Thursday, 27 April 2017

The Death of Dramaturgy: Performance Studies

This is supposed to be the climax, the real death of dramaturgy.

1992, Atlanta. Richard Schechner addresses the Theatre in Education conference with an attack on the quality of theatre studies. Condemning its lack of either professional training or academic rigour, he advocates 'performance studies', a discipline to include all manner of events, from rock concerts to religious ritual. Theatre is reduced to a mere Eurocentric eccentricity. 

While Brecht and Beckett were having a sword-fight over theatre's hand, dramaturgy had been adopted by sociologists: Goffman saw it as a metaphor for the way that humans performed their social roles. Schechner sees this expanded field, jumps on it, and wants to include it in his studies. Suddenly, the emphasis moves from the production into anthropology.

Apart from opening up all kinds of behaviour to their analysis as performance, Schechner removes the bourgeois play from the centre of attention. Reason is still on the table, but the politics, the genius, the production are dissolved. There is no genius in the ritual. 

It's an acknowledgement that performance art exists. It brings new influences into performance. It allows all sorts of new studies. But the intention is not the old Enlightenment fascinations with reason, or the creation of a bourgeois society.

Dramaturgy's death might not be a bad thing. Something new has emerged. Maybe the whole bourgeois thing is done. 

Funnily enough, Schechner's land-grab still retains aspects of the colonial - he divides the world into 'Western' and 'Non-Western'. And his description of performance studies could be reads as an exemplary definition of Enlightenment dramaturgy. 

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