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Reviewed by:
  • The Performance Studies Reader
  • Adam D. Frank
The Performance Studies Reader, 2nd ed. Ed. Henry Bial . (London: Routledge, 2007. Pp. xxiv + 394, contributors, acknowledgments, introduction, index.)

For those who have already found the first edition of Henry Bial's The Performance Studies Reader a useful tool for teaching and research, the expanded second edition will be even more useful. For those who have been looking for a comprehensive collection of readings in performance studies but had not yet encountered Bial's first edition, this volume will fit the bill with relatively few gaps to fill in. In the second edition, Bial has added eight new chapters to an already eclectic collection of works from the founding mothers and fathers of the discipline—ones both [End Page 225] witting (Richard Schechner, Barbara Kirshenblatt-Gimblett, Victor Turner) and unwitting (Lee Strasberg, Bertolt Brecht, Gregory Bateson). These are complemented and enriched by relatively new, neglected, or reexamined voices (Alyda Faber, Jill Lane, Catherine Bell). As with Bial's first edition, this one is synched section by section with Richard Schechner's Performance Studies: An Introduction. Bial is quick to point out, though, that The Performance Studies Reader is very much a book that can stand on its own and provide "a qualitatively different reading and learning experience" (p. 3) from Schechner's books. Bial calls his approach "street level" versus Schechner's "coherent guide" to the field (p. 3). Having used Schechner's text in an introductory-level course without the benefit of Bial's reader, I can attest to the need for the sort of well-conceived collection that The Performance Studies Reader offers.

Bial's introduction is short, and it acknowledges the inherent difficulties of creating a reader that attempts to be all things to all performance studies scholars. The author makes the case that such a volume should be inclusive rather than exclusive, but he readily admits that not every relevant reading from the diverse community of "practitioners and critics, anthropologists, folklorists, sociologists, and cultural theorists" can or will be adequately covered in a single collection (p. 2). Rather, he seeks to find junctures, overlaps, and moments of hybridity that both support Schechner's choices and stretch them.

Bial stops short, however, of providing definitions, since part 1 (titled "What is Performance Studies?") pulls together a set of essays devoted to that question. He begins with Schechner's important article "Performance Studies: The Broad Spectrum Approach," which originally appeared in The Drama Review (32[3], 1988). The chapters that follow in part 1 each address the issues of definition from a different perspective. W. B. Worthen compares the notion of text as performance with that of text versus performance. Jon McKenzie discusses performance and ritual, here understood in terms of the metamodel of the "luminal norm" (p. 29). Shannon Jackson examines the field's "disciplinary genealogies," Barbara Kirshenblatt-Gimblett explores its contemporary institutional perspectives and concerns, and John Bell focuses on the shifting and shifted definitions of performance after 9/11. Among these, Bell's is the newest, the shortest in the section, and the most bitingly perceptive, turning the composer Karlheinz Stockhausen's infamous post-9/11 public gaffe comparing the terrorist attacks to acts or works of art into a means for retooling fundamental conceptual frameworks of "performance," "art," and "theatre."

In the second edition, there are new essays in both part 2 ("What is Performance?") and part 3 ("Ritual"): respectively, Peggy Phelan's "Marina Abramović: Witnessing Shadows" and Jack Santino's "Performative Commemoratives, the Personal, and the Public: Spontaneous Shrines, Emergent Ritual." As in Schechner's book, the authors in part 2 (Erving Goffman, Clifford Geertz, Marvin Carlson, Neal Gabler, and Peggy Phelan) and part 3 (Victor Turner, Catherine Bell, Michael Atwood Mason, Alyda Faber, and Jack Santino) combine a good deal of classic anthropology and sociolinguistics with theater studies to expand definitions of performance and ritual—stretching it almost to the breaking point. These are the foundational texts that every student in an upper-level undergraduate class or introductory graduate performance studies seminar should read. Neal Gabler's "Life: The Movie" argues that life itself has become a kind of "entertainment medium" (p. 77...


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