Patrice Pavis: "The State of Current Theatre Research"

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1.2 Analysis and Semiology

The stock phrase 'performance analysis' is perhaps not the most suitable term. Analysing means deconstructing, fragmenting or breaking up the performance's continuum into small pieces or tiny units, producing more of a 'butchered' effect or a mise en pièces rather than an overall understanding of the mise en scène through the mise en scène. However, the spectator needs to see and thus describe the totality or at least the ensemble of systems which are already structured and organised into what we now call the mise en scène. In this respect, it does not make sense to speak of an analysis of the mise en scène, since mise en scène is, by definition, a synthetic system of options and organising principles and is not, unlike the final performance, the empirical and concrete object of future analysis. Mise en scène is an abstract and theoretical concept, a more or less homogenous network of choices and constraints which is sometimes called metatext (Pavis, 1985), performance text or testo spettacolare (de Marinis, 1982). The metatext is an unwritten text which encompasses all the various choices the director has consciously or unconsciously made during the rehearsal process, options which are visible in the final product (or which can sometimes be found in the production book which is not, however, identical to the metatext). The performance text is the mise en scène considered not as an empirical object, but as an abstract system, an organised ensemble of signs. These types of texts - in the semiological and etymological sense of fabric/texture and network - provide a key to possible ways of reading performance, but they must not be confused with the empirical object: the performance in all its materiality and concrete situation of enunciation. Performance analysis - whether it be dramaturgical analysis or a mere description of fragments or details - necessarily leads to an understanding of the mise en scène which itself groups and systematically organises the different materials of the empirical object, the performance. In this respect, it seems easier - and perhaps more obvious - to suggest some general hypotheses on the way mise en scène works rather than provide exhaustive so-called objective descriptions of the heterogenous aspects of the performance. But these hypotheses obviously are only worth as much as the person who proposes them, i.e the spectator/analyst in search of a global understanding of the mise en scène. They do not have the apparent objectivity of empirical observation, nor the absolute universality of abstract theory; they oscillate between close yet fragmentary description and general, uncertain theory, between formless signifiers and polysemic signifieds.
Moreover, one should determine for whom the analysis is meant, its aim and in what 'spirit' it is undertaken. It seems to have two main functions: reporting and reconstruction.






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1.5.1997