Accepted paper:

'Performance' versus 'theatre': an ancient perspective


Clare Foster (University of Cambridge)

Paper short abstract:

Anthropology and theatre, as the history of Performance Studies suggests, share common, and increasingly current, agendas. But the idea of theatre as 'going to a play' still dominates. A radical revisioning of Athenian theatre, in contrast to Aristotle's description of its reperformance, may help.

Paper long abstract:

Theatre is anthropology: at least, as the symbol and practice of collective identity, one would expect it to be central to the discipline. This paper suggests one reason it has not been is an anomalous (but still common) view of 'theatre' as 'going to a play' which comes into vogue in the late nineteenth-century, at the same time as the disciplines which created the modern academy itself were forming. So-called 'modern drama' , despite reactions against it in many forms, the most important of which came from anthropology itself via 'Performance Studies' in the 1960s (Victor Turner, Clifford Geertz, Richard Schechner) survives in popular perceptions of 'the play' as discrete object, bounded by text, time and place. Recent studies of chorality in ancient Greece, of which the texts of Athenian drama are a trace, suggest the attractiveness of this idea of the play-as-object begins with the modern (mis)reading of Aristotle. His definitions of tragedy were attempting to explain the quite different phenomenon of the massive reperformance of Athenian texts across non-democratic polis in the Greek-speaking world: i.e. to explain apparent universality by suggesting it inheres in objective characteristics (a precisely apolitical idea). The book, printing, and related ideas of objecthood and authority have also obscured the characteristic 'theatricality' of the performance cultures of antiquity; but they are now increasingly recognised as models for a current 'convergence culture' in which ideas of audience often drive, and constitute, 'the work'.

panel G50
'All the world's a stage': the social and political potentialities of theatre and performance