- Storytelling and Drama: Exploring Narrative Episodes in Plays
Some of the most persistent questions in performance studies involve the interaction between storytellers and the members of their audiences. What do storytellers and audiences do with stories in performances? How do we understand, analyze, and theorize dramatic performances, especially the influences of private memories we can never fully know? How can we understand the intimate and privately felt experiences of storytellers or their interpretations during performances? How do we get at the evocation of emotionally felt memories and experiences of audience members? In his fascinating book, Storytelling and Drama: Exploring Narrative Episodes in Plays, Bowles addresses these questions through linguistic, literary, and oral text analysis of dramatic performances. In doing so, he continues the work of Bakhtin, Goffman, Propp, and Ricoeur, some of the leading scholars of verbal art forms and performance studies. [End Page 359]
Bowles's principal argument revolves around the question of how scholars of dramatic performance studies can recover and convey the "tellability of stories in plays by relating the local interactional behaviour of speakers (making the strange ordinary) to the requirements of the play as a whole (making the ordinary strange)"(5). He argues that we can move beyond solely conversational and linguistic analysis to nonverbal foundations and to the more emotionally complex interplays that orient the audience to the story; we can move from the evoking and eliciting of collective recollections ranging from reminisces laden with nostalgia, to the emotionally charged, privately experienced dreams and fantasies. To do this, he maintains, we must extend beyond the plot of the story and present context that examines how power relations between storytellers and members of the audiences are spontaneously negotiated by complex improvisations. Bowles asserts that improvised exchanges provide the mechanisms for storytellers to defend themselves and guard their speech, necessary because of their potential vulnerability to misunderstand the intended meaning of their performances, and because these narratives may cause audience members to question the "tellability" of their narratives, a tellability at the heart of their dramatic performances and their vulnerable "storied selves."
Because of the potential for possible misunderstanding storytellers articulate guarded and carefully crafted images as they unfold their narrative plots. As such, dramatic performances may not always encode and convey the actual stories, but instead produce negotiated narratives in which the real stories may not be recoverable. However, with careful analysis, we may get to the partial truths to be found in these stories. In chapters where Bowles discusses interactional approaches to storytelling and discourse analysis, he explores how performers and audiences display multiple identities subject to change as they construct and negotiate narratives.
The book is highly theoretical and embellished with intriguing analyses of conversations and dramatic performances. The author's analysis of dreaming and remembering as verbal art forms is fascinating. In it, he invokes the intimate relationship between collective and individual meanings of verbal art. Bowles argues persuasively and powerfully for a dialogical and intersubjective approach to understanding and learning about dramatic performances as the images of dreams and reminiscence involve "a different kind of interactional challenge for the speaker ... whose dramatization takes on a wholly different complexion" (119).
Although the book covers a wide range of themes involving storytelling as dramatic performance, I wish the author had explored the images of stories more broadly than he does here. There are at least two types of images: fantasy images tied to the ancient past, constituting the stable elements of tradition; and realistic images, involving the present for parallelism. The storytellers manipulate these categories of images as they transport the members of their audiences to [End Page 360] fabulous realms and through mythical moments. Although Bowles implicitly explores some of these categories in chapter 6, we never learn how storytellers and audiences interpret and understand fantasy images. What are some of the common patterns and rhythms that emerge from the interaction of these two types of images in dramatic performances? How are some of the unspoken, privately experienced images similar yet different from the verbalized images in the...