- On Directing and Dramaturgy: Burning the House by Eugenio Barba
Even though “burning the house” — announced by the subtitle of On Directing and Dramaturgy — cannot be applauded as a metaphorical gesture that attempts to strike against the foundations of Barba’s poetics, we are presented with a book that has the potential to inflame discussion: on dramaturgy, however, not directing. Far from so-called literary management, dramaturgy is here apprehended as a complex way of seeing and doing theatre that is not simply embedded in the authorial and executive capacity of directing or reduced to the reflective procedures of criticism. Barba’s argument invites us to look upon directing and criticism as an offspring of dramaturgy. Dramaturgy saturates the whole dispositif of theatre, its textual fabric, performative flow, institutional organization, and organic material. Not surprisingly then, this book that claims to “report” the author’s “principles as a director” (xv) reaches out for dramaturgy to bridge the deficiencies of directing in coping with the complexity of theatrical performance.
Barba’s discourse ranges from the common moments of puzzlement when tackling dramaturgy — “Dramaturgy became vague as soon as I tried to define it” (9) — to its seemingly pleonastic yet key definition: “I defined ‘dramaturgy’ according to its etymology: drama-ergon, the work of the actions. Or rather: the way the actor’s actions enter into work” (8). This twofold coding marks both the rhetoric of Barba’s writing and the dramaturgic structure of the book. These swing between narrating autobiographical, Stanislavskian moments of his “life in art” as a director, and reflections that attempt to define the aspects and “action” of dramaturgy in the zones where rigorous theoretical thinking mainly exercises restraint. What might lead to confusion are pages where a privy perspective and even lyrical sentiment intermix with theoretical insights notably intended to attain a certain level of analytically operable knowledge. Although the hybridity is yet another anticipated peculiarity of Barba’s writing, this particular book heightens the tenor of self-reflection and self-narrative, therefore deepening rupture within its own textual body, whether its structure or style or intention. And, as our reading voyage approaches the book’s Epilogue and then even the Envoi, some might feel stranded on Barba’s “floating island” of highly metaphorical poetry and nostalgic prose. For that matter: “It is undeniably a subjective book” (xv).
Barba’s writing, however, does not need this review to provide justification for its particular genre, style, intention, structure, or even dramaturgy. In her article “Towards a Theory of Fluid Groupings” (1994) Josette Féral classified the theories of theatre in two main categories: theories of production and analytical theories. The latter are formed in two ways: inductively and deductively. As an example of inductive theories, which start from “the observation of many practices in order to identify constants, to lay the foundations of a methodology and to build up explanatory system[s]” (70), Féral has listed precisely Barba’s “theatre anthropology.” [End Page 180] On Directing and Dramaturgy, however, leans more toward the theories of production, which “try to furnish the practitioner with tools or methods that would enable him to develop his art” (72). To be fair, it is a matter of the reader’s background, expectations, and eventual decision to assess this theoretical inclination as a discursive feature that reduces or enhances the relevance of Barba’s new book in discussions on or practices of dramaturgy and directing, with respect to or regardless of the author’s own work in theatre as a director-dramaturge.
If she is not particularly interested in the self-portrait of an artist-emeritus eager to archive even the moment of writing the final lines of his book on “an almost empty” Caribbean beach (213), a benevolent reader might ignore the memoirist sections and give consideration to — in my view — Barba’s most intriguing proposition: that we should not operate with only one but a “plurality of dramaturgies” (8). They are conceived as “levels of organization” whose “different and...