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  • Performance Of:On the Postdramatic Mode of Production and Reproducibility
  • George Pate (bio)

In the spring of 2013, my friend and then fellow Ph.D. candidate Adron Farris was directing a production of Charles Mee’s Under Construction. He planned to have a live rock band on stage during the show and asked if I would be his drummer. I accepted. Because of my supporting position in the show, I was able to spend most of my time at rehearsals observing. Throughout the process, he and the actors cut away most of Mee’s script, leaving only a few scenes and monologues. They incorporated works of poetry, several songs (hence the band), a few multimedia segments, original dance and movement pieces, and even some original text developed by the cast. In addition to playing the drums, I provided dramaturgical assistance to the production, talking to the ensemble about the idea of postdramatic theatre as coined by Hans-Thies Lehmann.1 I encouraged them to think about what it meant to decenter the text, to strip it of the authority with which so much of their training had imbued it. And the show was, I think, a good example of postdramatic theatre in which the dramatic work was neither entirely abandoned nor sacredly studied and obeyed. The text was instead an aspect of creating the performance—malleable, divisible, something to be built with rather than upon. The text was the bricks instead of the blueprint. And Mee, by extension, was a brickmaker rather than an architect, providing materials rather than a plan. The process served not as a condemnation nor even as a confrontation with an extant work but as an altogether different kind of engagement with a work than most of these students had experienced, a way of speaking with and back to and through the work made possible in part by Mee’s uncommonly loose standards regarding the rights to his plays. Under Construction may be a Charles Mee work, but the University of Georgia’s spring 2013 production using Under Construction was not a Charles Mee play, not an instantiation of a preexisting work called Under Construction. The production was postdramatic and did not appeal to an author as a guarantor of quality or meaning.

Someone just coming to the production, though, as a student fulfilling a class requirement or as a dedicated theatre patron, would have had to do some work to know that the performance she was seeing was anything other than a production [End Page 9] of a play called Under Construction exactly as written by Charles Mee. The flyers posted around campus touted the show as Under Construction, by Charles Mee. The Department of Theatre and Film Studies’s website listed the show as Under Construction, by Charles Mee. The season brochure: Under Construction, Charles Mee. None of these listings mentioned Adron Farris or any of the cast members. The program did contain a note explaining that the ensemble contributed original material and that the production was not script-centric, but most cues the audience received taught them that they were seeing a dramatic work faithfully realized in performance even if that work was unusual. Our postdramatic process was framed to look like a dramatic production for audience consumption. But, one might object, playwrights’ contracts mandate such credit for all productions. They often do, but that does not lessen the impact that traditionally dominant modes of production had on this process for two reasons. One, such clauses in playwrights’ contracts are themselves agents of continuously reinscribing authorship’s privileged role as the default mode of cultural production. That such a clause might have led to Mee’s receiving primary credit does not render such credit neutral but instead suggests more strongly that such credit functions as a cultural force reproducing the author’s primacy. Two, Mee’s work, as used by Farris and the ensemble, does not require such acknowledgment. Mee explicitly opens his work up for “pillaging,” adaptation, and change with or without credit, though Mee does require companies to secure performance rights if they plan to use his plays “essentially or substantially as [Mee has] composed them.”2 The department’s decision...


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