Patrice Pavis: "The State of Current Theatre Research"


Reconstruction-analysis is particularly concerned with the study of the performance's context and the nature and extent of this context or contexts. This context might be the place where a performance is held, the audience on a given night including that audience's expectations and socio- cultural composition, but it might also be the place and concrete circumstances of the performance itself. Obviously it is not easy to restore these contexts and the modes of behaviour which created them. Richard Schechner's notion of "restoration of behavior" allows us to imagine and restore 'the actors' behaviour or that of all artists involved in various performances. But these contexts and modes of behaviour are extremely variable, potentially infinite and absolutely immeasurable: "Even if human memory can be improved upon by the use of film or exact notation, a performance always happens within several contexts, and these are not easily controllable. The social circumstances change" (Schechner, 1985: 43) These contexts, considered either as restored behaviour, socio-cultural codes or social context (Pavis, 1980: 250-94), place us in a semiological or, more precisely, a socio-semiotic perspective. This is obviously not the only existing methodology for performance analysis, but it offers a whole ensemble of techniques which we ought to consider. Rather than give a regimented exposé of all these theories (already studied, in any case, by Kowzan, Übersfeld, de Marinis, and Elam), an overall review shall be given here if only to measure what we have acquired and learned from semiology, even if it is all rather obvious now. The early stages of semiology shall be evaluated, including its debits and debates, in the hope of moving beyond some dogmatic prejudices, prejudices which we shall mention here so as not to succumb to them a second time.

1.4. Semiology: Rise and Crisis

Since the sixties and seventies, the structural analysis of the narrative has been applied to various literary and artistic fields - fairy tales, comic strips, film, the plastic arts, etc. Theatre, as text and performance, has not escaped such systematic analysis and the very first theories sought to test the hypothesis of a specific theatre sign (Kowzan, 1992). The semiology of literature and theatre takes the stage as a means of moving beyond the impressionism and relativism of so-called traditional criticism which is more interested in the text rather than performance. In reaction to the somewhat vague discourse of dramatic criticism, it sometimes believed that it had found a universal model in cybernetics and the theory of information: but such a model often remains slave to a linear model of communication. It leads to an extremely naive conception of theatre as a piece of information which is coded by the director, to be then decoded by the spectator, as if it were a mere question of transmitting a message with as little loss as possible! Semiology is not a 'code-sharing' between author-actor-director and the spectator who is then expected to mechanically decode those signs directed his way. This caricature promptly disappeared in later analyses inspired by semiology, despite a persistent and fairly malicious tendency to attribute it to semiology by constructing a semiology of a particularly narrow and limited sort.

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AS/SA Nº3, Article 1 : Page 4 / 16

© 1997, AS/SA

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