- Representing the Past: Essays in Performance Historiography
In 1989, Thomas Postlewait and Bruce McConachie published a collection of essays entitled Interpreting the Theatrical Past: Essays in the Historiography of Performance. Despite the similarity of titles, the editors of the current volume, Representing the Past: Essays in Performance Historiography, explain that they “did not conceive of the new collection as a revision or replacement” of the previous book, but rather, “a companion” to it (3). In the book’s “Introduction,” an interesting and sizable narrative in its own right, editors Charlotte M. Canning and Thomas Postlewait explain that instead of offering a random collection of articles on performance historiography, the editors’ aim in the new collection is “to do justice to our developing idea of historiography, especially the fundamental idea of historical representation” (5).
The result is a collection of fifteen essays, each related to one of five themes: archive, time, space, identity, and narrative. Thirteen of the fifteen essays were written specifically for this collection, among them new articles by some of the contributors to the previous collection as well as articles from scholars at foreign institutions such as Stockholm University, Dublin’s Trinity College, University of Munich, University of Calgary, and Royal Holloway University of London.
Under the first heading, “Archive,” Christopher B. Balme’s essay builds on Habermas’s concept of the public sphere and the place of playbills in that context. In her essay, Susan Bennett argues that current historiographic practices have yet to close gaps in our discipline, specifically those involving women. Concluding this section, Claire Sponder uses the archival materials related to the Elizabethan morris dance to illustrate her argument that archives must be treated as inevitably “historically situated” (105).
In the second section, “Time,” Willmar Sauter uses productions of Beaumarchais’s The Marriage of Figaro to illustrate his concept of the Theatrical Event and its components, Theatrical Playing, Playing Culture, Cultural Context, and Contextual Theatricality. In her contribution to the section, “Performative Time,” Tracy C. Davis explores the “challenge of citationality” (145) for the depictions of temporality in the theatre, and the distinction between performative and theatrical time. The third essay, by Aparna Dharwadker, raises issues in performance across a broad expanse of time and geography as she examines the difficulties in creating “a desiderata for Indian theatre historiography outside both indigenist and Orientalist frameworks” (169).
Marvin Carlson addresses the subject of the third section, “Space,” in his essay “Space and Theatre History,” in which he points to the inadequate attention, at least until very recent times, given by theatre historians to spaces in and around [End Page 244] performances and the various spatial codes—aesthetic, semiotic, social, political, geographical, and ethical—that must be taken into account when exploring and accounting for the epistemology of theatre in performance. In the second essay of this section, David Wiles uses three case studies from Greek, English Renaissance, and English eighteenth-century theatre to examine historians’ use of images, particularly the problematic disjunction between pictorial representations of theatrical space and the actual experience of seeing in the theatre. In her essay, “When ‘Everything Counts’,” Shannon Jackson focuses on contemporary performance as she compares different kinds of scholarly approaches to sitedness in performance, highlighting “the disciplinarity and medium-specificity of what space can mean for performance historiography” (251).
The fourth section, “Identity,” consists of three essays offering distinctly different approaches to the subject. Catherine M. Cole’s contribution is a personal account of the challenges she met, as a foreign scholar, while attempting on-site research in Ghana and South Africa through the decades of the 1990s and 2000s. In his essay, “The High Stakes of Identity,” Harry J. Elam, Jr. offers analyses of Lorraine Hansberry’s Follow the Drinking Gourd and Suzan-Lori Parks’s Venus and their receptions, to demonstrate how “narrative and identity can intersect in the representation of blackness” (283). In the concluding essay of this section, Xiaomei Chen explores the vulnerability of identities based on dramatic narratives as she describes...