Theater and Performance
Performance Studies' Interdisciplinary Genealogy
Histories of performance studies most frequently cite its formation in the convergence of experimental theater and structuralist anthropology in the late 1960s. Avant-garde theater practitioners in the United States such as Richard Schechner were exploring cultural traditions of performance that fell outside entrenched disciplinary traditions of Western theatrical practice and theater studies. Their work drew on research into archaic ritual and non-Western performance forms, unsettling representational conventions of illusionism and distinctions between artistic disciplines, exploring the significance of neglected parts of the performance process, such as audience response, rehearsal, and training, and blurring the boundaries between art and everyday life. Their investigations coincided with the structural anthropologist Victor Turner's interest in ritual, festival, and other forms of symbolic, collective action. Turner's dramatically inflected analysis of public culture and social events saw performance as the site of a given culture's fullest and most self-conscious expression of its unique values and categories, and the engine of its perpetuation and transformation. Schechner and Turner's research collaboration spurred the formation of New York University's Performance Studies Department in 1980.
The contemporary field of performance studies as a whole owes its genesis to a still broader range of disciplinary interests.
The Department of Performance Studies at Northwestern University, for example, grew from the tradition of oral interpretation of literature dating back to the late nineteenth century. Attuned to the rhetorical power of acts of verbal and embodied performance, the Northwestern school's interest is still primarily in performance as a mode of human communication that is "creative, constructed, collaborative, and contingent." Influential currents in the sociology and psychology of the 1960s and 1970s also informed the development of performance studies. These included the theorization of play, social dramaturgy, and the presentation of self in everyday life developed in the work of Johan Huizinga, Roger Caillois, Erving Goffman, and others, and the interpretive or symbolic anthropology of Clifford Geertz. At its broadest level, performance studies probably owes most to the linguistic turn in the arts and humanities, and its development has been closely aligned with poststructuralist or postmodernist innovation in philosophy, linguistics, anthropology, feminism, area studies, cultural studies, folklore, postcolonial studies, and queer studies.
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