Stuff I have learned.

I’m trying to write after I finish books (or collections of articles) as a way of processing thoughts and putting things together. But I am either out of practice, or there’s not enough coalescing in my brain after reading 1-2 books. But here is some stuff I’ve learned about theatre/performance theory so far.

It seems (though this may be a limited perspective) that performance theory in Europe/England/North America in the last century or so has been mostly dominated by realist and non-realist traditions. So on the realist side is the idea that plays ought to be mimetic of reality (Hamlet’s ‘to hold, as ’twere, the mirror up to nature’ comes up a lot around this point). From what I remember from my lit crit/lit theory classes, this is a pretty age-old concept that has roots in classical dramatic and aesthetic traditions (see Plato, Aristotle, Dryden, etc). Realist theatre is also influenced by the character development ideas of Stanislavksy (or he is influenced by realist theatre?) which suggests that when on stage the actor is subsumed into the character she or he portrays (and seems the basis of method acting principles?).

The other major performance theory seems to be Brecht’s (or heavily influenced by him). I’ve read a bit of Brecht before in a class on Jewish modernist philosophy. Brecht was himself a Marxist/socialist, and so he believed that theatre’s job was to show audiences the social relations that resulted in certain events/conflicts. Rather than being lost in a narrative, identifying with characters, and being brought to some emotional catharsis audience members should be invited to see how actors create characters, theatre apparati create theatrical and narrative effects, and, through the concept of gestus (repeated, signifying gestures or actions), how characters and events are the result of social conflict.

My reading right now is focussed on the way that contemporary critics have adapted different performance methods and ideas to represent gender. So far what I’ve gleaned is that realist theatre has the potential to highlight the lived realities of women (but doesn’t necessarily question the social constructedness of those realities). Brechtian theatre (non-realist theatre) has the potential to highlight the way that social relations construct ideas around gender, to show how these ideas might be changed/changeable. But perhaps non-realist theatre creates less of an emotional impact for the viewer (I’m not entirely clear on how this strand of theory makes a place for emotional connection between audience and stage)?

I’m also trying to think through how these modern ideas make sense of early modern play texts. On the one hand, I’m really interested in looking at contemporary productions of early modern texts, which are obviously heavily influenced by modern performance theory. But I also want to balance that consideration by thinking about how these texts might have existed and been presented on their own stages (since contemporary productions most always work with theatre historians and early modern critics while preparing productions for the stage, as a way of better understanding their meaning, and how to make connections between ‘original’ meanings and contemporary situations and audiences.

But mostly I’m wondering if I should go back and read Brecht and early performance theory. I’m never very good at drawing liens around these things.

29 September 2016

[Caveat: I probably don’t really know what I’m talking about yet.]


Dolan, Jill. The Feminist Spectator as Critic.Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 1991.



Starting again.

I’ve recently started a new research project-position-thing in earnest. Doing so has made me realise the extent to which I have not been doing research in the past two years while I have been doing contract work, taking care of some unexpected health issues, and (half-heartedly) applying for jobs. At least, I haven’t been engaged in the same kind of focused, long-term reading and writing that goes along with something like writing a dissertation.

Which is to say I mostly feel like I’ve forgotten how to research.

The feeling is also doubtless because the new project requires a very different sort of methodology than I’ve previously used. I’m still looking at plays, but reading them primarily as performance texts rather than written texts. And theatre and performance studies has its own theoretical apparatus and methods with which (somewhat surprisingly given that I’ve been working with plays for nearly a decade now) I have a spotty familiarity.

So I’m pretty much in a reading phase right now: reading some preliminary and foundational books on theatre and performance theory. But I’m also trying to write at regular intervals as I finish texts, just as a way of processing thoughts in a loose but still tangible way.

(I say this but so far the only thoughts I have on reading are that I am really really enjoying have the time and space to read with curiosity, but without urgency. It’s a huge privilege, but also a nice reprieve from the last two years which have been veeeeeery difficult and painful in the literal senses of those words.)

At the same time I’m reading theatre and performance theory, I’m reading and watching plays regularly. Early modern ones, but also any plays — particularly ones that come up during reading. Currently in the midst of Ibsen’s Hedda Gabler. So far I’ve been laughing at Hedda’s scornful portrayal of Tesman’s academic habits, getting irritated at Tesman’s assumption that he’s just going to waltz into town and take a professorial job (‘I have every expectation of being a professor one of these days’), and then feeling anxious at the mere mention of job competitions (ugh).

I don’t really have an ending for this post. Random random thoughts.

21 September 2016