Patrice Pavis: "The State of Current Theatre Research"


However, this insistence on the material side of signs is always carried out in the structured framework of the organised and channelled event which is the performance, i.e according to a certain vectorisation. Semiotisation and desemiotisation are thus both antithetical and complementary operations of a work of art and an aesthetic experience of it. We must bear this in mind when we evaluate methods of performance analysis. Hence, the double criteria when describing performance: we must, on the one hand, return to the 'body' of the performance, but on the other hand, distance oneself from it and draw the outline and itinerary of the performance from the point of view of the desiring subject. Such is the current state of analysis: the progress it has made is remarkable, but new developments are still necessary. Semiology must take advantage of this sceptical age into which it is drawn by its post-modern demon. Semiologists are still faced with many methodological problems and questions which have not yet been answered; they will be systematically outlined here.

2. Unanswered Questions

However annoying these limits and unanswered questions may be, they reflect the difficulty of adapting analysis for performances which are constantly changing, defying all interpretation and demanding new strategies.

2.1. Experience or Reconstruction?

Is the average spectator's experience of seeing a performance only once sufficient for analysis? In principle, yes, and this unique experience should be the golden rule when examining a performance, itself unique and organised in terms of the ephemeral and the singular. However, the temptation to cheat is great - to use, for example, the experience of a spectator who has seen the performance more than once (which radically changes the normal position of the receptor) and to artificially reconstruct the performance using substituted, indeed left over material from the theatre act: photos, audio-visual recordings, statements preceding the performance (notes, preliminary plans and proposals, artists' statements of their intentions or interviews following the premiere). It is essential to distinguish carefully between the artists' intentions or statements on the one hand, and on the other, the artistic result, the final product viewed by the audience which should be our sole focus. We must make a clear distinction between (1) statements of intention (documents outlining the project, a commentary, an interview etc.), (2) the paratext (or the ensemble of texts which are written around the actual dramatic text, notably stage directions), (3) mechanical recordings of the performance (soundtrack, images, videos or films), (4) the technical notation carried out after the performance, (5) the semiological analysis of signs and the network of vectors, an hermeneutic interpretation of the work, and the critical discourse which follows the performance.
The kind of analysis desired here does not of course exclude the historical reconstruction of past performances and all the disciplines which that involves, but it is based above all on the unique and individual experience of the spectator watching the stage event, an experience which theory endeavours to generalise in a method of analysis.

2.2. Segmentation

Segmentation remains the main issue for performance analysis. If it is agreed that nothing would be gained by producing an 'atomization' of the performance into minimal units, one does not yet know what the dimension of the macro-units of the performance should be. Unfortunately, performance is still often segmented according to the text (according to its standard division into lines, scenes and acts); it is rarely based on observable units in the performance. A text-based segmentation, however, does not necessarily correspond to the dynamics of the performance. The latter has its own rhetorical framework, its breaking points and pauses which provide the only adequate reference points for any segmentation of the performance.

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AS/SA Nº3, Article 1 : Page 10 / 16

© 1997, AS/SA

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