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  • Prolegomenon to Gallery Theatre: Staging/Performing Fusing, Shifting, and Contrasting Horizons
  • Ronald E. Shields (bio) and Allen N. Kepke (bio)

I myself manage to hold large numbers of wholly irreconcilable views simultaneously, without the least difficulty. I do not think others are less versatile.

—Salman Rushdie, Shame

The museum, instead of being circumscribed in a geometrical location, is now everywhere, like a dimension of life itself.

—Jean Baudrillard, Simulations

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Figure 1.

Church and Cemetery, collage by Randall Horst. Photo: Ronald E. Shields.

Beginning with the conceptual and performance features of the Speech Choir as introduced in America during the 1930s by Marjorie Gullan, a pioneer in choral speaking, and extending to Readers Theatre, as introduced by Leslie Irene Coger, and Chamber Theatre, as promoted by Robert Breen, the activity of voicing and staging literature has occupied the talents and time of directors, adaptors, teachers, and students for more than half a century. However, in recent years, as the kind of literature adapted and staged varied and as an understanding of audience expanded, some new critical approaches have been applied to the task of literary analysis and performance conceptualization. The disciplinary shift from the traditional concerns of literature in performance (oral interpretation) to text in performance (performance studies) has, among various changes, privileged both the myriad forms of texts as manifestations of culture and self and the critical approaches necessary to explore the phenomena of performance in/as art, life, and culture.

As argued by Paul Gray, an understanding of the postmodern critical perspective can enlarge our sensitivity to the issues of power sharing in the classroom, “and not just the power of the teacher, but that of the text, that of the approach to the text, that of the politics of the performer, and that of the social force of the audience” (347). How can the process and forms of group performance be made self-referential, open to multiple perspectives, and tied to the theoretical objectives of research in performance studies? Gray’s vision of the imperatives of a postmodern pedagogy in the teaching of literature and performance maps some of the potential areas for investigation as we work to reconceptualize group performance within the disciplinary paradigm of performance [End Page 71] studies. Theoretical reframing of traditional forms of group performance and the identification of alternate forms can make contemporary theory experiential for performance studies artists, teachers, and scholars.

Conceptualized as metaphor as well as site for the exploration of multiplicity and intertextuality in life and art, this essay explores what we will call Gallery Theatre—the site-specific, environmental staging of multiple texts within the collage tradition employing multiplicity, intertextuality, and shifting locus of meaning. Whereas Readers Theatre traditionally featured the performers’ imaginative involvement and performance of literature within the restrained conventions and purposes of the public reader and oral interpreter; and Chamber Theatre, through more conventional theatrical means, presented a detailed understanding of the narrative structures of prose fiction through staging/scripting; Gallery Theatre, in its aesthetic structure and theoretical intent, emblematically reveals and interrogates the forces of intertextuality and multiplicity present in life and art. In this essay, via a comparative analysis of our Gallery Theatre production Ohio Town with other production styles including other gallery stagings, we reflect on how group performance as performance studies can reconceptualize the processes of adaptation and direction, performance, and audience engagement beyond the traditional concerns of Readers Theatre and Chamber Theatre. In short, this essay focuses on the theoretical placement of group performance as performance studies by explicating one emblematic product of this artistic and pedagogical vision.

Although many of the features of this style of staging have been practiced in various artistic venues (happenings and performance art, collage art, environmental staging), until recently gallery stagings have not been commonplace in the performance of literature in academic settings. 1 Therefore, we find it useful to identify what we see as a distinct form of group performance (Gallery Theatre) as a means of explicating some of the ways group performance of literature can be reconceptualized to serve the theoretical concerns of performance studies. In their group performance textbook, Marion Kleinau and Janet McHughs, besides...

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