Example Drama Essay

Example Drama Essay
The influence of Richard Schechner(b. 1934) on both theatre production and academic theory has been profound and,in some ways, revolutionary. Schechner has consistently challenged traditionalpractices and perspectives of theatre, performance and ritual for almost half acentury. His principal contention is that drama is not merely a province of thestage, but of everyday life, and is a cross-cultural phenomenon. 'It isimportant to develop and articulate theories concerning how performances aregenerated, transmitted, received and evaluatedIn pursuit of these goals,performance studies is insistently intercultural, inter-generic andinter-disciplinary'
As with all academicstudies, performance theory is founded on certain key principles, which includesuch terms as 'presentation of self', 'restored behaviour' 1 and'expressive culture', and incorporates social drama and ritual. His concept ofperformance, which contrasts sharply with previous, principally modernist,approaches to the arts, asserts the importance of different 'systems oftransformations', which vary enormously from culture to culture, and throughouthistorical periods and movements.

The radical nature of performancetheory is demonstrated by its all-encompassing, even holistic, approach totheatre and performance, with popular culture, folklore, and ethnic diversityincorporated into the cross-disciplinary mix. In examining the ways in whichthe theory can be useful to theatre practitioners, it is important to examinein more detail the main strategies it deploys, including the concept of'performativity'.

The word 'performative' was originatedby J.L Austin, a linguistic philosopher, who coined the term for the first timeduring lectures at Harvard University in 1955. Expressions such as 'I take thisman to be my lawfully wedded husband' are an example of an action in itself,rather than simply the description of an action. As Austin put it, 'to saysomething is to do something'. (Austin, 1962)

'Performativity' as a concept isclosely related to postmodernism. The postmodern view does not see the idea of'performance' as intrinsically artistic or theatrical, but as something thatpervades the fabric of the social, political and material world. It is aninalienable part of what constitutes power and knowledge. Teaching andlecturing, political speech-making and religious sermonising illustrates thischaracteristic of performativity.

The postmodern view of thingsposits a standpoint that culture has become a commodity in itself, rather thana critique of commodity. It is inseparable from the context of post-World WarII Western society, where new goods and technology, and corresponding culturaldevelopments, emerged from the rubble of post-war austerity. This shift frommodernist to postmodernist thinking in the arts can be located in the 1950s,with movements such as abstract expressionism, modernist poetry andexistentialism in literature and philosophy representing a high flowering ofthe modernist impulse. The postmodern world, originating in the 1960s,represented a blurring of distinction between high art and popular,mass-communicated mediums, formerly derided as 'low art'.

'Recognising, analysing, andtheorising the convergence and collapse of clearly demarcated realities,hierarchies, and categories is at the heart of postmodernism. Such aconvergence or collapse is a profound departure from traditional Westernperformance theory'. (Schechner, 2002, P. 116)

In the Schechner universe, thepreviously solid foundation of modernism, with clearly defined borders of realityand representation in performance, has been wrenched away, and many of theassumptions in the western artistic tradition, from Plato and Aristotle on,such as the notion that theatre reflects, imitates or represents reality, inboth individual and social life. 'Representational art of all kinds is basedon the assumption that 'art' and 'life' are not only separate but of differentorders of reality. Life is primary, art secondary'. (Schechner, 2002, P.116)

In Performance Studies,Schechner asserts that 'performing onstage, performing in special socialsituations (public ceremonies, for example), and performing in everyday lifeare a continuum'. (Schechner, 2002, P. 143) His contention that each and everyone of us is in some sense a 'performer' is difficult to dispute. Engaging in'real life' is often indistinguishable from 'role play', and in today's'surveillance societies' of Western culture, with CCTV cameras seeminglyeverywhere, the scope for performance as an extension of simply being has neverbeen wider. The evident logical development of this is the ubiquitous 'reality TV'show, as well as the do-it-yourself webcam and personal websites on theinternet, both of which have contributed a new dimension to 'the style ofbeing'. 2

Pop artist Andy Warhol wouldsurely have embraced the new media's possibilities for exhibitionism, andreflected wryly on his own pioneering role in this phenomenon. His films of the1960s and '70s were forerunners of reality TV, and his mantra of '15minutes of fame' has never seemed more applicable.

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