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In Straight White Male, Michael Peterson, whose formative political and academic experiences were framed by feminist theory and the feminist movement, demonstrates in his careful investigation the function of identity in the making of meaning through...more
In Straight White Male, Michael Peterson, whose formative political and academic experiences were framed by feminist theory and the feminist movement, demonstrates in his careful investigation the function of identity in the making of meaning through an intriguing study of the performances by white heterosexual males as represented by professional monologists to include Eric Bogosian, Spalding Gray, Danny Hoch, Wallace Shawn, Rob Becker, Denis Leary, Andrew Dice Clay, and Josh Kornbluth. Theseare artists who mine their most private selves for public revelation and whose work depict and interrogate such issues as power, politics, privilege, and community. A collective of men who not only produce their own works but write and perform them too, whose words are infused with turn-of-the-century realism and righteousness, and who demand that their audiences look inward while watching them on stage. Peterson expresses intrigue in the art of the performance monologue produced by white heterosexual men because these individuals represent (to him) “the intersection of a form that insists and depends on the forceful, charismatic power of the performer’s presence with performers whose social identities are highly empowered in contemporary Western culture” (16).
In Peterson’s opening remarks, he acclaims the form of solo performance for three distinct reasons. The first are the ways that it maintains an equivocal position between high art and popular culture. Secondly, owing to the primary importance of the individual and in the virtues of self-reliance and personal independence that the work contributes to how identities – of authors, performers, and spectators – influence both the authentic and the appurtenant implications of performance. Lastly that the terms used to define identity like “white,” “male,” and “heterosexual,” “while problematic if treated as essential, ahistorical, unchangeable formations, are important objects of study” (ix) given the fact that significant power is vested in them with such frequency. Consequently, Peterson believes that this form of performance offers a mosaic of unbounded landscape “in which to contest and contend with these identities” (ix). Its essence privileges “reality” over “fictionality” and its contrast with dramatic art is that “it is much more likely that the author is present onstage in the body of the performer” (12). The reader will find the recurring theme of ‘aura of authorship’ emphasized throughout Peterson’s writing.
Neatly compartmentalized into six specific and succinct areas Peterson’s study begins by preparing the reader through defining the genre of ‘performance art monologues’, setting forth a number of theories which the author relies on, and prefaces the essential contentions relating to identity and how it is politicized in performance. Today the single voice has become fundamental to theatrical performance and as an ‘apparatus’ he suggests “the degree to which monologue has been naturalized as a condition of performance becomes clear in what is thought of as a relatively novel form” (4). This form of naturalization is akin to many hegemonic cultural traditions in which the singularity of artistic expression is emphasized. Furthermore as Peterson notes the “monologue always contains, however sublimated or repressed, the question “Why are you listening?” (5) which, taken in the context it is intended elevates the “white man” to a “social sign”, “he-who-speaks” then becomes a prevalent trope of the form. Peterson argues that the monologue, as fabricated by white men, “is a highly concentrated, rarefied cultural production that depends on and participates in the construction of contemporary white male identity” (6). In this sense he further evidences that a “crisis of identity” (distinguished by hierarchy and representation) are the “important conditions under which these monologues are spoken” (6). In discussing the genre of the ‘performance art monologue’, Peterson argues that it is an idiosyncratic “way of speaking” (13) and a “relatively stable type of utterance” which is currently recognized as a “loose genre”. What makes this a form of performance art is they way that these monologues are informal and discursively constructed. Later in his study, Peterson will delineate distinctions between Gray and Bogosian separating the works produced by the two performers into subgenres. He explains how Gray combines a combination of soliloquy and aside into his performances whereas Bogosian is noted for the use of the “monopolylogue” which he defines as “a theatrical entertainment in which one performer plays several parts or characters” (14). He goes on to explain that Bogosian and others who rely on the ‘monopolylogue” will frequently direct their performances as “imaginary characters (that is, unacted characters conventionally imagined by performer and audience), and sometimes spoken to the audience as if they were a character or characters” (14).
In the second section of the text, Peterson proffers a broadening overview of performance art. He situates it within the realm of today and examines its similarities as well as its differences to other analogous forms of coexistent performative to include solo drama, stand-up comedy, Western poetic tradition and other radical typologies, e.g., dada cabaret, futurist performance, ‘concerts’ of bizarre acts, etc. His motivation in this chapter is to put forward the circumstances that determine meaning in preparation for the critical discussions he propounds later in his text. He does not posit that his study of performance texts will uncover anything highly exceptional yet he points out that “performance art is still a contested term” (21) and his aim is to define it in such a way as to account for both its critical value (as a term) and the potential value in its lack of precision. He explains that meaningful difference can be derived in the “material circumstances of production and the cultural uses to which these forms are put” (22). Within this section Peterson attempts to present evidence that supports a ‘provisional definition’ of the genre (and its two subgenres, autobiographical confession and multiple character impersonation), moreover to strengthen the provisionality. In so doing, Peterson microscopically focuses on the theatrical tradition of solo drama, the exemplification of dramatic monologue poetry as a form of high culture and the use of spoken poetry in performance (discussing the use of irony through the process of dramatic interpretation) explaining that when a poem is read it becomes an “act of art”. He draws a comparison between the reading of poetry and the performance art monologue by illustrating that “the spectator is encouraged to locate the author-function within the body of the speaker” (30). In effect this raises the stakes of responsibility “when the work performed is additionally presumed to have autobiographical reference” (30) and in these instances the spectacle of performance by the artist offers itself as the art object” (31) with the performance “thriving on the anxiety of this responsibility”. In addition, Peterson introduces the reader to role of stand-up comedy as it is typically situated within popular culture and borrows from Stephanie Koziski’s “The Stand-up Comedian as Anthropologist” who considers stand-up as a ‘cultural force that makes “covert culture visible” (33). In his summary of the monologue culture Peterson, referring to Brecht, acknowledges how performance art advances the intertwined relationship that takes into account the simultaneity of the performer and the spectator. This is a significant force at play throughout his discourse as are the ways in which the perception of authenticity and privileged meaning are discerned and how audience reception is evaluated in view of the confrontational circumstances, which are frequently and at times flagrantly exercised by many of the performers central to this study.
In the third chapter of his investigation, Peterson profiles the unparagoned career of Spalding Gray whom he refers to as “the first of two central examples” (vii). He opines that Gray is “arguably the most famous monologist in the United States”. The author focuses on the significance of the artist’s work interrogating the ways in which Gray’s “career-long autobiographical project” alters every occurrence situated within his performance into a component, which uniquely defines his career. In this section, Peterson draws from Peggy Phelan who both celebrates the role of “autobiography in performance art” (48) yet who also suggests that, “at times it seems to imply an escape from representation”. This is an issue that Peterson addresses in raising the questions of who controls representation, and who represents whom. He examines these concerns further as he looks for some of the potential consequences of playing the real and uses Spalding Gray as an example of someone who not only is performance art, but who is a performer that has defined the performance art form of the autobiographical narrative as a “new understanding of the self through performance” (49). Peterson, in profiling Gray talks about the performers presence explaining that his “topic is invariably himself” (54). He is an anomaly for his layered persona, which positions him as someone “who sees himself seeing himself” and which “is a vital part of Gray’s remarkable performative charm and charisma” (54). Correspondingly, what makes Gray so effective is his strong “sense of presence, both material and temporal” (55), his skills or introspection and his abilities to witness the present rather than to represent the past. Throughout this chapter, Peterson pays tribute to Gray as a novelist, as someone whose “superior wit making fun of the hapless mortals he encounters” (71) is epic and for achieving the status of “an institution”. He equates the artists’ perpetuity of journey towards clearness of thought using the “monologue as a white voyage of self-discovery (in the midst of) the mysterious culture of the other” (75). From a sociopoliticized perspective Peterson expresses the opinion that Gray’s performance aligns the personal with the hegemonic and that it is viewed as apolitical “or even reactionary in its functioning” (77), a form which for many represents a “highly commodified form of art performance”. That to witness a performance of Spalding Gray is a cathartic event, which unifies the performer with the spectator. At the same time this allows Gray the opportunity of “accepting his personal history of privilege and accepting his position of authority – complete with the empowering tools of a system” (77) akin to the ‘manor born’ instead of the option of “pursuing an avant-garde political agenda”.
Peterson’s fourth section examines the body of works (most commonly the straight white male characters) of Eric Bogosian, a solo performer and shaman whose artistry is not autobiographical but who aims scorching social commentary at the contemporary urban and suburban scene revealing the hidden humor, fear, hypocrisy, and rage of America. A hyperaggressive standup comic noted for his seductive element of self-revelation and the ways in which he heightens the disturbing connections between his characters and, by extension us and the people we try not to see – and not to be – every day. In this chapter, Peterson’s primary focus centers upon a discussion of Bogosian’s interpretations and representations of American social structure and how his solos work off the attitudes that drive him; his open meditation on the conflicts of his life from his inimitable point of view. Thematically Peterson argues on two fronts that Bogosian “brings a repressed or othered social element challengingly close to his (presumably privileged) audience. Secondly, that the artist provokes political readings of his performances and that the confrontational nature of his work is fashioned around his need to overcome the “passivity typical of the form” (83). His thesis in this section is that Bogosian’s content “cannot escape the trap built of concentrated identity privilege and the monologic form” (83). He examines Bogosian’s career in which he began as a ‘downtown artist’ in 1975 in New York. He proceeds to take the reader through the next twenty five years of his multiple character impersonations, which continue to operate upon the successful Brechtian device of “estranging the everyday” (85) and are ironically structured to “imply a distance or distinction between the author/performer and the character” (89). Peterson comprehensive look at Eric Bogosian is unparalleled concentrating on the ways that the performer has successfully used a “high (visual) arts aesthetic of mass media appropriation to create the illusions of his characters and how each speak with coherent ideologies each of which are fragments of “familiar discourses” (86) to all of us.
Chapter five is a veracious inquiry into the practices of six monologists in juxtaposition to the work of Gray and Bogosian converging upon “an even more explicit focus” (119) on the issues of ‘identity politics’ in straight white male performance. He brings to the fore a fascinating criticism of the “deviant” norm of the “straight” theater form and how straight white male solo performers “tend self-assuredly to demonstrate the self-reassuring stratagems of make heterosexuality
In this section, Peterson returns to his discussion on stand-up comedy, approaching works that cannot really be called performance art under even the broadest definition. He explains how performers like Andrew Dice Clay, Rob Becker, and Dennis Leary are not performance artists but that their comedy is similar in many ways to the works produced by the more artistic solo performers. He uses a number of examples to define what he calls “concept comedy” which he characterizes as often lighthearted and frequently self-indulgent, autoerotic, misogynist and quite often “masturbatory” (120). Peterson also details, “How in performance monologues whiteness and white self-knowledge frequently depend on interaction with the racial other” (75).
In the last section of Peterson’s tome, “The Universal, The Essential, The Particular, The Political”, he discusses Danny Hoch’s production Some People distinguishing the characteristic devices which he sees Hoch “using to avoid many of the pitfalls other soloists encounter” (viii). At the conclusion of this discourse, Peterson offers his polemic relative to the “cultural conditions” which delimit contemporary solo performance. In this regard, the author asserts that the performers in his study all operate within the aesthetics of what he coins “bourgeois avant-gardism, which in these monologues tends to operate hand in hand with identity essentialism to perpetuate traditionally conceived straight white manhood” (viii). Peterson goes on to argue that the ‘straight white male’ monologist cobbles an illusory body politic of characters who are veritably based on the opposition of the diachronic meaning of that identity. Peterson is optimistic that this identity will eventually rupture yet he steadfastly suggests that monologue performance “seems almost inevitably to conserve and reiterate it” (viii).
In Michael Peterson’s epilogue, he raises several questions. The first is whether his study allows the reader an ability to see consistently the reality of the power of the white straight male and concurrently “its highly arbitrary and artificial constructedness”, (188) which he feels is very difficult to keep within ones focus. From his point of view, he has met with intermittent success simultaneously recognizing the irony of his own project namely “writing a monograph about monologue” (188). Secondly Peterson posits his argument that a “straight white male bourgeois avant-garde cannot admit the reality of identity into the space of the performance” (189) and given this presumption suggests that this means, “It cannot offer real performance art under his provisional formal definition”. Consequently, he asks if this means that straight white male performance art is impossible and concludes that it is an achievable objective but one that for him is “very hard to imagine” (189) because of the difficulty he has in envisioning performance independent of “bourgeois” and “avant-garde”. Nevertheless Peterson ends his book optimistically and idealistically of the belief that “straight white male performance art is possible when the notion of ‘the straight white male’ is divested from the esoteric nature of the “representations that bring class into existence” (189).
This text is potentially useful to those theatre practitioners, educators, students, and historians interested in performance, contemporary culture, feminism and the men’s movement, -- dense, yet rich in resources. Peterson includes an outstanding cache of further sources worth consideration by those interested in learning more about the dynamically evolving genre of monologic performance art. Straight White Male is an invaluable resource to heighten awareness of existing knowledge and perceptions. The breadth of the material covered in this book is commendable, intellectually stimulating, and practically useful and certainly sets the groundwork for more expansive scholarship to follow.(less)
With Looking for Sex in Shakespeare, Stanley Wells crafts a pertinent examination of a subject scholars and theatre artists have focused on, particularly in recent years: the function and substance of sex in the works of Shakespeare. In bringing this...more
With Looking for Sex in Shakespeare, Stanley Wells crafts a pertinent examination of a subject scholars and theatre artists have focused on, particularly in recent years: the function and substance of sex in the works of Shakespeare. In bringing this topic to the fore, Wells provides an intriguing text that contemplates new issues of formal and lexical semantics pertaining to the sexual connotations in Shakespeare. Challenging prevailing expectations and interpretations, Wells examines sexual innuendo in Shakespeare’s work and tracks its implications by relating his findings to modern productions. His analysis of criticism and adaptations provides insights into the scripts themselves, as well as culture in general.
Wells’s study presumes that desires of contemporary Shakespeare audiences must be fulfilled. Theatergoers want to be seduced, and Wells finds that Shakespeare’s labyrinthine sexual meanings, once revealed, will tantalize audiences in ways suppressed in earlier treatments. He emphasizes that productions succeed when they bring to light the previously obscured erotic potential of Shakespeare’s texts.
Historiographically, Wells’s detailed textual analysis focuses on images of licentiousness, allusions to sex in productions of Shakespeare’s plays over the past four centuries. His scrutiny of earlier Shakespeare historians consolidates antecedent studies, the plays, the Sonnets, and postmodern criticism of discussions (and controversies therein) of homoeroticism in Shakespeare. Wells persuasively argues that, historically, scholars and critics of Shakespeare have often neglected or arbitrarily suppressed sexual meanings found within the plays, counteracting the ability of readers and spectators to discover valuable inferences and meanings related to sexuality.
The opening lines of Wells’s introduction state: “So much sex is readily apparent in Shakespeare that it might seem surprising that anyone should look for more” and concisely covers what he refers to as “fundamental questions about theatrical interpretation.” He intimates that how scholars represent the text is the catalyst for what effect representations will have upon “the minds of those who experience” these dramatizations. According to Wells, the symbiotic relationship that exists between text, performer, and audience facilitates an opportunity to reconstitute archaic connotation with avant-garde meaning.
Wells draws upon several well-known plays. At the center is his analysis of A Midsummer Night’s Dream, a script frequently hallowed as ethereal, but in fact a primer for the study of Shakespeare’s bawdy, holding hidden connotations related to the topic of savage anal intercourse. Supporting this contention, Wells points us to “‘Bestial Buggery’ in A Midsummer Night’s Dream” (1994) by Bruce Thomas Boehrer (31), which illustrates how Oberon is remedying obstacles of matrimony through subjugation of Titania into a prurient object of sexual enslavement by Bottom. This inferential correlation underscores the suitability of contemporary treatments of this spectacle. Indeed, Wells’ critique provides compelling justification for the interpretation and staging of these characters as engaged in explicit acts of carnal knowledge.
Wells’s chapter entitled “Lewd Interpreters” offers additional examples of licentiousness, to posit a radical departure from the erstwhile manner in which they have been interpreted prior to the twentieth century. This chapter considers heterosexual bawdiness in Romeo and Juliet, the climactic moment of Antony and Cleopatra, and innuendos in Love’s Labours Lost. Wells constellates this discussion with one on homosexuality pointing to Antonio and Bassanio in the Merchant of Venice, Iago in Othello, and Richard II, identifying potential homosexual readings, and carefully raises the question of how these characters’ sexuality should be staged.
While the overriding focus of Wells’s examination of Shakespeare is on sex in general, he investigates key issues of homosexuality and same-sex relationships in Shakespeare in the chapter “Men loving men in Shakespeare’s plays”, using Coriolanus, Twelfth Night, and The Merchant of Venice as primary texts. However, the clearest example is in Troilus and Cressida dealing with the “legendary friendship” between Achilles and Patroclus, which is, in Wells’s estimation, the “only unquestionable allusion” to homoerotic relationships in Shakespeare. Although Patroclus neither accepts nor denies Thersites’ charge that “thou art thought to be Achilles’ ‘male varlet’” (his masculine whore), Wells suggests that “Achilles and Patroclus might be lovers without Patroclus being regarded as a whore; or they might just be good friends”(88). Nevertheless, Thersites’ implication remains open to examination, according to Wells. There is a doubleness in Troilus and Cressida that allows concurrent parallel possibilities in the relationship of Achilles and Patroclus: a homoerotic love relationship as well as shared value for heterosexual relationships (that of the love between Achilles and Polyxena). Wells acknowledges responses from critics with opposing extreme positions: A.P Rossiter and Jan Kott who refer specifically, perhaps even homophobically, to this homoerotic relationship, and W.A. Darlington’s reaction to a John Barton production stating 'Shakespeare nowhere shows any sign of intending to make homosexuals of the two characters" (89). Wells’s exploration does not align itself with either camp; rather exploring the nuances between and the best elements of both critical agendas. Wells also points out that Troilus and Cressida was not staged before the twentieth century, a performance history leaving little ability to examine the play retrospectively.
In citing the paradoxes contained within Shakespeare’s use of perpetual wordplay, Wells underscores that the search for new meaning is not a recent phenomenon. Wells challenges readers to consider whether the sexuality in Shakespeare’s texts was in fact recondite to prior audiences. Perhaps the Victorians were not blindsided by the sex in Shakespeare; they may have heard the sexual meanings implicit in the texts as readily as we do today. Regrettably, however, subsequent interpreters have staged safer versions, sanitizing them to dilute their erotic potential and minimize their volatility.
This book is potentially useful to theatrical practitioners as well as theatre scholars and historians of gender and sexuality. Wells includes an outstanding cache of further sources worth consideration by those interested in learning more about sexuality in Shakespeare’s plays. Looking for Sex in Shakespeare is not a consummate text supplanting prior work on the subject. However, he combines close textual analysis of the plays with references to the annals of Shakespearean criticism and detailed production histories in ways that make this an exemplary consideration of expressions of desire in Shakespeare. His book is a vital resource that serves to demystify sex in Shakespeare, enabling readers to look at Shakespeare, and indeed sex itself, anew.(less)
A new incarnation of Phillip Zarrilli’s 1995 text, Acting (Worlds of Performance), resurfaces under a title which suggests that the author has revised and updated his earlier publication. This renaming encourages the presumption that the new text wil...more
A new incarnation of Phillip Zarrilli’s 1995 text, Acting (Worlds of Performance), resurfaces under a title which suggests that the author has revised and updated his earlier publication. This renaming encourages the presumption that the new text will further enlighten the reader to the study of acting by superseding the first edition. Zarrilli’s latest text is laudable for its practical approach and for its success in bridging the chasm between the theoretical and the practical.
Acclaimed internationally for his work in the training of actors, Zarrilli, now a Professor of performance practice at Oxford University, uses a psychophysical process that combines yoga and the Asian martial art of Kalaripayattu. He uses his expertise in Kathakali dance and techniques, which focus on concentration, discovery, and use of inner energy to augment his teaching practice, for his directing, and for applying his research to practice.
Acting (Re)Considered is organized into three large sections. The first offers three formalistic classifications of the actor’s work from phenomenological, structuralist and poststructuralist perspectives; the second examines acting praxis focusing on the methods of Meyerhold, Barba, Suzuki, and Grotowski and considers each respectively, problematizing the intercultural techniques of these theorists; and the final subdivision of the text presents the reader with a series of essays which converge upon living performers occupied principally from Brechtian, feminist, or postmodern perspectives.
Zarrilli’s text collects twenty-four essays (many are reprinted from articles that first appeared in The Drama Review), nineteen previously appeared in the 1995 text. The text includes articles from Dutch psychologist Elly Konijn on acting and emotion; Eugenio Barba’s distinguished treatise, An Amulet Made of Memory, which reflects “on the significance of exercises for the development of the actor” (xvi); and three new essays that concentrate on the praxis of internationally recognizable performers and or performative ensembles: i.e., Paul Allain’s study of Wlodzimierz Staniewski’s Gardzienice Theatre Association, Ellen Halperin-Royer’s discussion relating to the process the actor undertakes when working with Robert Wilson on Danton’s Death; and lastly, an interview of Anna Deavere Smith by Carol Martin and an essay by Richard Schechner with Martin and Smith discussing the “creative process Deavere Smith uses to develop and enact her critically acclaimed solo performances” (xvii). Both are reprints from The African American Sourcebook. In addition to the new contributions, Zarrilli has revised his lively introduction, Between Theory and Practice, and has expanded the bibliography, which now accounts for new developments in the study of performance and contemporary acting treatises published since 1995.
Zarrilli accomplishes the daunting task of examining and revisiting contemporary theories and practices of acting in the twenty-first century and he considers rapid increases in new methods of performance, such as physical theatre in other non-Western countries. Moreover, he seeks to intellectually engage the assumptions, concepts, values, and practices constituting ways of training actor’s preparation in the new millennium. Zarrilli offers much insight into the discursive practices of the wide array of scholarartists whose writing is assembled within this compendium of essays. The essayists, some of whom are non-Westerners, are also practitioners. Other contributors to the book share their insights on actor training from disciplines other than acting such as, neurological and behavioral psychology, political theory, communications, and culture. Finally, Zarrilli addresses the relationship of other lineages of acting training today, synthesizing the multiplicity of perspectives, and explaining how and why these methods and modalities are significant contributions to the study, practice and scholarship of contemporary acting. The breadth of Zarrilli’s study is valuable for the ways in which it considers contradictory views of acting. This view also invites the reader to see performance as a process but also to see that both society and individuals are performative, a process of living and being that is always unconsumated.
One question I was led to consider with this second edition is why updating the earlier edition was needed. Moreover, I wondered what the value was in reprinting articles about performance that are easily accessible through online journal databases or by subscription. To be sure, Zarrilli contextualizes the essays, adding immediate value to this new collection, and thereby illustrates how the approaches to acting have matured over time. Furthermore, he comments upon those new discoveries, which are oriented to the mind and body, and relates them to the dynamic processes in acting. Conversely, Zarrilli avers that in current actor training the actor’s “body and mind are not being positively disciplined, that is, engaged in the present moment, not toward an end or goal” (183). Hence, he advocates abrogating dependency on the techniques of psychological realism in favor of a psychophysical approach that employs the interdependence of the body-mind relationship. Such an approach, he believes, enables the actor to manifest extraordinary focus and power.
Zarrilli’s world view on acting may be received as anti-American method. As editor of Acting (Re)Considered Zarrilli suggests that this praxis of physical actions rejects regarding physical and mental processes dualistically and which causes students to “often experience a real disjuncture between their minds and their bodies” (13). As a result, actors undergo “great difficulty freeing themselves from the mind to work out from their bodies” (13). Correspondingly, Zarrilli believes that this triggers a mental block that student actors must overcome “before they are free to allow themselves to explore how to discover a psychophysical impulse as a beginning point in action” (13). He calls theater educators to advocate for “the paradigms, discourses, and relationships between the body, mind, and experience in the constitution of meaning, knowledge, ‘self,’ and our daily practice(s) of life – including acting” (13). For Zarrilli the imperative is to refrain from the excessive reliance upon identity of character: the “who am I” which cannot be “divorced from the who we are” (22).
Zarrilli’s book is organized into three parts: theories of acting, the body and training, and the actor in performance. In the four essays in part one, “Theories and Meditations on Acting,” readers are given the opportunity to retreat from the consideration of acting theories and practices and to reflect “more generally” (7). This section includes essays by Bert States and Phillip Auslander (among others), both of whom raise questions about acting theory. Regrettably, the article by States is a philosophical perspective that merely discusses the homogeneity between the spectator and the performer. His essay fails to speak to technique and is not particularly useful to this text. Each author in this section looks more specifically at the performances of specific actors as well as the methods of Stanislavsky and other well-known Western practitioners. Two additional essays by Michael Kirby and Elly Konijn inspire the reader to retrace the connection between acting and emotion. The article by Kirby, like States’, lacks any meaningful discussion about the systematic procedures of acting and I found his prose less than engaging. However, editor Zarrilli is successfully able to reexamine acting using a psychophysical vista in lieu of a psychological overview when he draws from Phillip Auslander’s article, “Just Be Yourself.” This essay is concerned with logocentrism and difference in performance theory. There Auslander critiques several acting theories that depend upon Western assumptions. He argues that there are different ways that the actor creates a universal self and he thereby ascribes to the belief that the actor cannot privilege the self over the role despite the tenets of Stanislavsky and later those of Brecht and Grotowski. Although no attempt is made to discredit these antecedent theories, Auslander cautions one to “recognize that they are subject to the limits of the metaphysical assumptions of which they are based” (58) and implores the reader to realize that, “like metaphysics, they demand that we speak of acting in terms of presence” (58) and that this reference to the creation of “self” is derived from the “play of difference which makes up theoretical discourse” (58).
Part two of Acting (Re)Considered is composed of ten selected works representing an overarching theme that “the actor’s body has always been ‘there’ as the sole means of expression in live performance” (85). Here Zarrilli takes time to illuminate the archetypes of Eastern and Western cultures and to discuss the ethnology of traditional non-Western modes of acting as “a form of embodiment based on indigenous paradigms of the body (including voicing), the body-mind relationship, and consciousness or awareness” (85). These essays coalesce in a discussion centering on psychophysical techniques, with each summarizing the basic techniques and findings of each author’s long-term research and practice. Topical areas of inquiry include actor training in the neutral mask, Balinese ritual, the practices of Objective Drama pioneered by Grotowski, the physical training techniques of Barba (to include the use of acrobatics and kathakali), Meyerhold’s Biomechanics, Decroux’s mime and the culture of the body as taught through the methods of Suzuki. In this section it is Zarrilli’s objective to illustrate that “most self-conscious systems of preparation or training have evolved under some form of patronage which frees the actor from the necessity of responding to changeable popular tastes to concentrate on developing a particular body for a particular craft and style of acing” (85). He concludes that this compendium of essays support the fact that acting, no matter what the expectations are that societies have upon actors bodies demand that “humans develop knowledge about themselves” (87) and that “the techniques which constitute a particular technology of the body cannot be divorced from the discourses and assumptions which inform how that set of techniques is understood and/or represented” (87).
The final part of Zarrilli’s text is his most pragmatic. This section entitled, “(Re)Considering the Actor in Performance,” is a series of ten essays that discuss “the strategies, techniques, theories, ideas and approaches that particular actors or groups of actors have developed for performance” (241). Zarrilli introduces this section by citing the nexus of techniques as originating first as forms of experimentation that eventually lead to discoveries that resulted in the advancement of acting through the development of new methods. Two examples Zarrilli provides are the Group Theatre and Lee Strassberg at the Actor’s Studio. He buttresses his argument by referring to Richard Hornby’s The End of Acting: A Radical View (1992) in which Hornby, speaking directly to American actors and acting teachers calls for “the overthrow of a Strasbergian-based self-absorbed, classroom-based method of training, and concludes that it should be used only as a special technique for film acting” (242). To further his point of view Zarrilli discusses performance as a form of insurgency. The essays in this section contextualize his assertions and to a larger extent call for the need to “reconsider” the continuance of approaches to acting. Furthermore he argues these approaches must be considered interculturally as we negotiate new paths to pursue in actor training. Zarrilli concludes his introduction in the third section of his text by stating that “it is encouraging that many of the ‘old’ prejudices and stereotypes about actors and acting continue to be challenged in professional and educational settings today, and that the place and role of discourse, analysis, and debate about acting and its paradigms is, if anything, louder today than ever before” (247).
Acting (Re)Considered is a valuable text that lays a foundation for challenging the status quo. Its logically precise articulation of the various strains of acting methods positions this book as an invaluable and provocative resource for students seriously engaged in the study of acting, as well as for contemporary performance theorists and theatre educators who continue to investigate the dynamic changes in the field of acting and performance.(less)
|Occasionally the play verges on simplicity, and it never probes specific military issues. However, it does not trivialize its subject; nor does it indulge in name-dropping. Mr. Blessing keeps his sense of humor and his healthy skepticism. The playwri...more Occasionally the play verges on simplicity, and it never probes specific military issues. However, it does not trivialize its subject; nor does it indulge in name-dropping. Mr. Blessing keeps his sense of humor and his healthy skepticism. The playwright's first mission is an assertion of individual personality, an aim in which he is more successful with his Russian character. One of the play's few flaws is that we learn relatively little about the American, except for signs that beneath his scientific exterior there is repressed rebellion.(less)|
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