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Home :: Archive :: 1993 :: February ::
Re: Impossibility of Performance Criticism (con't)
Shakespeare Electronic Conference, Vol. 4, No. 65.  Saturday, 6 February 1993.
 
(1)     From:   David Richman <
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        Date:   Saturday, 6 Feb 1993 14:56:32 -0500 (EST)
        Subj:   RE: SHK 4.0062  Re: Impossibility of Performance Criticism
 
(2)     From:   William Proctor Williams <TB0WPW1@NIU.BITNET>
        Date:   Saturday, 06 Feb 93 14:03 CST
        Subj:   Re: SHK 4.0062  Re: Impossibility of Performance Criticism
 
(3)     From:   Skip Shand <
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        Date:   Saturday, 6 Feb 1993 15:25 EDT
        Subj:   Re: SHK 4.0062  Re: Impossibility of Performance Criticism
 
(4)     From:   Milla Riggio <
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        Date:   Saturday, 6 Feb 93 17:23 EST
        Subj:   Re: SHK 4.0061  R: Impossibility of Performance Crit
 
 
(1)----------------------------------------------------------------------------
From:           David Richman <
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Date:           Saturday, 6 Feb 1993 14:56:32 -0500 (EST)
Subject: 4.0062  Re: Impossibility of Performance Criticism
Comment:        RE: SHK 4.0062  Re: Impossibility of Performance Criticism
 
In reply to John Drakakis's stimulating piece, I would say that I find
epistemological problems and various other sorts of inadequacies in all the
critical writings I have read on Shakespeare, or on any other playwright
for that matter--and I emphatically include my own responses in this category.
 
I don't understand how to divorce performance from the text (granted, text is
indeed a highly problematic term.)  Some directors try to get away from the
text (witness the extravaganza of copulation and defecation described in a
previous posting), but I freely admit that the performances I am responsible
for do derive from the texts with all their problems. Bernard Shaw was keen to
the inadequacies that John Drakakis is addressing. The language of theater,
Shaw insisted, is madeningly imprecise, and it is virtually impossible for even
the most gifted and most talented performers to give an adequate rendering of
an author's words, even if those words are intended (as Shaw insisted his words
were) for performance.  It would seem, then, that performance, as well as
performance criticism, is impossible.
 
Why engage in either, then?  Performance can give pleasure and enlightenment,
and so can good performance criticism.  I'm not sure there is a single
essential meaning to be got from a text (problematic and imprecise), but I do
think a spirited speaking of a speech or acting of an action can add its small
grain to the world's joy.  When I used the phrase "essential joy," I was trying
to refer to the proposition that performance can be a source of joy, and in
view of the notion (to which I naively subscribe) that one should not deprive
oneself of joy if one doesn't have to, we should keep muddling on with our
imperfect tools and inadequate responses.
 
For some with superior imaginations, performance is (like age) unnecessary.
Brahms hated to go to the opera, because he could always create a better
performance in his head when he read the score.  Since I am not Brahms, I
still like to go occasionally to the theater, and even to read inadequate
critical responses to accounts of performance.
 
Cheers,
 
David Richman
University of New Hampshire
 
(2)---------------------------------------------------------------------------
From:           William Proctor Williams <TB0WPW1@NIU.BITNET>
Date:           Saturday, 06 Feb 93 14:03 CST
Subject: 4.0062  Re: Impossibility of Performance Criticism
Comment:        Re: SHK 4.0062  Re: Impossibility of Performance Criticism
 
John Drakakis draws the most important point in this discussion out to its full
length.  The +only+ thing we have to study for almost all of the English
Renaissance dramas are +printed+ texts.  We can not make-up non-extant fake
acting versions.  We cannot invent things which do not now exist, even if they
once did.  How long will this strange notion of performance criticism which
knows nothing of the original performance persist?
 
Should not our focus be turned to those periods about which we do have
information (+ca+. 1750+) and stop our idle speculation about earlier eras.
Not even Orrell, Gurr and Hildey can agree about the measurements of the
Globe (see +Shakespeare Bulletin+ last issue).
 
I am just sick and tired of mindless and factless speculation by boffins who
think they can teach us to walk on our hind legs.
 
William Proctor Williams              TB0WPW1@NIU
English/Northern Illinois Univeristy
 
(3)---------------------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Skip Shand <
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Date:           Saturday, 6 Feb 1993 15:25 EDT
Subject: 4.0062  Re: Impossibility of Performance Criticism
Comment:        Re: SHK 4.0062  Re: Impossibility of Performance Criticism
 
I don't know whether John Drakakis is really talking about the impossibility
of performance criticism, or whether he's talking about the impossibility of
definitive criticism, the difficulties with validity inherent in all acts of
criticism.
 
But I do know that performance criticism, or performance-based criticism, can
offer more than the options he suggests, namely prescriptive readings or
inadequate reviews. My undergraduates spend a great deal of time on what is
now a pedagogical commonplace, acted scene studies which they prepare on their
own time and present to their classmates. They spend time as well observing as
many film and video and stage versions of the scripts we are studying as they
can get their hands on. They pay closer and closer attention to the state of
the texts they read, learning an awareness of the various interventions in
transmission and the ways such interventions may close down on signifying
potentials. And they learn, bless them, that the essentialist and unitary
readings which many of them were required to master in high school are not,
after all, obligatory, but, rather, optional. We try to enter the text as
actorly readers, to sit inside individual characters and their moments, to
observe the range of performable options available at any given moment, to
understand the signifying implications of choosing one option over another.
We do not imagine that we are neutral conduits for textual intention--we
understand that we bring all manner of baggage with us which conditions our
interactions with the scripts, and we try to keep track of what that baggage
might be and how it helps determine our readings.
 
I like to think that quite a few of these students are learning to be
performance-based critics. They are learning that Shakespeare's scripts
can invite a variety of equally valid performance options--not indeterminacy
spinning out of control, certainly, but a considerably broader version of
determinacy than they might otherwise have predicted. And they are learning a
healthy mistrust of critical/editorial intervention which closes down scripted
openness. They are learning about the special quality of aliveness which
inheres in texts made to be performed by speaking feeling thinking bodies. And
yes (thanks Bernice, thanks Steve), they too are having FUN.
 
(4)---------------------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Milla Riggio <
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Date:           Saturday, 6 Feb 93 17:23 EST
Subject: 4.0061  R: Impossibility of Performance Crit
Comment:        Re: SHK 4.0061  R: Impossibility of Performance Crit
 
Dear John Drakakis and Steve Urkowitz:
 
First, to John:  Welcome back!  You see what a storm your wry, if
serious, comment about performance criticism unleashed?  Of course,
I have no idea that this book proposal will be accepted by the MLA,
though there is a fair chance of it, I think.  But if it is, it
seems to me something like this controversy should be reflected in any
serious volume about approaches through performance that aspires, as this
one does, to any degree of theoretical sophistication.  So:  I'm going to
include this as one of the topics, and it occurs to me that a pair of
essays, posing the problem theoretically (John) and answering, with some
practical implications to the answer, could have a place there.  There's
certainly no rush. All kinds of apparatus would have to be set up to
get to the essay-writing stage, and the essays for a volume like this
range in length widely, so there's a lot of room for negotiation.  But
I take John's first response as a very guarded "maybe," and Steve obviously
has some things to say.  So let's take it from here.
 
I do think we'll omit "cooking criticism," however -- good wine and duck,
notwithstanding.  I was wishing I'd been invited to the dinner, but
perhaps we'll stick with performance here!  Hi, Steve, sorry I missed
you when I was in New York at Christmas.  I've given you the opening section
of the RORD review of the Toronto 25+ play festival.  And had nothing but
good things to say about your Four PP.  I'm getting into performance material
myself this year at the Folger, where I'll be teaching for a few weeks this
summer.  Your use of Cicely Berry is another possibility for a volume like
the MLA.
 
Best to both, hope to keep the controversy stirring,
Love,
Milla Riggio
 

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