- A Note from the Editor
I remember well the anxiety I felt eight years ago while traveling alone across several oceans and time zones to reach Salzburg, Austria. As a fellow of the Salzburg Seminar,1 I was to participate in a weeklong workshop titled “American Drama: Text and Performance,” along with a diverse group of educators from Hungary, Slovakia, Austria, Philippines, Romania, Netherlands, Bulgaria, Spain, Germany, Czech Republic, Ukraine, China, Poland, Turkey, and the United States. Our mission for the week was to learn how to utilize plays as performance texts in the classroom. During that week (11–18 March 2000) an overwhelming sense of fascination and awe took hold of me as I encountered a host of novel customs, languages, dress, food, rituals, and ideas. Whether during interactions that took place in small group projects, during walking tours around the lovely grounds of Schloss Leopoldskron, or during polite conversations over dinner, I was in a euphoric state of culture shock. Although this condition often brings with it confusion and disorientation when faced with a large number of new and unfamiliar people and situations, I experienced none of that. The culture shock that was brought on by my Austrian adventure, for me actually became a source of motivation, introspection, and change. By the end of the seven-day workshop, the novelty of multiculturalism and diversity wore off and a community was born.
To some extent, each of the six essays assembled in this issue of Theatre Topics interprets culture shock much as I viewed it during my experiences in Salzburg: not as cause for confusion and disorientation, but as an opportunity for motivation, introspection, and change. Cynthia Allan’s lead essay, “Scaring Them Out of Their Seats: Theatre and Culture Shock,” argues that theatre is too often a turnoff to undergraduate students not accustomed to sudden and unceremonious exposure to theatrical performances outside of their own cultural experiences. She calls upon theatre faculty members to take more proactive approaches to embrace the first-year student, to be sensitive to their symptoms of culture shock, to develop strategies that demystify the creative process, and to promote theatre as an integral, not isolated, part of campus culture. Jeffrey Stephens’s “Evgeny Marchelli’s Key to Chekhov: Rejecting Chekhovianism in the Provinces” offers an antidote to cultural shock by pressing for “new readings of Chekhov on the American stage that allow his drama to speak to audiences in exciting ways.” He challenges directors, designers, and dramaturges to innovate performances of Chekhov’s plays in order to seek new ways to make their performances “continue to breathe” and have relevance to contemporary American audiences. Much like Stephens, Cynthia Gendrich and Woodrow Hood argue that only by collapsing cultural boundaries can one fully experience theatrical forms that are not indigenous to one’s native culture. In their essay “Another Terrain: Theatre Nohgaku’s Pine Barrens,” they present a strong case for how a skillful live performance of the Japanese theatrical forms Noh and kyogen (especially in one’s native language) can produce a powerful experience for the spectator.
Several essays in this issue demonstrate how both the classroom and the stage can become sites of motivation, introspection, and change—what is tantamount to thinking outside of the box. After realizing that his approach to teaching design was essentially obsolete, Richard Isackes set out to reassess much of what, for quite some time, he believed to be true about teaching scene design. In the process of a brutally honest self-study, he was forced to discount much of what he previously believed about the subject, and was compelled to devise more effective ways of broaching it in the classroom. His essay, “On the Pedagogy of Theatre Stage Design: A Critique of Practice,” is an engaging account of the positive results his epiphany brought to the classroom thereafter. In a unique demonstration of the benefits of interactive, experimental theatre, Kirsty Johnston reveals how the imaginations of a playwright and director, along with a willing audience, can transform the theatre space into an educating and healing space. In her essay “Performing an Asylum: Tripping Through Time and La Pazzia,” Johnston considers two theatrical performances...