Richard Schechner: Performance Theory

[Readings] (01.20.09, 2:47 pm)

Schechner's Fan Schechner’s perspective on performance is broad and inclusive. He sees it as including much more than theatre, but along an entire spectrum, which ranges from everyday life to rituals and art. Two perspectives on performance are the models of the web and the fan. Schechner is heavily influenced by Victor Turner, who treats performance and play as the “as if”. Within the context of performance, the imaginary becomes real, and the “as if” is equivalent to the “is”. Schechner’s goal is to unite all applications of performance under one theory which is inclusive of its many applications. Much of this text is influenced by his travels to Australia and Southeast Asia, and one aim is to reincorporate the rituals of the New Guinea tribesmen, Australian Aborigines, the Balinese, and many others, with the practices of both classical and modern theatre. Schechner was influenced by Goffman as well, acknowledging the performances of everyday life.

but rather perspective. Objects within these performances take on new and special meanings. Schechner uses two models. While these varying perspectives are distributed among the types of activities described. rituals do not seem to have much in common with theatre that would indicate the emergence of one from the other. This assertion is dubious for a variety of reasons. and comedy comes from phallic dances. however. This is not an indication of bias. called the Cambridge thesis. and the web reveals the dynamic influences and interconnections. the web and the fan. The Cambridge thesis asserts that both tragedy and comedy evolved from specific rituals. Approaches Schechner opens this chapter by critiquing an approach to classical Greek theatre. which requires a great deal of play and freedom. all are present in digital games. but outside it is inexpensive and has little practical value. Time may be set. he is interested in what theatre might have in common with ritual characteristically. as the establishment of a new ritual. games. where the activity represents something happening in a different ordering or flow of time. Schechner unites several groups of performance under the same heading: play. and rules. and is critical of the use of origin theories toward the understanding of theatre. which is an imposed fixed clock time. The fan presents performance as an organized spectrum of categories. and ritual. where time is simply considered differently. the ball is of crucial and extreme importance. creating antagonism between the activity and the clock. These share four important qualities: a special ordering of time. and the lower. 8) Time may be understood as structured in terms of events. a special value attached to objects. non productivity in terms of goods. Furthermore. the more orderly the function of performance. which is Schechner’s own background. theatre. the more free and disorderly. (p. The web model is structured around item (5). and the emergence of comedy and tragedy. The non productivity of performance is in common with what Huizinga and Callois say about . sports.Schechner's Web To discuss performance. which must be completed no matter how long they take. both of which emerged from some “primal ritual”. The opposing ends of the fan meet. the further one moves up the fan. Time may be symbolic. This thesis aims to discern the origin of theatre. Instead. Schechner is not interested in supplying a new origin theory. Tragedy comes from the dithyramb. as it his vantage point. In a ball game. In the fan model. and their value within the context of the performance may be entirely different than outside. then becomes a new structure of order. not least being the absence of any evidence for a primal ritual.

but at the center is always some sort of freedom. the script is the interior map of a particular production. but how to keep the play space safe against encroachment from the outside. and immediate. The transmitter must know the script and be able to teach it to others. to hunting/drama. The players in a major league baseball game may be better than in a sandlot game. the theatre is the specific set of gestures performed by the performers in any given performance. and vice versa. present. The theatre is concrete. the conventions used become important. constraints are layers. then by the drama or script. Theatre is the event that is enacted by the performers. An example is when a theatrical performance has a very rigid script. it is easy to shift between being a performer and a spectator. Rituals and dramas are generally crisis oriented. festivals. Schechner borrows from Huizinga in looking at play. Schechner examines the relationship between drama. Even if the people who perform the drama do not comprehend it. nothing material is actually produced in the performance itself. back to playing/hunting. but real systems would not exist without play and freedom to establish them. theatre. but they are still similar. A drama is independent of the people who carry it. anyone who is there). with drama as the tightest and most delineated thing and is the smallest circle on the inside. most encompassing and loosely defined thing on the outside.” (p. where an actor is first confined by the physical space. but these are also forms of play. rules are generally held to be the same. the drama remains preserved. Crises are moments where balance and order are . The relationship between these is what Shechner describes as the axiom of frames. however Schechner notes some challenges. Play behavior is derived from hunting and violent/combative activities. and comes to focus again on doing. Drama is the smallest and most intense circle. and is transmitted between people. but the rules that govern their conduct are the same nonetheless. it fills a theatre house and makes money. The example Schechner gives to illustrate this point is of a theatre performance.” (p. sports games are extremely lucrative. This is all encompassing and inclusive. but finally. 99) This is used to consider performance as a general animal phenomenon. Rules are most notable in the context of games. underneath all of that. containing all of that which is not determined by the script or drama. With Greek theatre. Playing/hunting leads to ritual/playing. The theatre is meant to be the manifestation of the drama. However. but it is an articulation and concretization of it. then by the instructions from the director. Play and ritual are seen as opposing ends of performance. However. script. The relationship between these activities and play is seen as a sequence of cycles. Modern theatre is moving to reverse this once again. this came to be reversed: action was understood abstractly. while ritual is extrinsically motivated. Script. Despite the magnitude of performances. The script is the code of events. Schechner argues that self awareness and cultural transmission are necessary for performance. such as celebrations. and performance as concentric rings. including audience and performers (technicians. Or when the actor has a great deal of freedom.games. Performance in theatre has some productive capacity. When an outer frame is looser. the actor has freedom. In public performances. but patterns of doing. Performance is the whole constellation of events that take place in and among the performers and the audience. then by the conventions of theatre. Rules are not only designed to tell the players how to play. but also operate in theatre as well. Another useful framing: performance is “Ritualized behavior conditioned/permeated by play. as in improvisational theatre. Script is all that can be transmitted between places and times. Schechner gives another brief summary of the terms: “To summarize thus far: the drama is what the writer writes. then the actor’s freedom within that is more important. to drama/ritual. Theatre. This is what the performers do during production. too. Play is intrinsically motivated. with performance as the widest. Rules apply because performances are activities apart from everyday life. and it may be carried between places and times. The role of freedom is described in positive and negative terms. Drama. it loosens the matter of exact presentation. the performance is the whole event. and Performance The rituals and scripts used in Paleolithic times were not modes of thinking. Play is arguably derived from real life systems. In performance. and the like. then the inner frame must be tighter. 87) It is difficult to define performance because of its flexible and permeable boundaries.

Amazon . the redressive actions usually wind up leaving the protagonists dead. Although it is arguable that many social rituals exist to maintain order. I do not know if it appears in Turner’s book. 3) redressive action. Schechner’s goal is to take that concept and integrate it with aesthetic drama.threatened and must be restored. performance Lookup Google Scholar. and social drama also takes on the form of the theatrical. However. so I am reproducing it here. 2) crisis. Turner’s cycle works in four stages: 1) breach. Theatrical tragedy follows this cycle with some degree of accuracy. Google Books. Reading Info: Author/Editor Schechner. in tragedy. This structure works to maintain social function and consistency. and borrows a diagram from Victor Turner. The “infinity diagram” demonstrates how social drama turns to affect theatrical drama. as opposed to restoring it. Selective Inattention Turner's dramatic cycle Schechner discusses social drama. Richard Title Performance Theory Type book Context Tags specials. 4) reintegration.