Saturday, January 30, 2010


For Religion & Theater, we're reading Richard Schechner's essay "From Ritual to Theater and Back," a classic of performance studies. Schechner tries to move beyond the stale commonplace that theater "originated in religion" or "ritual" by suggesting that the real contrast is between performances concerned with "efficacy" and those affording "entertainment," though in fact you never find one without a touch of the other. Indeed, they define a "continuum," and cultures swing back and forth along it. Written originally in 1974, Schechner in this essay is convinced that an age of entertainment is again giving way to one seeking efficacy. Mmmmaybe. In the meantime, enjoy some of his speciously precise but beguilingly beautiful diagrams. (He's part of the 20th century theater's convinction that it can and should be scientific: a system, a laboratory.) These first two describe a cycle of Aboriginal Australian initiation dances which parallels the life cycle. The one below purports to show that ours is a time of great theatrical significance (earlier points where the curves crossed: ancient Greece, the time of Shakespeare) and that the future must lie in ritual, efficacy, the avant garde, not in entertainments like Broadway and theme parks!

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