Theatrical Reality - Free extract

To celeberate the release of our new title, Theatrical Reality, we are giving away a section of the introduction for free! To buy a copy of the book please click here

This book is concerned with theorizing the ways in which the aesthetics of theatrical representation are complicated and informed by the embodied and spatial conditions of its realization. The following chapters will examine the various ways in which theatre makers attempt to organize the spectator’s experience of reality within performance. By analysing how the threshold spaces of performance shape the spectator’s perception of the performer’s actions and experiences, the book seeks to explore some of the ways in which representation and meaning in theatre are informed by the spectator’s embodied and affective engagement with the art form.

Throughout the book I will make reference to a variety of critical and theoretical perspectives, drawing on material from the fields of phenomenology, cognitive psychology, neuroscience, geography and sociology. However, it should be noted that many of the arguments developed with this book were sparked by my pedagogical engagement with the practice of making theatre. My work as a theatre maker has always been rooted in personal and idiosyncratic concerns; but as a university lecturer, tasked with teaching others to make theatre, I have been forced towards greater pragmatism. In recent years, I have discovered that, when attempting to help students realize their aims in performance, my most useful questions were always concerned with the intended role of the spectator in performance. It is this realization that drove me to start writing this book.

If the theatre maker is to assess the success of his work, he1 must be able to judge its impact on an audience. Without having a sense of the different ways in which the spectator is being invited to deploy his emotions and imagination when watching or participating in performance, the theatre maker will remain incapable of judging his work’s effectiveness. I believe strongly that the practitioner must be able to theorize the nature of the spectator’s engagement with the world represented onstage. This is not due to any kind of belief in the intrinsic value of theory. Instead, it relates to the view that a clear understanding of form is creatively enabling. In order to guide the reception of meaning onstage, the practitioner must understand how theatre functions. It is for this reason that this book ultimately focuses on responding to two key questions: What do we mean by theatricality? And: How might we define the experience of reality within the context of theatrical performance?

Theatre is a medium where invisible worlds are rooted in visible objects, where the material becomes metaphor, and where the intimate and personal are made universal. Through referencing theatre’s ability to overcome and accommodate such oppositions, the book will argue that theatrical space establishes unique modes of reality for both performer and spectator. It will also argue that unpicking the complexity of these connections is paramount if we are to assess some of the ways that meaning, place, character and narrative are constructed and conveyed within theatrical performance.

In order to develop my argument, I will draw on a wide range of case study examples, crossing the boundaries between disciplines and attempting to make links between distinct forms of performance practice (from dance, to theatre, to performance art). I would like to make it clear that my aim is not to diminish the importance of recognizing the distinctions between separate aesthetic forms and disciplines of study. Instead, I hope that by encouraging you to cross the borders between theatre and dance, or neuroscience and literary analysis, you will be able to analyse the material, aesthetic and social dimensions of theatrical performance – thus developing your understanding of the complex ways in which spectators and performers occupy and share physical and imagined spaces during performance.

My hope is borne from my experiences as both a theorist and practitioner. The reflexive nature of this dual life has continually encouraged me to question the practical value of theory. It concerns me that so little of the contemporary application of theory within theatre and performance studies is written for the explicit benefit of the theatre maker or audience. Perhaps I am alone in this response, but I invite you to consider how many times you have read an elegantly argued and diligently researched piece of scholarship before questioning whether its insights could usefully be applied by a spectator, performer or designer. Of course, it depends by what one means by ‘useful’; but, for me, so much of the application of theory to performance seems to me to be an abstract exercise – an exercise in which the insights of theorists are applied to theatrical experience in the same way that one might complete a complex jigsaw puzzle. I believe that the application of theory needs to be approached with greater pragmatism, but also greater adventure. As theorists, practitioners and spectators, we should be helping each other to think more efficiently and more fully about how the complexities of theatre function so that the experience of making and watching theatre can become richer and more powerful. 

With this in mind, the book aims to demonstrate that the best theatre practitioners are/ were often the best theorists. To paraphrase George Devine, great theatre must have an attitude – and such attitudes are necessarily formed from philosophies. Although my concern in this short text is to cross-reference different approaches to thinking about the nature of reality in the shared spaces of performance, I hope that the reader will come away from this book with a clearer sense of how the spectator fits within the philosophies of some of the twentieth and twenty-first century’s key theatre makers. I hope that by questioning what reality might mean in the context of theatre, the implicitly stated theories of figures such as Adolphe Appia, Konstantin Stanislavski and Bertolt Brecht can be freshly illuminated.

Posted by Eden Joseph at 16:03 (0) comments
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