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Theatres, Spaces, Environments: Eighteen Projects. Brooks McNamara, JerryRojo, and Richard Schechner. Drama Book Specialists, 181 pp., $22.50 (cloth). Carol Rosen McNamara, Rojo, and Schechner: together, those names sound like a headlining act in the vaudeville of the avant-garde. Schechner, the director/ shaman/ showman, is backed up by Rojo and McNamara, scenographers/ environmental designers. With more than one third of'this book devoted to work done by the protean Performance Group at the Garage, Theatres, Spaces, Environments:Eighteen Projects may be read as a family album of sorts, an entertaining scrapbook of three intersecting careers, reaching as far back as the New Orleans Group 1967 production of Victims of Duty and up to the 1975 Shaliko Company production of Ghosts. What this is, then, is an environmental theatre coffee table book. Complete with photos, sketches, diagrams, blueprints, plans, and dreams, it manages what seems to be an unmanageable task: as it chronicles spatial experiments, it enables readers to imagine productions concerned with experiential textures and kinetic processes, productions for which verbal texts would be poor artifacts. Like that extraordinary Dionysus in '69 book (now, sadly, out of print), a crazyquilt of perspectives in which commentaries by performers, director's notes, and excerpts from Euripides' text of The Bacchae took turns at framing grainy stills of ritualized action, this book performs. In its concept and organization, however, this book goes way beyond the published version of Dionysus in '69. It faces the problem of remembering - or re-imagining - environmental theatre. How, after all, can you preserve the kind of contemporary theatre that is disposable, self-destructing, a theatre that recycles materials in what Schechner calls "cannibalized" space? Contemporary theatre, particularly the tradition in which Schechner, Rojo, and McNamara work, defies traditional writing. Even books such as the Living Theatre's ParadiseNow, Arthur Sainer's Radical Theatre Notebook, or Schechner's EnvironmentalTheatre- necessary and useful records of lost, impossible moments, historical documents, and theory - can ( unlike the script of a play by Ibsen, or even by Shepard) give only a partial view. Filming such events is too easy an answer. Even the purest films of contemporary theatre (and the Lincoln Center Library of the Performing Arts has a remarkable collection) cannot accurately record performance. As Schechner phrases it, in this kind of theatre: The principles are concentric rather than sequential. In orthodox theatre the writer sets up a frame, and everything thereafter must be done within that frame. Then the director sets up a frame, smaller than the writer's because it is based on the writer's, and everything must also be done within that frame. The designer sets up another frame which fits within the director's and then the actor does the same, so that each of the frames are reductions of previous frames. Environmental theatre superimposes frames on each other, and all the frames 109 are flexible, so that if, at the last moment, the performer finds something that ought to change the concept of the director, the designer , the author-then changes can happen because the frames are not sequential but concentric with the largest frame being the loosest. The audience makes the largest frame, and changes in audience effect all other frames. What this remark shows, aside from Schechner's verbal agility in translating his heterodox, cumulative vision (with nods here, for instance, in the directions of Michael Kirby and Erving Goffman) into catchphrases, is his ability to articulate a fundamentally non-verbal process. "In the various photographs of the environments we're showing only moments," he says, "just as if we were to take snapshots of your life." Even more is needed than the video-culture inspired zap-pop format of Life-Show, the vivid, energetic, experiential introduction to theatre written by John Lahr and Jonathan Price to clarify what Henri Cartier-Bresson would call "decisive moments," instances when spots of time deserve to be photographed , framed, when reality takes on a shape, a form, a lucid order. To grapple with what Peter Brook calls the "essence" or "silhouette" of theatre, what Artaud called the "cruelty" of theatre, its formal truth-to grapple with those rhythms, forces, and frames that shape our response to...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1537-9477
Print ISSN
1520-281X
Pages
pp. 109-113
Launched on MUSE
2018-01-03
Open Access
No
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