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  • Wikipedia: The Free Encyclopedia
  • Charles Campbell (bio)
Wikipedia: The Free Encyclopedia., s.vv. Theatre, Performance, and Performance Studies.

When you type "Theater" into Wikipedia you get redirected to a page titled "Theatre." The substance of the article, "Theatre," is divided into a definition and following exemplary sections that might be seen as slight by those with an exposure to the complexity and range of the field's history and practice. To be fair, until 21 August 2009, the article was tagged with a warning that additional citations were needed for verification.

Alongside all Wikipedia articles—which vary from informative to infantile—there is always a discussion page for each entry where passions can be vented by those with sufficient patience and dedication. On the "Theatre" page, with a few clicks and a great deal of endurance, it is possible to peruse the typed traces of many hours spent in "discussion" on how the topic should be spelled. These lightly veiled arguments are less a result of informed participants debating merits of defensible positions than a little anonymous sparring to exorcise spleen. [End Page 185]

I do not feel that this behind-the-scenes squabbling is a sign of inherent puerility, but neither do I agree with those who suggest it significantly opens the process of knowledge production. It is instead one of the tools that Wikipedia offers. It's significance lies neither in a revelation of ugly squabbles nor in divulging how facts are manufactured, but instead in the mundane fact that it is yet another doorway out.

The worth of Wikipedia is not so much that it is an open-sourced, consensus-based, evolving virtual encyclopedia. The importance of Wikipedia (and the parts of it that deal with the theatrical, the dramatic, the performative, etc.) is that it is part of an open and changing network of opportunities. The content of any particular article is less to the point than how it fits into the network of articles and other information to which it is linked. It is effective to the extent of its relations with other parts of itself, other sources (including both offline and other online sources), and the user's research skills.

It is a mistake to look at Wikipedia as if it were a set of volumes on a shelf. The space it occupies is multidimensional. The longer a Wikipedia article is, the more likely it will be sprinkled with blue text linking to other articles. To me this tends to make up for its sudden and dramatic gaps. "Performance" will lead to an entry beginning with this underwhelming phrase: "A performance, in performing arts, generally comprises an event in which one group of people (the performer or performers) behave in a particular way for another group of people (the audience)." Along with a couple of desultory paragraphs there are links to articles on "Major forms" ("Dance," "Music," "Opera," and "Theatre") and "Minor forms" that include "Circus Arts," "Magic," and "Puppetry." It is easy to become quickly frustrated with the limited hierarchies passed off as information.

But these ineffectual categories are not the end of the line. Instead, each one is a departure from these limits and the whole notion of hierarchy. The limitations of an article, which would likely prevent its publication in a conventional encyclopedia, here signify the special qualities of Wikipedia. These walls are precisely the points that present us with the opportunities to move in new directions. The articles, along with the history and discussion pages and all their links, are opportunities for participation, research, and inspiration, as well as modes of conveying facts. For example, Richard Schechner is linked to "New York University," "Tulane University," "Performance Studies," the "Performing Garage," "experimental theater," "The Wooster Group," and "SoHo," among others. (The link to TDR is still pending.) "Performance studies" includes a warning on its "discussion" tab page that it has been rated as "Stub-Class on the quality scale," and "Low-importance on the importance scale"—which is about as poor as it sounds. The article is somewhat brief and cursory, but there is a link to Gay McAuley's entry at the "Semiotics...


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pp. 185-187
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