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Reviewed by:
  • The Wooster Group Work Book
  • Jennifer Parker-Starbuck
Andrew Quick. The Wooster Group Work Book. New York and London: Routledge, 2007. Pp. 287, illustrated. $140.00 (Hb); $38.00 (Pb).

Much like a Wooster Group production itself, The Wooster Group Work Book is made up of multiple layers, stories, and documents. It also explores the archive and the process of documenting performance, focusing on the Group's source materials for, voices from, and memories of five later productions. In his attempt to "locate and juxtapose the multiple languages (textual, physical, aural, technological, anecdotal, filmic, televisual and so forth) of the Wooster Group's practice and history" (11), Andrew Quick allows readers unprecedented access to the Group and its archive, resulting in a deeper historical understanding of their work.

As only the second full-length monograph dedicated to the Wooster Group's work, The Wooster Group Work Book starts where David Savran's seminal Breaking the Rules leaves off, beginning with Frank Dell's The Temptation of St. Anthony, working through Brace Up!, Fish Story, and House/Lights, and ending with To You, the Birdie! (Phèdre).1 The intentional omission of the Group's productions of O'Neill's Emperor Jones and Hairy Ape makes sense given the logic and space constraints of the book; these productions, often considered more straightforward, may have been identified as having a less obvious intertextuality. However, their exclusion may frustrate those theatregoers whose first exposure to the Group was provided by these popular productions. (Each received widespread critical notice: Hairy Ape was the Group's first production on Broadway, and Emperor Jones brought Kate Valk to the attention of a wider public, since critics so lauded her performance as the title character.)

The book is divided into sections for each of the five productions, which are presented through a variety of archival modes. For example, the section on St. Anthony contains director's notes, scenarios, transcripts, story boards, an actor's performance score, and video stills, while that on Fish Story contains a full score, meticulously adapted by Group archivist Clay Hapaz, marking the various "texts" within the piece: the last pages of Chekhov's Three Sisters, directions for the dances inspired by a Japanese Geinin troupe documentary, sound effects, and video shots. The House/Lights section is the most actor-focused, providing Valk's script notes as well as detailed actor scores for each character, all invaluable resources for actors seeking to document devised performance. These scores reveal much about the actors' individual interpretations of movement: contrast, for example, Suzzy Roche's note to "make soft curve to bending shot at the green line" (189); Ari Fliakos's reminder to "mimic Roy's position at mike, do two 'horse shit shuffles"' (196); and, in Valk's hand-written score, the many edits and deletions of the palimpsest that records her process. The wide range of documentation throughout these five sections is one of the key successes of the [End Page 427] book, which serves not only to re-animate the productions for those who have seen them but also to point both to the complexities of documenting and to the multiplicity of layers captured through the Group's process.

The inclusion of then assistant director Marianne Weems's Brace-Up rehearsal notebooks and performance score is not only an added bonus for scholars and fans of her company, the Builders Association, but it also demonstrates the Wooster Group's legacy in shaping contemporary American theatre. Additional documents from associates – such as Birdie! assistant director Richard Kimmel (Cannon Company and director of New York's The Box) and popular actress Frances McDormand – display the Group's wide web of connections. The formally typed rehearsal logs and stage-manager rehearsal reports in this final section also point out the increasing professionalization that characterized the company's development.

The book's success is galvanized by the many interviews with LeCompte and Valk that Quick intersperses thematically. LeCompte foregrounds the Group's collaborative process, stating, "I wouldn't be doing all this if people didn't say 'I want to do this.' I would be drawing alone in a studio" (268); however, the interviews showcase...


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pp. 427-429
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