- Imagined Theatres: Writing for a Theoretical Stage ed. by Daniel Sack
Sometimes, sitting in a darkened auditorium, I would drift into a reverie, wondering what the director or designer or playwright or actor would do if they could do anything. Or, when at an academic conference listening to scholars present their research, I would sense some underlying impulse at the root of their inquiry. I would dream of interrupting, asking to hear of their imagined theatres.(8)
So begins Daniel Sack’s introduction to his expansive project, which seeks to collect and document such daydreams about the potentialities of theatre. The resulting short texts are as diverse and vibrant as the hundreds of artists, educators, and researchers who have responded to Sack’s call. A handful read like conventional dramas, but many others adopt the form of poetry, short story, memoir, editorial, theoretical essay, and, at least in one case (#24), the grant proposal. Each of these 121 imagined theatres, numbered and ordered alphabetically by title, is set on a two-page spread in the anthology Imagined Theatres: Writing for a Theoretical Stage. The volume, which won the 2018 Excellence in Editing Award from the Association for Theatre in Higher Education, also kicks off a digital journal (imaginedtheatres.com) with an open submission policy and themed issues curated by guest editors.
Many readers will be familiar with Sack’s initial impulse; teachers (including myself) often encourage this kind of thinking when they have their students write their own manifestos modeled on the historical avantgarde or collaborate on a season proposal. The difference is that these fantasies are framed by Sack’s theoretical approach to potentiality. Sack writes in the introduction that each piece “is a thought experiment about the expectations of the theatre, a parable or paradox that touches upon its nature and elaborates on the many ways in which that nature might be conceived” (2). As such, Imagined Theatres continues and realizes the thematics explored in Sack’s earlier book, After Live: Possibility, Potentiality, and the Future of Performance (2015), crowdsourcing ideas from countless talented artist-scholars. Sack has also devised an ingenious platform to stimulate critical discourse on these reveries. Each imagined theatre is followed by what Sack calls a “gloss,” a more theoretical response by the creator herself or another contributor asked to respond to the piece. Thus, every spread in the book rehearses a dialogue between theatre and theory — often demonstrating that the two are indistinguishable.
Each piece is a self-contained theatrical world, but the book also invites readers to traverse among the stars — the index, grouping pieces by common subject or theme, is renamed “Constellations.” Of the infinite pathways that one could follow, I will recount two from my own experience reading the volume to illustrate the ways in which Imagined Theatres brings fresh perspectives to familiar questions in theatre and performance. [End Page 173]
While many of the pieces essay a utopian futurity, some choose to restage the past in a more beautiful light to mourn loss and imagine a better present. (Both approaches are equally indebted to Jill Dolan and José Esteban Muñoz.) Cherríe Moraga’s Ancestor Call — Guerrero (#6) dwells on Gonzalo Guerrero, the 16th-century Spanish sailor who became “the first recorded father of American mestizos not conceived in rape,” via the writings of her dead friend, the poet Alfred Arteaga (22). Broderick Chow’s A Chinese Actor’s Late Style (#14) envisions Lee Jun-Fan, also known as Bruce Lee, playing Macbeth in his final performance before retirement. In this alternate history, Lee quit working in Hollywood (instead of dying at the age of 32) but returned to stage acting in his late years, starring in productions of Samuel Beckett, Tennessee Williams, and William Shakespeare. Chow explains in his own gloss that he wants to “put pressure on the idea of ‘good acting’ and its intersection with race, class, gender, and nation” (39). His lucid description of Lee’s imagined physicality, the subtle movement of his...