Thursday, 19 October 2017

Thinking Theatricality

It is interesting that in the Oxford English Dictionary definition of the two terms, Theatricality emphasises the more negative association of the term, rather than the aesthetic connotation. 


Theatricality, as a notion, relates to lies and falsehood, all the way back to Plato’s suspicion of mimesis. Even Nicholas Ridout writes that there is ‘an antitheatrical prejudice within the discipline of theatre studies itself.’[1] And Stanislavski urged his students to ‘act simply and naturally, without theatricality.’[2] But even to ‘act naturally’ in a theatre production is still theatrical as the self of the character is not the self of the actor. They are not-not-I[3], which is a theatrical device.

While both Theatricality and Performativity are fluid terms and resistant to a singular definition, I found clarity in the writing of Josette Féral who writes that ‘Theatricality seems to be a process that has to do with a “gaze”…’[4] that semiotically reads the space, recognises the ‘other’ and allows theatricality to takes place in the gap between the self and other. It is a result of either a body (the other/an etic view) claiming the space as a theatrical space, and/or a spectator (the self/an emic view) framing a performance or performative as a theatrical event. This imposition on the performer, the other, can happen willingly, as in the case of an actor acting, or unwillingly, as in when the spectator impose a theatrical narrative on an event or action.

Our attempt at coming up with some definitions or explanations of Theatricality

Theatricality is, therefore, found in the space of spectatorship: when an action or performance is deliberately interpreted as removed from the quotidian.
Image Source: autoevolution.com

Davis and Postelwait posit that ‘Theatricality is […] a way of describing what performers and spectators do together…’[5] Theatricality is a relationship – a spectatorship. Does this mean that theatre, and theatricality is ‘more true’ because it relies on this bearing witness? Theatricality is, at least, a conscious choice imposed on a body (emic or etic), aware of its falsehood, aware of its own performance, rather than performativity which appears to be, in part, unconscious.

Reinelt writes of ‘theatre’s capacity for creating a new real, making manifest the real, embodying the real…[and]… Theatrical tools can be useful for decoding social reality…’[6] which reflects Victor Turner’s cultural feedback loop. Theatricality provides us with a model for performativity, and theatre can provide us with a blueprint for social action.

Image Source: fandbnews.com

Writing of rituals, the display of emotion at grand events, parades, etc. Reinelt states that ‘It seems clear that the public life’s theatricalization is no longer a contested issue’.[7] We prize theatricality over ‘reality’, the falsehood over the truth, and entertainment over evidence. However, Ridout writes that ‘In becoming aware of this framing up we are invited to see what lies not outside the frame but beneath or within it…’[8] Theatricality is an awareness of falsehood, which invites us to look for the truth beneath it. Only by framing the theatre as separate, as ‘other’, can we recognise what is outside it, and recognise the ‘self’.

Is the theatre more ‘true’ because you know it’s not?



[1] Nicholas Ridout, ‘Introduction’, in Stage Fright, Animals, and Other Theatrical Problems (Cambridge and New York: Cambridge University Press, 2006), p.15.
[2] Stanislavski, quoted in Tracy C. Davis and Thomas Postlewait, ‘Theatricality: An Introduction’, in Theatricality, ed. by Davis and Postlewait (Cambridge and New York: Cambridge University Press, 2003), p.21.
[3][3] Richard Schechner, ‘Restoration of Behaviour’, in Between Theater and Anthropology (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 1985), p.112.
[4] Josette Féral and Ronald P. Bermingham, ‘Theatricality: The Specificity of Theatrical Language’, SubStance, 31.2-3 (2002), p.97.
[5] Tracy C. Davis and Thomas Postlewait, ‘Theatricality: An Introduction’, in Theatricality, ed. by Davis and Postlewait (Cambridge and New York: Cambridge University Press, 2003), p.23.
[6] Janelle Reinelt, ‘Towards a Poetics of Theatre ad Public Events in the Case of Stephen Lawrence,’ TDR: The Drama Review, 50.3 (Autumn 2006), pp.71-83.
[7] Ibid., p.71.
[8] Nicholas Ridout, ‘Introduction’, in Stage Fright, Animals, and Other Theatrical Problems (Cambridge and New York: Cambridge University Press, 2006), p.13.

Semiotic Shopping

Performance artist Miranda July has joined forced with Artangel and installed a charity shop in Selfridges.

When I visited, on a quiet-ish weekday afternoon, Selfridges itself may have been comparatively quiet, I don't know, for me it was heaving busy. I can't stand department stores, I avoid Oxford Street at all costs, and I'm not a fan of shopping at the best of times. However, I do enjoy a good charity shop, and art with a purpose, so off I went.


The first thing that struck me was the very deliberate definition of space. This shop is very obviously 'other'. Across the department store stands blend into one another, the floor is open, and brands and businesses intermingle. The charity shop is partitioned off: windows, frames, a door, a doormat. The shop itself wouldn't be out of place on any street in the country, but here it stands out and stands apart from its surroundings.
The contrast between 'inside' and 'outside' is also reflected in the prices: charity shop price-tags on one side of the window, with dresses and jumpers for a fiver; on 'the other side' was a truly hideous black shirt being sold for more than my monthly rent. 
This very deliberate 'othering' highlights the disparity between those who could afford the black shirt, and those who couldn't. It mocks our capitalist, consumerist, and yet disposable society, and made me wonder how many of the items on sale around the charity shop will end up, at some point, in a shop very much like it at some point in the future.

And it makes people uncomfortable. I spent some time 'outside' the shop, watching people walk past. Some people acknowledged and walked on, others laughed, some looked disgusted or offended. This invasion of a 'high' class space by a 'low' class shopping model is challenging. "What right does a second-hand store have to be in a temple of capitalism?" Phenomenology is important in an art work: any reaction is valid when the viewer is a key component of the art itself.

All money from purchases is split between the participating charity shops. None of the money raised goes to the artist or the company.

Who 'owns' the space? I felt quite uncomfortable walking into Selfridges from the street: the columns and statues create a temple to the gods of shopping, of spending without thinking. I got a bit lost inside, which is surely the intention of the planners, and found myself wandering aimlessly through the concessions selling everything imaginable: caviar next to concealer, boots and books, coats and Christmas trees. This is not 'my' space: I am not rich, I have little-to-no disposable income. I have no 'right' to be in this place that glorifies selling. Selfridges is shopping as worship, as religion, as theatre and as spectacle. This is the street as a stage, and the store as a performance.

The collision of worlds, of prices, of habits, and of faiths (it is an interfaith charity shop, a collaboration between four different shops) forces an acknowledgement of the 'other', creates questioning and intentional chaos. It makes the 'high' ridiculous: was the hideousness of the black shirt made all the more palpable because it was positioned opposite a similar shirt, only the second one was in the charity shop and therefore a fraction of the price? (After we discussed this juxtaposition, I noticed one of the concession assistants moved the shirt!)

And yes, I bought a couple of items, as much for the tag as for the fact that I like teddy bears and the brooch is my initial. Is it art? Is a slightly battered teddy bear made all the more important because of its unwitting participation in an immersive social art experiment? I don't know. But he sits on my desk now and prompts this questioning of space, ownership, art, and intention, and that's good enough for me.

Wednesday, 18 October 2017

Performativity and Parlance

We define a thing by naming it, but then is our understanding of that thing limited by the description itself.

How does this inform our individuality in society and culture? We looked at examples of gender, sexual orientation, and race, and the ways in which these societal constructs are defined inform the performativity of these roles.

Image Source: www2.naz.edu

Words have power: Austen describes the use of the spoken word as a performative, to signify or imply action (such as the phrase “I declare war”), or in the case of a wedding ceremony where both the spoken word combined with ritual action in order to complete the performance. Butler writes that we understand our social reality through the words we use to describe that reality: “social agents constitute social reality through language, gesture, and all manner of social sign.”[1]

I find this quite Orwellian, and Debby Thompson also highlights the relationship between “language and […] power”.[2]  I feel that this also reflects Conquergood’s critique of the social power of the written word and the textrocentralism of the Euro-American culture.

Orwell, 1984, Chapter 5

Our words, actions, and intentions are only available and understood within a societal construct: Austin refers to these as “appropriate circumstances”[3] which include convention of procedure and the acceptance of witnesses. Convention and circumstances circumscribe our words, actions, and, Butler argues, our identities, which are, she argues “instituted through a stylised repetition of acts.”[4].  This recalls Schechner’s theory of Restored Behaviour[5]: our identities are described through language and reinforced through performativity.

Butler’s argument considers gender could be said to be subjective rather than prescriptive. Many cultures already recognise more than two genders, and Facebook has recently given users the option of 71 different gender identities,[6] which leads to the conclusion that if gender is constructed through performativity, then there are as many ways of performing an individual identity as there are people: using the body as a performative signifier.

Image Source: reddit.com

Gender and race are described through language, understood through the behaviour associated with the description, and reinforced through restored behaviour, in the same manner as Turner’s cycle of social drama[7]. Butler writes that “the body becomes its gender through a series of acts which are renewed, revised, and consolidated[…]”[8] and that “the appearance of substance is precisely that, a constructed identity, a performative accomplishment which the mundane social audience, including the actors themselves, come to believe and to perform in the mode of belief.”[9] Thompson, writing on the performativity of race, states that it “is experienced both as a fact and as a trope.”[10] both as a fact, and as a social performance. 

Would our actions within a culturally assigned role of individual ‘gender’ and a ‘race’ be different if we weren’t conditioned in expectations of associated behaviours within the social constructs of these identities?

Naming a woman as such places her within a discrete social performative contract. Identifying race and describing it proscribes an expectation and opposition; definition in opposition – by what an object, action, or individual is not. Butler writes that “it is primarily political interests which create the social phenomena of gender itself […]”[11] and Thompson writes that “Ideological state apparati make us experience ideological structures as deeply personal, natural and instinctive.”[12]

Image Source: forbes.com

Butler states that that a gender definition is “an historical situation rather than a natural fact.”[13] If, as Austin writes, what we name a thing defines what it is, and proscribes meaning, and Butler believes that performative action reinforces the restored behaviour, then a binary gender identity can be understood as a social construct and not an unassailable fact. However, if a society defines normative behaviour within binary gender roles, this can cause problems for those who do not ascribe to this simplistic model of behaviours.

Because the descriptive language used to define gender are inextricably linked to those which we use to define sex, then “within the terms of culture it is not possible to know sex as distinct from gender.”[14] and it is difficult to imagine agency beyond these definitions.

Image Source: thesocietypages.org

Is through expanding both our linguistic understanding and our experience of performativity that socially constructed behaviours can become an expanded field of identities.









[1] Judith Butler, ‘Performative Acts and Gender Constitution: An Essay in Phenomenology and Feminist Theory’, Theatre Journal, 40.4 (Dec 1988), P.519.
[2] Debby Thompson, ‘”Is Race A Trope?”: Anna Deveare Smith and the Question of Racial Performativity’, African American Review, 37.1 (Spring 2003), P.134.
[3] J.L. Austin, Lectures 1 and 2 in How to Do Things With Words, 2nd edn, ed. by J.O. Urmson and Marina Sibsà (London: Oxford University Press, 1976), P.6.
[4] Judith Butler, ‘Performative Acts and Gender Constitution: An Essay in Phenomenology and Feminist Theory’, Theatre Journal, 40.4 (Dec 1988), P.519.
[5] Richard Schechner, ‘Restoration of Behaviour’, in Between Theater and Anthropology (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 1985), P.38.
[6] Rhiannon Williams, 'Facebook's 71 gender options come to UK users', The Telegraph, 27 June 2014
[7] Victor Turner, ‘Social Dramas and Stories About Them’, in From Ritual to Theatre: The Human Seriousness of Play (New York: PAJ Publications, 1982), P.66.
[8] Judith Butler, ‘Performative Acts and Gender Constitution: An Essay in Phenomenology and Feminist Theory’, Theatre Journal, 40.4 (Dec 1988), P.523.
[9] Ibid., P.520.
[10] Debby Thompson, ‘”Is Race A Trope?”: Anna Deveare Smith and the Question of Racial Performativity’, African American Review, 37.1 (Spring 2003), P.127.
[11] Judith Butler, ‘Performative Acts and Gender Constitution: An Essay in Phenomenology and Feminist Theory’, Theatre Journal, 40.4 (Dec 1988), P.529.
[12] Debby Thompson, ‘”Is Race A Trope?”: Anna Deveare Smith and the Question of Racial Performativity’, African American Review, 37.1 (Spring 2003), P.129.
[13] Judith Butler, ‘Performative Acts and Gender Constitution: An Essay in Phenomenology and Feminist Theory’, Theatre Journal, 40.4 (Dec 1988), P.520.
[14] Ibid., P.524.

Wednesday, 11 October 2017

Review: Victory Condition - Royal Court

Reviews are extremely mixed for this new work from Chris Thorpe. Critics swing between "brilliant" and "baffled", and, from my experience, audiences are feeling the same. I have to admit it has taken me a while - I didn't want to write something immediately, needing time to think about what I had seen, and now I think I'm erring on the 'brilliant' swing of the pendulum.

I wouldn't say that I enjoyed it, though, but I do think that Victory Condition will come to be seen as the first play that defines an era, in the same way that Look Back In Anger and Blasted came to. Thorpe says that this play is "An attempt to get to grips with the fact that everything happens at once." and yes, it is an attempt. It may not be to everyone's taste or sensibilities, but surely that's the point of challenging theatre? Not everyone will accept, or be up to, the challenge.



On the one hand it is an incredibly well done piece of hyper-naturalistic acting. Under the direction of Vicky Feathrstone, Jonjo O'Neill and Sharon Duncan-Brewster weave around each other in their small flat in that smooth, unthinking manner that comes with knowing another person inside-out. They unpack from a holiday, make food, drink tea, drink wine, order pizza... it is a simple snapshot of millions of lives in millions of identikit showroom apartments across the world. The way in which they interact with each other reflects the reflexive passage of our daily lives (have you ever considered, with the sheer volume of bodies moving down a city street, the relative infrequency of collisions? We walk without thinking and smooth our ways around each other.)

However, on the other hand, it is an extended duo-monologue: an epic poem for one, with the speech sections weaving around each other even as the actors bodies do. For all of O'Neill and Duncan-Brewster's physical familiarity, their spoken words are directed to the audience, never to each other.

This beautiful disconnect is a manifestation of the detachment of modern life, in which we spend the time we're physically with someone actually talking (typing) to people across the world on our phones, tablets, or laptops.

The two monologues are starkly different: a couple of reviewers have tried to find a concrete dramaturgy beneath the mountain of words, assigning 'jobs' and 'storylines' to the chunks of speech. I don't think that it is that simple; rather it called to mind those meandering, jumbled thoughts that flow through our heads when we are doing something ingrained and familiar. I think it is too simplistic to say that the Man and Woman, as shown, have a direct association to their story-speech. Man speaks for a sniper sighting a revolutionary through his cross-hairs. Woman speaks of a transcendental experience, or mental breakdown, in an office.


A victory condition, as I understand it, is something to do with gaming, and the steps a player takes in order to 'win'. The set, by Chloe Lamford, made me think of a computer or television screen: a too-bright box suspended in mid-air by utilitarian scaffolding. In a capitalist, consumerist society, we are conditioned to think of 'winning'.  Is this what a win looks like? A shiny flat, a nice partner? The ability to close the door and turn off the television.

The point is, I think, that, as Thorpe states, everything happens at once. We can be sat in our little boxes, ordering pizza and drinking wine, while, simultaneously connected and removed from the world: we watch revolutions and sip our tea, we hear stories of slavery and abuse, shake our heads and flick the screen to a computer game. In its fluid and disrupted dramaturgy, Victory Condition shows us that everything happens everywhere and nowhere because we can 'turn it off'.

We are simultaneously instantly connected to everyone, on social media, online news, etc, which is conveyed through directly addressing the audience; and disconnected from everyone, shown, I feel, in the actors familiar yet silent interactions with each other. Critics have criticised the sense of helplessness at the end: if the world is doomed to end with a whimper, as we queue and squabble, and prices rise and revolutions fail, and we sit in our box and shake our heads at it all, then tell us what can we do about it. However, the second of recognition, the verbal connection between the actors, right at the end, is, for me, the answer. Connection. Actual human connection is what will save us. Not this safe remove, not this acknowledging but not understanding. Connection and recognition is the answer.

For me Victory Condition is a play for a new generation, and Thorpe has indeed made a valiant "attempt".

Friday, 6 October 2017

Ritual Performance

Rituals, and ritual behaviour, inform both the everyday life and the aesthetic art of a culture.

Agnicayana
Image Source: allempires.com

Schechner writes about the reproduction of various forms of ritual, such as the Agnicayana,[1] which was staged for filmic purposes. All performance, both ritual, everyday and aesthetic is subject to the Hawthorne effect: subjects modify their behaviour when observed. Or “the act of observing changes that which is being observed.” Even context changes the interpretation, and interpretation changes, to the observer, the action. In the case of the Agnicayana ritual, the original behaviours were changed due to filming and location constraints, but also because of modern-day sensibilities - substituting wrapped vine leaves in place of sacrificial goats. The past has been changed for the present.

Here modern behaviour has altered past behaviour, and therefore any future interpretation of this behaviour. In theatre, it is the ephemerality of performance which lends it impact, and the performance can only be understood in its present moment, which has been previously discussed.

Can we read the past within the confines and conventions of the present? If behaviour is formed from socially conditioned restored behaviours, then it can only be understood within the conventions of the context in which it was produced, which may conflict with our present understanding and/or conditioning.

Image Source: BT.com

Ritual performances, which have been staged for the purposes of being recorded and preserved carry their own form of ‘staged authenticity’ – they become the ‘original’ and form the basis for future reference.

There is an inherent contradiction in the idea of an ‘original reproduction’. Here the act of filming the ritual has changed it already through intercultural intervention – what was once a religious rite has become entertainment. Future reproductions based on the recording, which itself was Restored Behaviour, will inevitably change the interpretations of this ‘original’ behaviour.

Even performances in film and television, are subject to a faking of authenticity, in that behaviours on screen are rehearsed, codified and recorded. And ‘original film’ may be a splicing of many different takes, angels, and interpretations.

Often, ritual is reproduced as art. In India the ancient Bharatanatyam Dance has been resurrected: the ‘new’ dance is based on ancient temple art and sculpture. In the more recent past the same dance was performed as entertainment by prostitutes, who also claimed the dance as part of a history of temple performance. The ‘new’ dance stated that the more recent incarnation was a ‘corruption’ of the farther past, and that they have ‘purified’ and ‘renewed’ the true original. This is the past redefining the past in order to make it palatable for the present. This kind of history-rewriting-history can also be seen in ballet: the Paris Opera Ballet girls were referred to as “rats”, and were considered to be little more than prostitutes, but the modern incarnation of ballet stresses its royal roots from the court of King Louis XIV, and is now considered to be ‘high art’.

Dancing in the Attic of the Paris Opera House, ca. 1930
Image Source: vintag.es

When ritual, or culture, is commodified, it leads to the uncomfortable subject of cultural appropriation. Schechner writes that “Restorations need not be exploitations.”[2]
In the case of the
Bharatanatyam Dance it is now a cultural signifier and is taught and performed across the world. Culture has been commercialised and commodified, and, as a performance art, has been dictated and driven by the consumer.

As this develops further, arts become a commercialised commodity: culture as a signifier of a privileged class. Schechner refers to “…genres of industrial leisure...”[3], reflecting the classification of culture to be something sold and consumed.

The conflict here is that cultural behaviours can die out without commercial interest, and cultures change to integrate this. For example, the Hula dance was originally performed by mature women – I would interpret this to reflect the power of matriarchy, fertility, and the feminine. However, to attract tourists, the modern dance is performed by young, slim, commercially ‘beautiful’ girls, which naturally changes the cultural interpretation but has, in turn, become part of the emic culture. Here commercial interests have changed a culture. In the case of the Mudmen of the Asaro River Valley, a ritual dance appears to have been created specifically to attract tourists, and the home culture has created a cultural history in order to present the dance as something emic. The creation itself has become part of the authentic culture.

This reflects Conquergood’s idea of the colonialization of culture, and what has been previously discussed – an etic view can only see what the emic culture wishes to display.
Turner writes about the pros and cons of different approaches to anthropology: “There are then both etic and emic ways of regarding narrative.”[4] As previously discussed, we learn both through analysis and immersion: the ‘emic’ view which is inherent from within a culture and the ‘etic’ view which is from without and tries to be general and objective. We carry our own emic bias, even when trying to be etic and this influences our views and readings. In part, I believe that homogenised Western culture creating a worldwide emic culture that is recognised even from an etic experience, influencing both our reading of a performance/behaviour, and the performance/behaviour itself.

Theyyam Fire Dance
Image Source: youtube.com

Performance sometimes develops directly out of ritual. Turner recognised this, writing “Often when ritual perishes as a dominant genre, is dies, a multipara, giving birth to ritualized progeny, including the many performative arts…”[5] Performance grows out of Restored Behaviours, and ritual, or ceremony, informs performative action within a culture. For example the Haka Dances, which are “…a fierce display of a tribe’s pride, strength and unity […] still used during Māori ceremonies and celebrations…”[6]  What was traditionally a war dance or ceremonial rite is now a cultural signifier, tourist attraction, and performance art.

Beautifully, also Turner writes that “…Ceremony indicates, ritual transforms…”[7] and Schechner recognises that “Immediately before going on stage, most performers engage in some ritual.”[8] This is literally ‘transforming’ into character.




[1] Richard Schechner, ‘Restoration of Behaviour’, in Between Theater and Anthropology (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 1985), from P.55,
[2] Ibid., P.65.
[3] Ibid., P.86.
[4] Victor Turner, ‘Social Dramas and Stories About Them’, in From Ritual to Theatre: The Human Seriousness of Play (New York: PAJ Publications, 1982), P.65.
[5] Ibid., pp.79-80.
[7] Victor Turner, ‘Social Dramas and Stories About Them’, in From Ritual to Theatre: The Human Seriousness of Play (New York: PAJ Publications, 1982), P.80.
[8] Richard Schechner, ‘Restoration of Behaviour’, in Between Theater and Anthropology (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 1985), P.105.

Thursday, 5 October 2017

Behave Yourself

Behaviours are learned and displayed in both everyday life and in aesthetic performances. Schechner writes that we learn behaviour from birth through social and cultural conditioning, or “…a continuous training by osmosis”[1]

Image Source: jessiejreynolds.com

Any interaction is a relationship system. We could say that an interaction starts with an actor and a spectator or an audience. However, we are, at all times, both the spectator and the spectated. An observer observes, but is, in turn, being observed.

Within society we perform behaviours depending on how we want other people to see us. Goffman writes that “…the individual will have to act so that he intentionally or unintentionally expresses himself, and the others will in turn have to be impressed in some way by him.”[2] Schechner explores this in the context of performance studies, writing that “A ‘performance’ may be defined as all the activity of a given participant on a given occasion which serves to influence in any way any of the other participants.”[3]

We modify our behaviour depending on the situation and the expectations of behaviour within that context. We rely on social conditioning and previous experience, which dictate the behaviours appropriate to the context. “…any arrangement is conventionalised and conditioned by particular world and/or political views […] From birth, people are immersed in the kind of social performative actions…””[4]

Image Source: imgflip.com

Turner states that “We never cease to learn our own culture, let alone other cultures, and our own culture is always changing.”[5] And Schechner writes that “In this epoch of information and reflexive hyperconsciousness we not only want to know, we also want to know how we know what we know.”[6] Taken together I believe this reflects our changing behaviours in society in response to a hyperawareness of ‘self’ in relation to the ‘other’. Modified displays of behaviour are represented as original on social media, presenting an idealised version of ourselves for consumption (as Goffman depicts through his ‘Preedy’ example[7]). We perform the role we want others to see us as. 

“In a very real way the future – the project coming into existence through the process of rehearsal – determines the past […] rehearsals make it necessary to think of the future in such a way as to create a past.”[8]

In both the everyday and the aesthetic performance, what we want as an outcome determines our actions in the present. Schechner depicts this as the 12, or the ‘me now’ → ‘someone else’.[9] This is depicting both the process of ‘getting in to character’ and also the ‘future self’. For example, when attending an event, one takes care to dress in a manner appropriate to the future setting, to convey the impression that one wishes to give, which also ties in to Goffman’s theory of presentation.

I have written before that I believe a Culture is both the creator of, and created by, its culture. Cultural conditioning and expectations dictate our behaviours in both the everyday and aesthetic performance. Schechner writes that “There is also a continuum linking the ways of presenting the self to the ways of presenting others: acting in dramas, dances, and rituals. The same can be said for “social actions” and “cultural performances”…”[10] This also reflects Turner’s theory of a cultural feedback loop, which places behaviour as a reflection of culture, and culture within the context of behaviour – Literally cultural conditioning! When cultures change, so does the normative behaviour within that culture. A society creates and conforms its own methods of normal communication and behaviour, and ‘normal’ can only ever be ‘normative’ within the context of the home culture.

Image Source: icosilune.com

How a society understands itself is rooted in the origin myths their culture creates, and this, in turn, provides a frame of reference which informs present actions and behaviours. Schechner writes that “Restored behaviour offers to both individuals and groups the chance to rebecome what they once were – or even, and most often, to rebecome what they never were but wish to have been or wish to become.”[11]

A society chooses its own ‘culture-bearer’ – Schechner uses an example from the village of Magendo in Papua New Guinea – and whether the culture-bearer is a historical or mythological figure, they have placed upon them the qualities a group desires to embody. Turner states that there is a “…relationship between this foundation narrative and the political structures…”[12] of a society. How a society wishes to be seen, or sees itself, in the present informs the qualities and behaviours bestowed upon their past, which in turn informs their behaviours in the present and the future. The ways in which a society is structured informs the action within that society. The behaviours and structures of a society inform the theatre that can be created.

Turner, P.72.

There is a relationship between social dramas and aesthetic performance. It is a feedback loop, in which social drama affects artistic output, Artistic output provides a frame of reference for action, which then informs actions during social drama. In Schechner’s terms, this “Restored behaviour is living behaviour… the main characteristic of performance.”[13] Restored behaviour is a repeat, or rearrangement of previously learned behaviours, reconstructed according to new societal norms or the expected behaviour in a given context which has been standardised and presented.

Expectations of behaviour vary across different cultures and cultural groups. Turner defines one behavioural grouping as “…our “star” group or groups to which we owe our deepest loyalty…”[14] Turner suggests that some of these star groups are obligational, incidental or accidental, such as family, age group, nationality, etc., but that we choose other star groups for ourselves, based on, for example, shared interest. Recently, Michelle Obama stated that she believed that those women who voted for Trump in the 2016 Elections voted against their own voice. Taking Turner’s theory in to account, Obama has assumed that identification to being female should have been the overriding concern, but, for many women who voted Trump, their affiliation to the Republican values were of a higher priority. Behaviours within a star group define our belonging to that caucus, such as Colin Kaepernick’s ‘Take A Knee’ gesture, which others have started to emulate in order to identify, or show solidarity with, that social grouping.

“{…] social dramas {…] can be aptly studied as having four phases. These I label: breach, crisis, redress, and either reintegration or recognition of schism. Social dramas occur within groups bounded by shared values and interests of persons and having a real or alleged common history.”[15]

Turner’s theories of Social Drama and Star Groups can be seen in both artistic performances and in the everyday. For example, in the context of Brexit the breach was the referendum campaign and the realisation of a schism in the country, and the breach exposes identification to a star group. The crisis is the continuing aftermath of the vote itself. The redress needs to be the finding of mechanisms to recognise and repair the social construct. And the redress will lead to either reintegration (of society or within the EU) or schism (either from the EU or within the UK).

However, as Turner says: “…redress may be through rebellion, or even revolution, if the societal value-consensus has broken down...”[16] A social drama, like an aesthetic drama, depends on the individual’s point of view or the context in which the original breach occurred. For example, one person’s redress may be another’s crisis.

Storming of the Bastille
Image Source: historiek.net

As with every aspect of existence, personal bias informs our interpretation of an event or a behaviour. Janine Willis and Alexander Todorov ascertained that it took around one-tenth of a second for a person to form a first impression.[17] We form this impression, and assign judgements of behaviour based on cultural conditioning and past experience, and expect certain behaviours within these conventions.

When these conventions are corrupted, expected modes of behaviour break down, or, as Goffman states, assumptions can “…become untenable…”[18] Culture has conditioned us to cast people as stereotypes. For example, the ‘goody’ or the ‘baddy’. When individuals act outside of these proscribed caricatures our expected response behaviours are not supported.

Goffman writes that “…the witness is likely to have the advantage over the actor…”[19] Meaning that our presentation of ‘self’ is always determined by the observer’s point of view, and that we are always defined in opposition to the observer, the ‘not I’. Schechner views this through the prism of performance:

“…acting is both false and true, because acting is a playful illusion – as is the world itself. The boys who represent/are the gods in Ramlila are both “playing at” and “being” the gods […] theater is the art specialising in the concrete techniques of restoring behaviour […] While performing [an actor] no longer has a “me” but has a “not not me” […] The spectators do not “willingly suspend disbelief.” They believe and disbelieve at the same time.[20]

Our own experience of behaviour provides a subjective placement to a context within the created constraints of the performance. However restored behaviour can become behaviour proper as rehearsal and repetition allows a behaviour to ‘go in to the body’.  An actor is both themselves and the character. They both ‘are’ and ‘are not’ themselves, and both ‘are’ and ‘are not’ the character they are portraying.
  




[1] Richard Schechner, ‘Restoration of Behaviour’, in Between Theater and Anthropology (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 1985), P.41.
[2] Erving Goffman, ‘Introduction’, in The Presentation of Self in Everyday Life (Garden City, NY: Doubleday, 1959) P.14.
[3] Richard Schechner, ‘Restoration of Behaviour’, in Between Theater and Anthropology (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 1985), P.26.
[4] Ibid., P.40-1.
[5] Victor Turner, ‘Social Dramas and Stories About Them’, in From Ritual to Theatre: The Human Seriousness of Play (New York: PAJ Publications, 1982), P.64.
[6] Richard Schechner, ‘Restoration of Behaviour’, in Between Theater and Anthropology (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 1985), P.109.
[7] Erving Goffman, ‘Introduction’, in The Presentation of Self in Everyday Life (Garden City, NY: Doubleday, 1959) P.16.
[8] Richard Schechner, ‘Restoration of Behaviour’, in Between Theater and Anthropology (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 1985), P.39.
[9] Ibid., P.38.
[10] Ibid., P.37.
[11] Ibid., P.38.
[12] Victor Turner, ‘Social Dramas and Stories About Them’, in From Ritual to Theatre: The Human Seriousness of Play (New York: PAJ Publications, 1982), P.66.
[13] Richard Schechner, ‘Restoration of Behaviour’, in Between Theater and Anthropology (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 1985), P.35.
[14] Victor Turner, ‘Social Dramas and Stories About Them’, in From Ritual to Theatre: The Human Seriousness of Play (New York: PAJ Publications, 1982), P.69.
[15] Ibid.
[16] Ibid., P.71.
[17] Janine Willis, Alexander Todorov, ‘First Impressions’, in Psychological Science Volume 17, Issue 7, 2006.
[18] Erving Goffman, ‘Introduction’, in The Presentation of Self in Everyday Life (Garden City, NY: Doubleday, 1959) P.23.
[19] Ibid., P.20.
[20] Richard Schechner, ‘Restoration of Behaviour’, in Between Theater and Anthropology (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 1985), pp.97-113.