My Academic Interests In Dramatic Text And Performance

My conservatoire training in directing has allowed me to engage holistically with dramatic texts and hone a ‘total’ theatrical language which amalgamates multiple semiotic systems. Apart from instilling in me an understanding of the inseparability of dramatic text and performance, my studies have enriched my dramaturgical and literary analytical toolkit immeasurably. While highly vocational in nature, the course, structurally, did not allow for me to pursue my academic interests to their fullest extent. Although I have continually sought reframe my personal theatrical output as ideas embodied in human action, I realized that my interests were predominantly academic.

In adapting a series of fairytales for the stage, I re-encountered Carter’s The Bloody Chamber, in which she reconfigures female myths and subverts the conventions of a genre which reinforces male visions of a social order. Carter’s exploration of female self-alienation led me to examine socio-political contexts of gender construction and the gendering of language. In A Room of One’s Own Woolf points to the ‘male sentence, ’ alluding to the inadequacy of dominant, male engendered language structures, which inhibit female self-expression. Woolf’s provocatively impressionistic essay bears resemblances to Gilman’s “Yellow Wallpaper, ” where the narrating-I subverts male patterns of thought, codified in novelistic conventions, giving expression to her suffering in a prosaic style marked by fragmentation and discontinuity. Ultimately, she seems to find solace and freedom only in silence, finding no language of her own.

Encountering the various essentializing attempts to locate the phenomenon of “female language, ” which seems diametrically opposed to the rigidly constructed, subject-predicate sentences of, say, Hemingway’s terse, minimalist prose – itself riddled with anxious masculinity – I returned to Woolf’s argument for literary androgyny. Finding interest in the ontological notion of identity in literary activity, I staged Le Guin’s grotesquely matter-of-fact ‘performance piece’ ‘Introducing Myself, ’ and Genet’s The Balcony, where identity becomes a contingent a stock of social functions. Concurrently, I encountered Foucault, who argues that oppression is installed into the discursive principles of identity-construction and Butler’s theories of performativity. Language therefore becomes a social text which precedes the individual, and distinguishing between the actual self and the performative self, between being and doing, is near-impossible.

Currently directing a production of Antigone for the Ilkhom Theatre, I have been challenged to untangle the theatrical traditions of drama and tragedy. Drama strikes me as primarily performative, whilst tragedy seems to occupy a realm of ‘psychic excess, ’ in the Butlerian sense. While tragedy allows us to engage with moments of acute human suffering by imposing form on chaos, aestheticizing suffering in ‘sublime’ forms, dramatic theatre institutionalizes the symbolic, allowing us to observe ourselves as performers in our innately theatricalized every-day lives.

Examining more recent tragic modalities, I studied Lorca’s Rural Tragedies where an intersubjective tragic experience takes shape in musico-poetic lyric, while in Tsvetaeva’s Fedra, language is posited as an inadequate form of tragic articulacy. In her poetry, textured verbal soundscapes, chains of sonically associated, homophonic word-sounds embody the tragic sentiment. This treatment contrasts sharply with Anouilh’s near-melodramatic, meta-theatrical Antigone. For Anouilh, tragedy is no longer possible; private tragic events have no public resonance. Tragedy survives only as an inherently artificial, theatrical genre. I would argue against Anouilh; our current experience of the tragic has become passive, slow, all-pervading, virtually inescapable; we are in dire need of tragico-aesthetic events that are active, terrorizing, focused and collectively purgative.

15 July 2020
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