- IntroductionShaw in Performance
SHAW: The Journal of Bernard Shaw Studies (1981–2018) and both of its predecessor journals, The Shaw Bulletin (1950–58) and The Shaw Review (1959–80), have approached the analysis of Shaw's oeuvre primarily although not exclusively through the privileged lens of literary criticism and theory. To be sure, at times, the journals have published some production reviews and frequently published articles that have included bits and pieces of reviews. Critics certainly have their place. But a review encapsulates one person's quick and immediate impression of a production meant to provide a summary evaluation of the whole.
In this issue, your editors have sought articles that explained more of "the arts and sciences" that lie behind the performance(s) under discussion. In that regard, some of the included articles have common elements with the emerging field(s) of performance studies/theory in which an increasing number of universities offer degrees, although they do not share a common curriculum or an agreed-upon number of fields from which they draw information. Currently, this budding discipline looks, like much of the rest of theater, like a "bastard" area of inquiry, drawing from an amalgam of disciples. But the increasing emphasis on scholarship heightens the role of the dramaturg in this new discipline. Your editors applaud those efforts and take as their theme for this issue a clear call for the dramaturg/scholar as a permanent addition at the director's table both in the rehearsal hall and in the theater. Despite a pedigree that emerged in eighteenth-century Germany with Gotthold Ephraim Lessing's works and writings, dramaturgy and dramaturgs remain relatively rare creatures in theatrical settings. [End Page 1] Few academic programs offer degrees in dramaturgy, though that number is increasing. Today there is a wide range of definitions and practices of dramaturgs. But, in general, they undertake two tasks: to forge a story into a structure and form that can be acted, and to guide an audience toward informed receptivity of that performance. Together, these efforts focus on that moment when the words and the stage meet for the first time, a moment that literary criticism often overlooks. For example, actor Brian Bedford, in describing artistic director Robin Phillips's highly acclaimed production of Measure for Measure at the Stratford Festival in 1975, said of Phillips that he encouraged his cast not only to explore the text but actually to excavate it.1 Getting down into the cracks and crevices of a character, to help performers understand every breath that character takes, can provide a dramaturg's raison d'être. But those opportunities are lost as the dramaturg's role is circumscribed to a mere program note.
Introducing the dramaturg early in the production process, conceivably as early as the first preproduction meeting, would not seem out of place to Shaw who was a complete man of the theater in every sense of the word. When he immigrated from Dublin to London in 1876, he had little if any money, and no job awaited him. He supported himself first as a musician and then a drama critic—jobs that allowed him to focus on composers and playwrights, singers and performers, and the practices and practitioners of the theaters that hired them all. He eventually directed many of his own plays in their original productions and, just as meticulously, in revivals as well as domestic and international tours serving as author, director, and dramaturg. His time with the Court Theatre from 1904 to 1907 gave him the opportunity to cast and mold many of his own plays (as a director, cast, and dramaturg might do today) as well as lend the much-needed financial support to the Barker-Vedrenne venture. His dramaturgical ideas influenced a whole generation of young actors and directors, including Lewis Casson and much later Sybil Thorndike with his thorough, to the point of being overly scrupulous, rehearsal methods. Indeed, Shaw's comments to and about his performers and performances are almost as legendary as his plays.
Despite Shaw's deep and informed sense of dramatic structure, many of his plays, especially the endings, can...