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  • Performing Heritage: Research, Practice and Innovation in Museum Theatre and Live Interpretation ed. by Anthony Jackson and Jenny Kidd
  • Elizabeth Melton
Performing Heritage: Research, Practice and Innovation in Museum Theatre and Live Interpretation. Anthony Jackson and Jenny Kidd, eds. Manchester: Manchester University Press, 2011. Cloth $90.00. 292 pages.

This polyvocal volume "encourages us to reflect again on the relationships between 'our' pasts and presents, truth and fiction (and the fragility of memory), authority and authorship, subject and object, the personal and collective" (7). Performing Heritage is the result of the Performance, Learning, and Heritage Project with an emphasis on investigating how performance impacts museums and heritage sites in the United Kingdom and across the globe; therefore this work combines the voices of scholars and practitioners from theatre and museum backgrounds in order to critically explore the complexities of heritage performance. The contributors' diverse areas of expertise provide a unique opportunity for dialogue between theatre practitioners and museum curators, many of whom do not always speak the same language. Despite the absence of a consensus concerning the relationship between history and performance among the authors, Performing Heritage provides a useful opportunity for theatre practitioners and scholars to consider the curatorial work required to present performances at the intersections of visual culture, history, and embodiment.

In their introduction, editors Anthony Jackson and Jenny Kidd draw connections across chapters and situate the multifaceted issues tied to heritage within cultural tourism, history, performance, and museum studies. As one consistent point of entry, numerous essays engage directly with Barbara Kirshenblatt-Gimblett's seminal work, Destination Culture: Tourism, Museums, and Heritage, expanding Kirshenblatt-Gimblett's argument that museums create in their production of showing, emphasizing that heritage is presentation as much as preservation. The book is then divided into four sections that encompass several different aspects of heritage performance production and encourage readers to rethink audience reception, dissect "heritage," create heritage through performance, and explore successful productions.

The first section, "Visitors, Audiences, and Events," situates the argument within a museum context, sets the stage for the remaining sections by analyzing the shift that has taken place in museums, and explores the efficacy of performance in museum settings. The authors in this section successfully call for variation in the ways people think about and interact with museums. Thinking interpersonally, Anthony Jackson argues that performances challenge museum visitors to participate, but suggests that more work needs to be done on how audiences are initiated into performances. Alke Gröppel-Wegener examines the ways architectural designs produce awe in audience members, shaping their experiences at the Jewish Museum in Berlin and other heritage sites. As the first section progresses, readers discover the [End Page 192] high expectations for museums to provide an engaging audience experience rather than simply making information available for perusal. As Helena Rees Leahy puts it: "the spectators have now become the spectacle" (31). The authors in this section struggle to address audience reception and repeatedly stress the challenges involved in gauging participants' reactions, reflecting the shift taking place in museum studies and the new drive to adjust the focus from object to visitor/audience.

Section two, "Re-visioning Heritage: Recovery and Interpretation," advances the conversation by delving deeply into the conceptual meaning of heritage. The authors in this section agree heritage is more than a process of preservation and is performatively constructed and maintained through performance. Marilena Alivizatou's essay, "Intangible Heritage and the Performance of Identity," serves as a particularly good representation of the key elements that continually resurface in this section. Alivizatou questions the authenticity of the "fake" performance in museums and concludes, "performance is increasingly adopted as an important component of museum-work" (92). Anna Farthing persuasively argues that in some cases ethics outweigh authenticity and performance offers ways of "approaching subjects that invoke pity and terror" without whitewashing or repeating history's bleakest moments (101). These challenges and explorations of an antitheatrical bias emerge throughout this book; in the end, all of the authors embrace performance as a reasonably useful tool in heritage presentations, even as they remain suspicious of the ways performances intercede in historical representations of culture.

The chapters in the third section, "Re-creating Heritage...


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pp. 192-194
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