Performance studies

Performance studies

Performance studies has been growing as an academic specialty since the 1970s. Indeed, it has produced a wide variety of perspectives and it is now integrated into a number of social scientific disciplines (for example sociology, anthropology, linguistics), humanities (for example philosophy and english) and is a growing discipline in and of itself (see http://www.semioticon.com/seo/P/performance.html). While diverse theorists have adopted theatre discourses and metaphors, the connection between theatre and performance is commonly misunderstood. Performance theories are often concerned with the manner in which individuals perform aspects of everyday life. Some theorists, for example Judith Butler, use the term "performativity" to describe the material presence of abstract discources. For Butler, a subject is NEVER performing his or herself, but rather enacting certain discourses.

Performance Studies has been challenged as an emerging discipline. Many academics are critical of its instability. It is, however, a degree granting programme that trains researchers. Some have referred to is as an "interdiscipline" or a "postdiscipline." See http://www.semioticon.com/seo/P/performance.html for a detailed, accessible account of performance studies.

Origins of Performance Studies

Performance Studies as an academic field has multiple origin narratives. One account stresses the research collaborations of director Richard Schechner and anthropologist Victor Turner. This origin narrative emphasizes a definition of performance as being "between theatre and anthropology" and often stresses the importance of intercultural performances as an alternative to either traditional proscenium theatre or traditional anthropological fieldwork. Bryan Reynolds has developed a combined performance theory and critical methodology known as “transversal poetics” to bring historical analysis in conversation with current research in a number of fields, from social semiotics to cognitive neuroscience, the effect of which has been to expand the relevancy of performance studies across academic disciplines. Barbara Kirshenblatt-Gimblett has contributed an interest in tourist productions and ethnographic showmanship to the field, and Diana Taylor has brought a hemispheric perspective on Latin American performance, and has also theorized the relationship between the archive and the performance repertoire.

An alternative origin narrative stresses the development of speech-act theory by philosophers J.L. Austin and Judith Butler and literary critic Eve Kosofsky Sedgwick. Performance studies has also had a strong relationship to the fields of feminism, psychoanalysis, and queer theory. Theorists like Peggy Phelan, Butler, Sedgwick, José Esteban Muñoz, Rebecca Schneider, and André Lepecki have been equally influential in both performance studies and these related fields.

Performance studies incorporates theories of drama, dance, art, anthropology, folkloristics, philosophy, cultural studies, sociology, and more and more, music performance. More can be found out by reading Schechner's book: "Performance Studies: An Introduction". The first performance studies department was created at NYU. However, there is some debate that the joint-cradles of Performance Studies are Northwestern University and NYU. In the United States, the field has spread to Brown, UC Berkeley, and elsewhere. Texas A&M University’s [http://performancestudies.tamu.edu/ Department of Performance Studies] is unique in including both Music and Theatre degree programs.

In the United Kingdom the University of Wales, Aberystwyth offers a degree scheme in performance studies with highly acclaimed performance artists such as Mike Pearson, Heike Roms and Jill Greenhalgh.In Australia, the University of Sydney [http://www.arts.usyd.edu.au/departs/perform/about_us/profile.shtml] and Queensland University of Technology offer degrees majoring in performance studies, Honours, Masters and Phd. Performance Studies in some countries is also an A-level (AS and A2) course consisting of the integration of the discrete art forms of Dance, Music and Drama in performing arts.

Performance studies has a long-standing and complex relationship to the practice of performance art, also known as live art or visual art performance.

Some key companies and practitioners who are widely considered to be working within this field include: Robert Lepage, Ariane Mnouchkine and the Theatre du Soleil, Robert Wilson, Forced Entertainment (UK), Pina Bausch, The Wooster Group (New York), Anne Bogart and The Siti Company (New York), and Jan Fabre (Belgium).

Controversies

Richard Schechner was a professor of drama, first at Tulane University, then at New York University, before he became interested in integrating the field of theater with numerous other disciplines. At least two of his former students wrote significant criticisms of the new field.

In TheaterWeek, Richard Hornby wrote that the field of performance studies must embrace acting theory and traditional Euro-American theater if it is to have any value. Performance Studies, at least as Schechner had come to it, had little to do with stage performance, Hornby maintained.

Davi Napoleon went further in the pages of the same magazine. "Performance Studies doesn't have the integrity of any discipline," she wrote. "It's not a mix of theater and other performing arts, such as dance and opera, though these are included....There are classes in Aesthetics and Everyday Life, Autobiography and the Performing Self, Creativity in Covergence and Creolization...Performance studies covers everything, and those who want to study something, such as theater history, cannot."

Schechner said he did not reject theater but expanded the department at NYU by bringing in other disciplines. "I can eat pasta and also eat sushi."

Napoleon countered that pasta and sushi are both foods, while archeology and theater are not both performing arts. "Moreover, Performance Studies students don't digest two fields. They sample from a smorgasbord of disciplines without troubling to learn any. It may appear to be interdiscipinary, but Performance Studies is really anti-disiplinary." Napoleon also quotes Michael Kirby, a colleague of Richard Schechner's at NYU who felt Schechner was taking the department in the wrong direction.

References

**Napoleon, Davi. "Transcending Substance" in "TheaterWeek" November 20, 1995.
**Hornby, Richard. "Against Performance Theory" in "TheaterWeek" October 17, 1994.

See also

*Judith Butler
*David Lewin
* [http://www.bymusic.org/ Avior Byron]
* [http://www.hemisphericinstitute.org/ the Hemispheric Institute of Performance and Politics]
* [http://www.performancestudies.org/ PerformanceStudies.Org]


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