What is the Theatre? is one of the most coherent and systematic descriptions and analyses of the theatre yet compiled. Theatre is, above all, spectacle. It is a fleeting performance, delivered by actors and intended for spectators. It is a work of the body, an exercise of voice and gesture addressed to an audience, most often in a specific location and with a unique setting. This entertainment event rests on the delivery of a thing promised and expected – a particular and unique performance witnessed by spectators who have come to the site of the performance for this very reason. To witness theatre is to take into account the performance, but it is also to take into account the printed text as readable object and a written proposition.
In this book, Christian Biet and Christophe Triau focus on the practical, theoretical and historical positions that the spectator and the reader have had in relation to the locations that they frequent and the texts that they handle. They adopt two approaches: analysing the spectacle in its theatrical and historical context in an attempt to seek out the principles and paradigms of approaching the theatre experience on one hand, and analysing the dramaturgy of a production in order to establish lines of interpretation and how to read, represent and stage a text, on the other. This approach allows us to better understand the ties that link those who participate in the theatre to the practitioners who create theatrical entertainment.
Table of Contents
What is the Theatre?
Points of view
The set designer
The stage manager
I. What does it mean to go to the theatre?
Together with others or one among many?
Theatre and performance
1. SITES AND SPACES : DEFINITIONS
Text as site and text as space
Organising space through signs
The actor and their presence
2. THE THEATRICAL SPACE: A CONCRETE SPACE
Theatre and urbanism
The open space
The principle of the procession
The infiltration principle
Locating the closed space
Seventeenth- to eighteenth-century London
The end of the Boulevard du Crime: nineteenth-century Paris
La Cartoucherie de Vincennes in the 1970s
Recycling and re-appropriating buildings in the twentieth century
The evolution of places
Memory and repetition
The illusion of creating illusion
II. The evolution of material and representational spaces
4. SOME THEATRICAL SITES AND SPACES
The Greek skênographia
The scaena and the Roman spectacle
Medieval scenography: nowhere and everywhere
The scaffold theatre and the trestle stage: integrative function versus critical function
Short digression : the amateur theatre in the contemporary moment
A story of thresholds rather than of ruptures
Elizabethan theatre and the so-called "wooden O"
The "classic" French theatrical space: a rectangle
At the courts
In the cities
Make way for the visible!
5. THE ART OF PERSPECTIVE AND THE SOCIAL SPACE
Italy, the "Prince’s eye" and Europe
The secularised space
The building and the session as spaces of socialisation
Line and circle: traditional double cone and multiple angles
Back to reality
The line and the circle: the depiction of infinity transcended by the infinity of words
Places, spaces, two spectacles, and the distance effect
Reforming theatre from the building out: from d’Aubignac to Luigi Riccoboni
The experience of the fourth wall: dramatic theatre
The closed space instituted by dramatic theatre
The crisis of drama
6. STAGE AS PLACE AND STAGE AS SPACE
Rupture: the invention of the director, the total space of a total work
"Epic" theatre/dramatic theatre
The boundaries of the theatrical space
The dramatic space: a replica?
III. How to act at the theatre? How the theatrical space functions
The work of practitioners
Two senses out of five?
7. DESCRIPTION AND VOCABULARY OF THE TRADITIONAL THEATRE SITE
A traditional stage
The fly system
The proscenium arch
The trap room
8. OTHER STAGES, OTHER APPARATUSES
Referential systems and innovations
Notes on bi-frontal staging
9. THE COORDINATES OF THE STAGE
A space more or less filled, more or less closed
10. THE TECHNICAL AND MATERIAL ELEMENTS OF THE STAGING SPACE
Sounds and silence
Scenery, objects and stage props
Masks and make-up
11. ON THE DANGER OF INTERPRETING EVERYTHING
The pleasure of the audience
IV. Time, Rhythm, Tempo
The time of the session
Stage time and dramatic time
The plasticity of time
The succession of sequences, the condensation of the 24-hour period, and the transition to timelessness
Play, rythm, staging
V. The body, the actor’s play, and illusion
Where is the body?
Ostensible presence, exhibited communication
The handling and history of codes
The game of signs
When one body hides another: the virtual body of the character
The dual utterance of the two bodies of the actor
From space, time and body, to representation
Illusion and identification
Continuity / discontinuity
Consecutivity, simultaneity: a necessary disillusion?
The blurring of the real and the virtual: delirium
Illusion and autistic performance
Theatrical illusion and cinematic illusion
The negative impact of theatre on the viewer and on the world
Seduction and utility of theatre: the thorny issue of "catharsis"
Spectacle, reading and judgement
VI. The reader of theater texts
The appearance of the book and its pages
The oral text and the act of reading
Literariness, utterance and dramatic reading
Haphazard reading and the reading of a story
Places, spaces and the readers’ time
The indexical reading of places, spaces and times
From reading time and space to the reading of a fable
Reading discourse and the constitution of characters
The test of the title
What is at stake here?
From general reading to reading of plot
From the plot to actantial narrative schema
From dramaturgical reading to dramaturgy
VII. Staging: traditions, concerns
Writing for the theatre today
Memory and forgetting
12. THE AGE OF ALL POWERS
The meaning mill
Rereading the "classics": the issue of interpretation
The classics as a symptom: a prospective overview
The image factory
The actor as a collective body
The actor as an individual body
Between tradition and invention: the play of forms
"A relative totality"
13. THE EXPERIENCE OF RELATIVITY
The "emancipation of representation"
Excess/void: Matthias Langhoff/Klaus-Michael Grüber
Collage, montage, hybridisation, performance
Kantor as an emblem
Armand Gatti, another emblem
14. THEATRICALITY QUESTIONED: A THEATRE WITHOUT ILLUSION ?
Other aspirations, other practices
Crisis of representation, crisis of meaning
Showing writing: another relationship with the text
The actor exposed
From the legibility of crisis to the questioning of perception
The troubled perception
Theatre of presence and theatre of non-representation
Experiencing the theatrical relationship and the present-ness of the stage: theatricality unveiled
Decentring representation, diffracting reception: form as medium
Other distances, other presences
Christian Biet is Professor of Performing Arts, Theatrical and Drama Aesthetics and French Studies, University of Paris-Nanterre and the Institut Universitaire de France. He is also a regular visiting professor at NYU, and a member of the editorial committee of the French theatrical review Théâtre/Public and of Littératures classiques. Recent books include Théâtre de la cruauté et récits sanglants (France XVIe-XVIIe siècle) [Theatre of Cruelty and Bloody Stories (France, from the End of the Sixteenth Century to the Beginning of the Seventeenth)] (2006), Tragédies et récits de martyres (France, fin XVIe-début XVIIe siècle) [Tragedies and Martyrs' Tales (France, from the End of the Sixteenth Century to the Beginning of the Seventeenth)] with M.-M. Fragonard (2009) and Le Théâtre du XVIIe siècle [Seventeenth-Century Theatre] (2009). He has recently worked on several issues of Théâtre/Public including topics covering Chinese theatre, "Penser le Spectateur" ["Thinking About the Spectator"] (no. 208, May 2013); Flemish performance, "Carte Blanche à Olivier Py" ["Carte Blance for Olivier Py"] (no. 213, June 2014); and repertory, "Le répertoire aujourd'hui" ["Stock Theatre Today"] (no. 225, June 2017); and also an issue of Communications on the theoretical question of performance (no. 92, 2013).
Christophe Triau is Professor of Theatrical Studies at the University of Paris-Nanterre. He also works as a dramaturge. His PhD was on seventeenth-century French theatre, and his work now focuses mostly on contemporary theatre, especially dramaturgy and aesthetics of stage direction. He has edited many collective publications and issues of reviews such as Alternatives théâtrales (and is a member of its editorial committee) and Théâtre/Public (in particular, the biannual "Etats de la scène actuelle" issues, in collaboration with O. Neveux) and has written widely about contemporary stage directors, most recently a book on Joel Pommerat's Cendrillon (2013).
"A very important book ... that considers a range of issues relating to theatre production in an informed but also highly enjoyable style."
Dominic Glynn, University of London, UK
"A very valuable and accessible resource, bringing together clear explanations of key terminologies, critical engagement and accessible illustrative case studies from performance."
Julia Dobson, University of Sheffield, UK