The Text Strikes Back: The Dynamics of Performativity Savas Patsalidis & Elizabeth Sakellaridou (eds)

The 20th century theatre has witnessed the gradual decline of verbocentric drama in favour of the image, the performing body and more recently the digital and media technology. Concommitantly the playwright has gradually been superceded as the initiator of a theatrical production by the director, the performer or the composer of a hybrid media spectacle.
The dramatic text --traditionally known as the backbone of good theatre-- has been doubted and writing for the stage has often become a secondary, unskilled drafting of spoken lines or a collage of written fragments devised to fit a performance piece, mostly developed in workshop and rehearsal. From Artaud’s infamous condemnation of playwrights as the reptiles of the theatre, through Barthes’s announcement of the death of the author, to Lehmann’s claim for the state of a postdramatic theatre, theorists have also been working towards the demise of both the written dramatic text and its skilled artistic producer, the playwright.
However, after many years of a theatrical praxis that has denied the artistic value of words in contemporary theatre, there has been a radical reevaluation and repositioning of such absolute distrust and rejection of language from the stage. The impoverishment of theatre’s ability for generating complex and memorable emotions and sophisticated thoughts of lasting value beyond the momentary affective arousal of immediate spectacle has already created a new reverence for skilled artistic writing, especially done for theatrical performance. The power of words to heighten sensory perception and refine mental perception has now been recognized and many contemporary playwrights (Novarina, Crimp, Churchill, Barker, Fornes, Svich, Jesurun, Greenspan, Greenberg, Overmyer, Foreman, Mee, Shawn, Wellman, Jenkin, Kennedy, Susan-Lori Parks, Maxwell, among others) show a renewed ability to use words phenomenologically and reconstitute their performative effectiveness. They show a strong awareness of the changing, hybrid forms of culture and theatre as well as a tremendous adaptability and imaginative initiative for collaborative theatre work of a different, composite nature. Obviously the word is finding a new function in today’s theatre and the playwright is negotiating a new meaningful position in the complex (post)reality of infinite theatrical possibilities, that is infinite possibilities of appearances and disappearances.
With this in mind, we circulated a call for papers inviting contributions tackling various aspects of the issue, like: the role of the playwright in a postdramatic era; the director as auteur; tauthority and auteurism in the theatre; the playwright as director; the word versus the image; new (im)possibilities for collaborative theatre; devising text/adapting text; the body as text; poetic language and the stage; hyperstage /hypertext; the virtual, the corporeal and the symbolic in the art of theatre, and playwriting in the electronic media age. We were surprised as much as we were deeply pleased to receive such an impressive volume of outstanding contributions, especially by younger scholars. From the papers submitted for consideration we have finally chosen for publication fifteen, which we divide into five distinct yet interrelated sections, beginning with what we thought would be the most appropriate way to open this special issue: the authors themselves.  Howard Barker eloquently  argues that only the “quality of the spoken word” can “shield our gaze from Utopia’s dazzling and obliterating light.” Caridad Svich in her own passon-ridden essay talks about a theatre that crosses borders all the time. She claims that “the dramatist writes the score in blood, and the public, the spectator, need be pricked”.
The four papers included in the second section entitled “Repositioning the Dramatic,” provide a useful theoretical and practical survey of the field.  Catherine Bouko’s contribution wonders to what extent flexible paradigms are necessary to study the numerous performances which are characterized by their in-between-ness --between dramatic and postdramatic codes. David Bradby looks at how the production of “textual material” by contemporary French playwrights, has radically changed the physiognomy of the local avant-garde performances. Another essay drawing mostly on French theatre (by Dimitra Kondylaki) discusses the poetics and development of the “Theatre of the Ears” (Bernard-Marie Koltès to Olivier Py and Valère Novarina, among others), and asks  whether contemporary poetic theatre can completely disengage itself from drama. Avra Sideropoulou, develops her ideas along similar lines. She claims that the emergence of a certain type of neo-dramatic writing within the Anglo-Saxon literary canon has come to fill up the need for dramatic language to reveal its performative potential and for new texts for the stage, which dare reinvent theatrical form, in order to capture some of the ambiguity, subversion and indeterminacy contained in post-twentieth-century sensibilities.
In the section “Word and Spectacle: New Configurations,” Virginia Dakari examines the intersection of live and digital theatre, using Beth Herst’s performance Dark Room/Gray Scale/White Noise. Lisa Mendelman focuses her attention on Suzan-Lori Parks’ play Venus. She explores Parks’s staged silences, called “Spells,” and their affective valence between distinct bodies. She concludes that Parks’s Spells allow an interaction that highlights the complex dynamics of love. Vagelis Syropoulos’s essay concentrates on Lloyd Webber’s  postdramatic musical. He traces the developments of his compositional method, offering, at the same time, a sociological reading of his aesthetic that explains the reasons for the composer’s vast popularity in postmodern culture as well as the reasons for his decline.
In the unit “Text as Texture,” Daphna Ben-Shaul turns to the performance Discovering Elijah, A Play About War (first staged in Israel in 2001), in order to show how Ruth Kanner’s postdramatic search has generated unique directorial patterns that, while not precluding performances of written plays, rely on the power of words, mostly through adaptation of non-dramatic texts. Nura Casado Gual’s paper also draws inspiration from a theatrical show, CollAge, that focuses on old age and the inner lives it may generate. It reflects upon the boundaries and potentialities of dramaturgy and performativity when the intricacies of the ageing process in its advanced phase are placed center stage. Dorit Yerushalmi turns her attention to three performance projects of the Tel Aviv University Theater Department, in order to examine the poetics that transform the performers into speaking subjects, and how the creative power of writing non-dramatic texts is revealed through reading.
The last section entitled «Mediascape alterities” opens with Johannes Birringer’s  and Angeles Romero’s essay which first tackles notions of interactivity, wearable space, participatory design, postdramatic textuality and choreography, bilinguality and translation, and political content, and then turns, for substantiation, to their new play, Puntos de Fuga (Vanishing Points). The Wooster Group’s intermedial production of Hamlet is the exclusive focus of Johan Callens contribution. Callens argues that the result of media interplay is the prolongation of Shakespeare’s mourning exercise and dramatization of ever deferred identities into a meditation on the ghostliness of fame and the theater. The last essay of this section comes from Jaime del Val, who claims that there are technological devices of global distribution that disseminate discrete, standard choreographies in bodies, thus contributing to the production and dissemination of standard affects. To support his argument he draws on the work developed by REVERSO in recent years that aims at the radical redefinition of the sensory anatomies that underlie media culture and information society, aiming at the production of a post-anatomical relational body. The volume concludes with a review essay  by Savas Patsalidis and a review section (Lisa Tyler Renaud, Thomas Irmer, Freddy Decreus, Marianne McDonald). 
As editors of the volume we are aware of the fact that this collection cannot provide (and it was not intended to do so) a full coverage of the issues involved. From the very beginning our ambition was to put together a volume that would offer one more tool for the better  understanding of the latest developments in drama, a field that is constantly in a state of crisis and flux, a field that stages, acts and plays theory with so much passion that we can now speak, in addition to the theatre of the eyes and the theatre of the ears, about the theatre of “scenic essays.” As Lehmann reminds us, and these essays make it clear, theatre has become all the more an art of signifying rather than mimetic copying.
Aristotle University, Thessaloniki
 March 2010

Introduction to the special issue of the Journal GRAMMA “The Text Strikes Back: the Dynamics of Performativity,”  17 (2009).


ΣΑΒΒΑΣ ΠΑΤΣΑΛΙΔΗΣ / Savas Patsalidis

ΣΑΒΒΑΣ ΠΑΤΣΑΛΙΔΗΣ / Savas Patsalidis

Critical Stages

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The Journal of the International Association of Theatre Critics

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