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Home :: Archive :: 1993 :: February ::
More on Performance Criticism (Whatever That Is)
Shakespeare Electronic Conference, Vol. 4, No. 77.  Friday, 12 February 1993.
 
(1)     From:   NAOMI LIEBLER <
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        Date:   Friday, 12 Feb 93 17:20:00 EST
        Subj:   RE: SHK 4.0076  Re: Performance Criticism
 
(2)     From:   Kay Stockholder <
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        Date:   Friday, 12 Feb 93 17:29:34 PSTZ
        Subj:   SHK 4.0076  Re: Performance Criticism
 
 
(1)---------------------------------------------------------------------------
From:           NAOMI LIEBLER <
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Date:           Friday, 12 Feb 93 17:20:00 EST
Subject: 4.0076  Re: Performance Criticism
Comment:        RE: SHK 4.0076  Re: Performance Criticism
 
In the recent avalanche of e-mails regarding "performance criticism," it seems
to me that several distinctions that need to be made have been completely
neglected, and it's no wonder that people are couching their comments in an
array of parenthetical phrases like "whatever that means." This confused and
confusing conflation of distinctions has become more apparent with recent
postings from actors and directors who discuss what they do under the
umbrella-heading of "performance criticism," when what they really do is
"performance," while other people who watch those performances do "criticism."
That's one kind of distinction: I've done a bunch of that kind of "criticism"
-- it was called "reviewing," and was published as such (mostly in *Shakespeare
Bulletin* issues over the last 7 years or so). Then there's another kind of
thing that is also referred to as "performance criticism," that is probably
more clearly called "performance theory," and it concerns itself with various
approaches to the activity called "performance." I'm thinking of folks like
Schechner and his disciples, or Susan and David Cole, inter alia.
 
I think what we're all playing around with here is not "criticism" so much as
it is "interpretation," a term we all (justifiably?) shy away from because it
implies something ad hoc and individual and does not carry the clout we'd all
like our personal interpretations to carry. Actors interpret; directors
interpret; reviewers evaluate those interpretations against some idea they
themselves have of the way the "text" (which text?) OUGHT TO BE performed
(i.e., interpreted); and those we mean by the term "critic" do something else
again, and do it so variously that it may defy any attempt to describe it in a
pithy phrase or two. The main distinction that occurs to me is one Peter Brook
inspired long ago (in the 60's) in *The Empty Space.* He said "I can take any
empty space and call it a bare stage," and ever since then, directors and
actors have answered mostly to themselves and their paying patrons and whined
about why their work was not taken as seriously as they wanted it to be taken by
academics and review-writing critics, while at the same time decrying those
same academics and critics because the latter did not participate in
"performances."
 
The point is that actors, directors, academics, and review-writers do different
things in regard to performance. We are not engaged in the same enterprise, nor
in the same discourse, nor does what we do spring from the same sources -- and
that's true even without considering the headachy question of "text." We even
speak and write to different populations: audiences generally, newsletter
readers, editorial boards, publishers' selection committees.
 
So I don't know what y'all mean by "performance criticism: possibilities or
impossibilities thereof." It's difficult to debate the "possibility" of
something whose parameters we have yet to (and may not ever) agree on. And if
you all want to see how truly bizarre this conversation can get, subscribe to
the "PERFORM-L" list operating out of NYU. I did for a while, and then resigned
from the list. Unfortunately (or fortunately) I can't recall the mechanism for
subscribing, but if any SHAKSPERians are interested, I'm sure that someone on
THIS list also can help with access to THAT one. It's probably something like
"Sub PERFORM-L" followed by your name.
 
To be continued?....
 
Cheers,
Naomi C. Liebler
 
(2)----------------------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Kay Stockholder <
 This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it
 >
Date:           Friday, 12 Feb 93 17:29:34 PSTZ
Subject: Re: Performance Criticism
Comment:        SHK 4.0076  Re: Performance Criticism
 
I doubt that there are infinite performance choices. Usually there are two or
three ways in which a charater can be seen, more often two, just as there are
in thinking or writing about a play critically. Once having decided on what
kind of person a character is like, then of course, there are many different
ways to convey that on the stage, through intonation, gesture, props, setting
etc. But those myriad devices will still be in the service of conveying the
what kind of person the director wants the audience to see the character as.
The test of the enactment of any particular scene will be how well it
integrates with the rest of the play, and the test of seeing a character as
this or that kind of person will be how well it intgrates with other
characters, or makes sense of the play as a whole. Once again, the kind of
thinking that goes into these judgments does not differ from the thinking that
goes into writing, agreeing or disagreeing with critical articles.
 
Cheers.
 

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