Friday, 6 January 2017

What is Dramaturgy? One Thing....

Lessing attempted to turn the gestalt of the actor into a Lacanian mirror for the spectator, leaving the actor confronting the problem of trying to live up to the critic's demand.' 
Of Textual Bodies and Actual Bodies The Abjection of Performance in Lessing's Dramaturgy, Jurs-Munby 2005

Ah, the magic of academic writing. I might come back to this later, but a paragraph of introduction might be helpful...

Investigating the idea of Dramaturgy, I've ended up reading a great deal about The Enlightenment. That's a period of great
A Big Book (Unread)
philosophical debate that can be seen, depending on your preference, as the first great explosion of rational, secular thought or a goddamned nightmare that led to the genocidal mania that marked the twentieth century. Lessing (Gotthold, not Doris) coined the word during his period as the in-house critic for a German national theatre in the 1740s, and I wanted to find out a bit more about the intellectual context in which he was writing. 


Lessing is one of the many thinkers who walks the Enlightenment beat. Son of a preacher-man, ripping off Diderot (whom he does compare to Aristotle), he rags on Voltaire and describes the various performances staged at his local. He had plenty of big ideas, but tends to be referenced more often than he is cited. We know he's a big deal, but his actual writing is less interesting than his status.

Jurs-Munby is being anachronistic by suggesting that Lessing had a Lacanian intention (Lacan was born, like, two centuries later), but her point is well-made. Lessing was interested in transforming the way that theatre was discussed, and claimed to have a special interest in the actors' performances. Since they were ephemeral, they deserved more attention than the script itself. Between slagging Voltaire's opinions on theatre - in a manner that borders on racist - Lessing critiqued the actors, until they started to get annoyed with his comments.
Voltaire as described by Lessing

Anyway, Jurs-Munby draws attention to something I'd call characteristic of the Enlightenment: an emphasis on the physical. When Lessing commented on the actors, he was stressing the importance of the actual event as perceived in time and space. He did plenty of plot summaries, too, and these are as functional as you'd expect.

The point of all this reading I did when other people were tucking into turkey and spuds is to discover what Dramaturgy might be, by placing it within its historical context. So, adapting Jurs-Munby, I'd venture...

that Dramaturgy concerns the performance of drama in 'real time', and the relationship between actor and audience. He encourages a reading of theatre as an event, not a script.

He does a bunch of other stuff, too, but I have had enough for one day.


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