, defined as “the dramatic expression of a wish, desire or choice”, drives the collective in its theatrical explorations, experiments, and cultural interventions.
Through experimental practice, critical theory, and sustained performance, OTL’s goal is to revitalise theatre as an agent for social change. Inspired by Situationist philosophy and Reflectionist theory, the OTL designs sustained and interconnected theatrical campaigns that target instances of oppression. Using many mediums in an inter-disciplinary manner (live performance, direct action, theatre, video, text, music, internet, installation, etc.), the OTL employs a diversity of cutting-edge activist performance techniques, such as culture-jamming, Viral Theatre, Sousveillance Theatre, meme-warfare, Radical Dramaturgy, Electronic Disturbance Theater, and Global Invisible Theatre.
By introducing play into politics, individuals and communities are empowered to radically challenge official culture’s claims to authority, stability, sobriety, immutability and immorality. By putting performance and process above representation and product, the OTL applies the theatrum mundi concept – “All the World’s a Stage” – and encourages those involved to adopt an activist user-based theatre. Keeping in mind the critical 21st Century goal of human liberation over oppression, OTL’s art is not about representation but presence; its politics is not about deferring social change to the future, but about change now.
Through an ongoing process of performance, education and community-building, the OTL focuses on the creation of an interconnected global network capable of responding dramatically to issues of oppression, such as war, consumer-capitalism, human rights violations, and discrimination. In theatricalizing activists and activizing theatricians, the OTL looks to collaborate on direct theatrical actions, share its dramatic ideas, reclaim the culture, détourne the Spectacle, and highlight the activist message: Another World is Possible.