- Theatre/Performance Historiography: Time, Space, Matter ed. by Rosemarie K. Bank and Michal Kobialka
In the introduction to their new volume on the theory and use of theatre historiography, Theatre/Performance Historiography: Time, Space, Matter, editors Rosemarie K. Bank and Michal Kobialka waste no time and pull no punches in establishing their collection of essays as a direct challenge to what they identify as shortcomings of the seminal 1989 anthology Interpreting the Theatrical Past. [End Page 333] Editors Thomas Postlewait and Bruce McConachie introduced that work, Bank and Kobialka note, “without defining ‘historiography,’” and, subsequently, any use of the term, or its derivatives, “could be perceived as apart from theatre history, cross-disciplinary (if not interdisciplinary), and synonymous with ‘methodology,’ ‘interpretation’ (criticism), and ‘theory’ (and so, with ‘terminology’ per se)” (1). Interpreting the Theatrical Past, Bank and Kobialka argue, was published at the crest of an academic and social sea change—the former in the field of theatre studies, precipitated by the introduction and rapid popularizing of the performance studies model, and the latter exemplified by the fall of the Berlin Wall and the political and social assumptions that crumbled with it. Such shifts “would underscore the problems created in theatre and performance scholarship by the absence of a ‘historiography’ that is not conflated with ‘methodology,’ ‘interpretation,’ and/or ‘theory’” (2). In other words, through failing to specifically define “historiography” at a time of almost unprecedented social and academic change, Interpreting the Theatrical Past was out of date before it was released.
It is no accident that this critique informs the three thematic pillars that organize Theatre/Performance Historiography’s essays: Bank and Kobialka “want to recoup a definition of historiography as the arrangement of the historical record,” they write. “To that end, we called for essays that addressed theatre and performance history in terms of the historiography of time, space and matter” (2). What results is a diverse group of eleven theoretically rigorous essays from a varied collection of academic heavy hitters and exciting young scholars, all of whom model creative and scholarly (re)arrangements of theatrical and performative historical records around concepts of time, space, and matter.
The anthology follows an organizational strategy implied by the theoretical insights. Following Bank and Kobialka’s introduction, “Part I: The Space of Formations” offers four essays, each of which is focused on how historical narratives are arranged by space, time, and matter. “Part II: Temporal Matter” comprises three essays on “the polychronic and multitemporal construction of archival matter” and how such constructions are used to generate “aesthetic memory” (9). “Part III: Material Spaces,” which includes four essays that draw from theories of dialectical materialism, challenges concepts of historical fixity through the piecemeal construction of theatrical history. While these three themes organize the essays, there is considerable productive crossover with each section’s organizing principle. The result is a collection of essays that manages to address a wide swath of topics without sacrificing cohesion, delivering on Bank and Kobialka’s promise to “target a historiography that is the time, the space, and the matter it takes . . . a historiography whose function is to be a mode of thinking, [End Page 334] to explore how time, space and matter mediate historical subjects” (7). The epistemological argument for Bank and Kobialka’s approach to theatre historiography echoes Diana Taylor’s argument that performance is a way of knowing; Bank and Kobialka define historiography as being intrinsically defined by, and composed of, time, space, and matter. Twelve images—frozen time and space given material form—included in the book are confined to two essays: Angenette Spalin and Scott Magelssen’s “Performing Speciation” and Patricia Badir’s “The Design of Theatrical Wonder in Roy Mitchell’s The Chester Mysteries,” and I wish that some of the other contributors would have included images, as well. Gwyneth Shanks’ “The Ground of (Im)Potential,” for example, takes the reader through an intimate exploration of a Shanks family binder of personal stories about the San Francisco earthquake. Much of the...