- The Oxford Encyclopedia of Theatre and Performance
The Oxford Encyclopedia of Theatre and Performance departs significantly from the organizational schema and greatly extends the scope of previous theatre guides and companions. The result is an extremely thorough two-volume set of entirely new material that invites the theatre scholar to not only consider what "goes on and has gone on in playhouses" (as stated in the preface) but also the cultural context of a much broader spectrum of performance. Editor Dennis Kennedy has put particular emphasis on concepts, theories, styles, and movements, eschewing categories such as national traditions and geographic regions that are often so large as to be unwieldy, implicitly posit a false unity of style, or prompt progressivist assumptions. This new emphasis makes international trends and influences more plainly visible, and this is evident in extensive entries on phenomena such as "Diaspora" and "Interculturalism" as well as traditional period and style designations such as "Neoclassicism" and "Romanticism"—all four of which are absent from The Cambridge Guide to Theatre, second edition (1995), and the now out-of-print Oxford Companion to Theatre, fourth edition (1983). [End Page 194]
Perhaps the encyclopedia's most striking departure is its exclusion of entries on national traditions on the grounds that such entries are "inevitably shallow and over simplified." Instead, Kennedy has chosen to provide entries on the history of theatre centers and to include a great number of biographies. So whereas readers will not find an entry on Germany, they will find substantial entries on: Berlin and Munich; German venues, companies, movements, and festivals such as the Berliner Ensemble, Theatertreffen, Meiningen Players, Volksbühn, Hamburg National Theatre, and Weimar Court Theatre; as well as over 210 biographies of practitioners from German-speaking lands. The inclusion of so many biographies (45 percent of the text, according to the preface) has required that most be quite short, many under 100 words. However, they are all thoroughly cross-referenced.
A 21-page thematic table of contents beginning the encyclopedia aids the researcher who is not already familiar with the movements and practitioners that might otherwise have been collected under a single national entry. A student interested in 18th-century theatre in the Germanic territories but unfamiliar with the Ackermann troupe or Lessing could find both entries by searching the thematic table of contents under Biography, Western Europe, 1700-1900, German-speaking lands. However, Ackermann and Lessing are two of eighty-four names listed alphabetically in this subheading. The student cannot easily connect the figures most commonly emphasized in the histories of national theatres. To my mind, however, this is more than offset by the fact that the student researching theatre and diaspora enjoys a clear entry discussing practitioners such as Abraham Goldfaden, Dion Boucicault, Amiri Baraka, and Luis Valdez, among others.
While using the thematic table of contents to find specific practitioners takes some work, the table is an extremely useful guide to the larger concepts that Kennedy uses to map past and present performance. The table begins with Concepts and Theories and through various subheadings directs the reader to the range of critical perspectives shaping the study of performance (from historicism and myth studies to queer theory and postcolonial studies), genres and forms from around the world (from operetta to Native American Performance), as well as the terminology used by practitioners and theorists (from catharsis to rasa). Under the second heading, Style and Movements, one finds all the key words associated with traditional histories of European theatre, as well as less regularly covered phenomena (such as Tom Shows and theatre-in-education). Almost half of the entries refer to performance traditions outside of Europe and the Americas. While many of these are short (relative to an entry like Early Modern Period in Europe), the great range of non-Western period and style terms is evidence of the encyclopedia's global aspirations. The same is true of the fourth heading—Cities, Regions, Linguistic Traditions—which includes a vast array of populations absent from previous...