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Reviewed by:
  • Experimental Theatre: Creating and Staging Texts, and: Performance Anxieties: Staging Psychoanalysis, Staging Race
  • Lara E. Dieckmann
Experimental Theatre: Creating and Staging Texts. By Judy E. Yordon. Prospect Heights: Waveland Press, 1997; pp. 356. $19.95 paper.
Performance Anxieties: Staging Psychoanalysis, Staging Race. By Ann Pellegrini. London: Routledge, 1997; pp. 190. $59.95 cloth, $17.95 paper.

While the “theory versus practice” debate has been thoroughly deconstructed in print, this unhelpful binary still applies in the daily operations of a university. Different kinds of pragmatic decisions and definitions—in job postings that advertise for practitioners to teach activity courses or for theorists to teach criticism courses, by students who want to know whether one’s class is research or performance-oriented, and by committees that vote on budget increases for productions or visiting lecturers—regularly assume an either/or position that repeatedly reproduces these reductive categories. Deconstructing this binary in practice depends on finding a nuanced, flexible vocabulary of reconceptualization. Read together, Judy Yordon’s Experimental Theatre and Ann Pellegrini’s Performance Anxieties contribute to the formulation of such a vocabulary.

Experimental Theatre: Creating and Staging Texts investigates the principles of five experimental group performance types: readers theatre, chamber theatre, performance ethnography, conversational analysis, and personal narrative. While some of these forms have been explicated elsewhere, Yordon’s analysis is noteworthy for several reasons. First, she defines and describes each mode within the umbrella of experimental group performance. Second, she does not separate literary from anthropological studies of performance. Synthesizing these disparate practices under the rubric of pedagogical experimentation, Yordon usefully demonstrates the theoretical and practical links among various performance studies methodologies. Finally, Yordon situates the representation of personal narrative, or the autoethnographic text, as a group rather than solo performance form.

Yordon’s book is organized into eight chapters. The first seven sections include a survey of the issues, key terminology, brief examples of performance modes, practical experiments for classroom or rehearsal use, and questions for self-evaluation; the last two are particularly valuable. The conclusion provides a collection of scripts, demonstrating full-length examples of each form featured within the text. Through this structure, Yordon guides the student of experimental theatre through various scripting and staging strategies that attend different performance modes.

It is important to note that experimentation in this text refers to the traditions of performance studies. While appropriate given the scope of Yordon’s work, it may be necessary to contextualize this approach for theatre students. The introduction traces the foundational premises of performance studies as they relate to, and comment on, experimental theatre practice, such as “a sense of the Other” (11). In particular, Yordon defines three types of theatre modes: lyric, narrative, and epic. She utilizes this scheme to describe various performance modes: chamber theatre is primarily epic; ethnographic texts are often narrative in nature, though they may include lyrical aspects. Yordon also outlines theatrical conventions, articulating presentational and representational styles. The definitions of theatre modes in combination with descriptions of theatrical conventions form axes on which students can chart their interest in, and experiments with, group performance. Perhaps Yordon’s strongest contribution is a concrete, yet flexible vocabulary suitable for beginning students of experimental performance.

Curiously however, Yordon devotes two chapters to readers theatre and chamber theatre respectively, separating the scripting and staging of each. While the interest in delineating phases of development is understandable, readers theatre and chamber theatre are perhaps the best known (and most written about) performance modes covered in Yordon’s text. Less familiar are the scripting and staging practices that attend ethnographic studies and conversational analyses. However, these other modes are combined into one chapter, followed by an examination of personal narrative. While most chapters are well-conceived and thoroughly explained, this uneven organization detracts from the [End Page 407] strength of the text as a whole. In teaching this book, I recommend reordering the chapters so that, following the introduction, students read the chapter on personal narrative, thus connecting the literary and ethnographic strands of contemporary performance studies praxis. I advocate spending more time on ethnographic studies and everyday conversation than the text suggests, since these less familiar modes demand an ethical rigor that is...

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