Scripts fired up with the spirit of the age

January 2, 2004

What theatre directors do and how they respond to the demands and dilemmas of their age has been a preoccupation for scholars and practitioners since the term gained currency as the 19th century folded into the 20th. A number of these figures are referred to, quoted from and interrogated in Rebecca Schneider and Gabrielle Cody's anthology of more than 40 reflections on directing. The collection's subtitle points to an approach that juxtaposes academic essays on the stylistic characteristics of particular directors with reflections, manifestoes, interviews and diary entries by directors and their collaborators.

The editors imaginatively organise the material into four sections. The first, "Directors of classical revolt", brings together writings on the idea of "revolt" as a central signature of the past century's directorial aesthetics. "Naturalism and its discontents" forms the backbone of a grouping that explores what "the natural" in theatre might mean and what happens to it when performativity is heightened and the familiar viewed from a slightly different angle. These include an overview of Brecht as director (by Carl Weber), an interview with Beckett's favoured director, Alan Schneider, a lacklustre conversation between "art and life" by Linda Montano and a gem by Sharon Marie Carnicke, who considers the abridged English-language translations of Stanislavsky's works.

Part two foregrounds auteur theatre, assembling a predictable group of maestros who have privileged the visual and the corporeal over the textual.

The texts are often perceptive (a splendid assessment of Tadeusz Kantor, a provocative review of the therapeutic repercussions of Robert Wilson's work and overviews of Reza Abdoh and Pina Bausch). But is there really a case for the inclusion of two Richard Foreman pieces at the expense of innovators such as Robert Lepage or Maria Irene Fornes?

In part three, "Theatres of community and transculturation", directors or companies that have interrogated ideas around collectivity and identity (for example, Peter Brook, Jerzy Grotowski, Ariane Mnouchkine) are assembled discussing issues of scenography and actor training that reflect on the practice of former generations of metteurs en scène . Part four, "Montage, reiteration, revision", covers the appropriation of "classic" texts towards largely postmodernist ends. Again, there are some sharp dissections - Euridice Arratia's observations of the Wooster Group in rehearsal, Gerald Rabkin on authorship and the practicalities of reading texts against "intentions" in JoAnne Akalitis' Endgame and the Wooster Group's LSD , and a terrific analysis of the politics of exhibitionism and intercultural discourses of performance by Coco Fusco in a provocative report of her collaboration with Guillermo-Gómez-Peña on Two Undiscovered Amerindians Visit .

The Worlds of Performance series, of which this volume is part, purports, in the words of its editor, Richard Schechner, to "mine the extraordinary riches and diversity" of The Drama Review's (TDR) "decades of excellence" by reprinting textual remnants from past issues. The judicious selection of essays from other publications such as The French Review , however, left me wondering whether TDR , for all its self-professed riches, could not quite provide evidence of all the directorial trends that the editors wished to cover. While the editors reiterate the international importance of TDR , the focus of the volume is decidedly Euro-American.

If the attention moves eastwards or westwards, the emphasis - as with the discussions on Brook's Mahabharata and Artaud's Les Cenci - is almost always on the assimilation of these influences by western practitioners.

Even the Euro-American perspective is politically loaded towards the usual suspects from North-American and Franco-Germanic practice with the odd eastern European maverick (such as Kantor) thrown in for good measure.

The Spanish and Portuguese-speaking world is woefully unrepresented.

Augusto Boal covers wellworn territory in his engaging but predictable coverage of "invisible" theatre, and Fusco's intervention raises the concern of the "other" America. But I was left coveting a discussion of those who have not had the North American critical apparatus of TDR to propel their careers into the academic canon: the Argentine and Catalan scenographer-directors V!ctor Garc!a and Fabia Puigserver, the Catalan performance companies Els Joglars and La Fura dels Baus, Columbia's TEC, Singapore's Kuo Pao Kun, and Romania's Andrei Serban, among others.

While I applaud the rich pickings collected here, certain editorial decisions, as with the inclusion of three contributions on Charles Ludlam's Ridiculous Theatre, seem to inscribe within directing history Anglo-American practitioners whose impact seems more negligible. This anthology will be a valuable resource for undergraduates and postgraduates who scrutinise the politics and practices of directing, but links between the assembled fragments are not often teased out as carefully as they might be.

Maria M. Delgado is reader in drama and theatre arts, Queen Mary, University of London.

Re:Direction: A Theoretical and Practical Guide

Editor - Rebecca Schneider and Gabrielle Cody
Publisher - Routledge
Pages - 381
Price - £65.00 and £19.99
ISBN - 0 415 21390 8 and 21391 6

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