Wednesday, 7 December 2016

Define and Determine...

'Many analysts offer minimal descriptions of the necessary elements of theatre, the most famous being Eric Bentley's formula A impersonates B while C looks on... Marvin Carlson ... (makes the distinction) between drama as the written text and the theatre as the process of performance'.
W Sauter, Approaching the Theatrical Event, pg 19

I have no idea why anyone would care, but today I am fascinated by definitions. Back in the day, I'd be happy enough with a working definition, and I'd use it until it broke. Being a critic, that would usually last a while - maybe a few months, if I didn't think too hard. But writing longer essays for academia, rather than increments of about 250 words, tends to break a definition quickly. Besides, I need a foundation for these fancy words I'm hoping to use.

A shift from the idea of theatre as a 'work of stage art'... toward an understanding of theatre as 'a communicative event'.
W Sauter, Approaching the Theatrical Event, pg 20

I thought that I knew what theatre was. The great thing about being a popular critic (and I don't mean anyone likes me... I don't like myself that much, but that might be because I hang out with myself too often)... the thing about popular criticism is that it can use words in the vague way of 'common understanding'. When I say it's theatre, the reader can say - yep, it's that thing I see down the Citizens'. There's no need to work out the boundaries of theatre, as opposed to dance, or Live Art, or consider the theatricality inherent in the process of buying a coffee. It's just that thing, over there. 

The need to define 'theatre' might come from an anxiety about the status of theatre studies within the academy. 

The neighboring aesthetic disciplines all had their objects at hand: literary historians read poems and novels... (et c)... Theatre historians, however, first had to recreate the objects of their studies... they had to convince their colleagues that this object was theatre and not drama.
W Sauter, Approaching the Theatrical Event, pg 21-22

I am currently trying to define dramaturgy in a manner that is simple enough to make sense, yet draws a clear boundary between it and other familiar fields of investigation. It's not quite enough to have a simple description: the historical development of the idea seems crucial, because that reveals some of the traces that determine its function.

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