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Dramas of the Performative Society: Theatre at the End of its Tether

  • Baz Kershaw

The emergence of new performance paradigms in the second half of the twentieth century is only now being recognized as a fresh phase in human history. The creation of the new discipline, or, as some would call it, the anti-discipline of performance studies in universities is just a small chapter in a ubiquitous story. Everywhere performance is becoming a key quality of endeavour, whether in science and technology, commerce and industry, government and civics, or humanities and the arts. We are experiencing the creation of what Baz Kershaw here calls the ‘performative society’ – a society in which the human is crucially constituted through performance. But in such a society, what happens to the traditional notions and practices of drama and theatre? In this inaugural lecture, Kershaw looks for signs and portents of the future of drama and theatre in the performative society, finds mostly dissolution and deep panic, and tentatively suggests the need for a radical turn that will embrace the promiscuity of performance. Baz Kershaw, currently Professor of Drama at the University of Bristol, trained and worked as a design engineer before reading English and Philosophy at Manchester University. He has had extensive experience as a director and writer in radical theatre, including productions at the Drury Lane Arts Lab and with the Devon-based group Medium Fair, where he founded the first reminiscence theatre company Fair Old Times. His latest book is The Radical in Performance (Routledge, 1999). More recently he wrote about the ecologies of performance in NTQ 62.

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Notes and References

1. Hay, Peter, Theatrical Anecdotes (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1972), p. 342–3.

2. Brandreth, , Giles, , Great Theatrical Disasters (London: Grafton Books, 1986), p. 20.

3. Hay, op. cit., p. 263–4.

4. Williams, Raymond, Writing in Society (London: Verso, 1991), p. 11.

5. Arts Council of England, Boyden Report (London: Arts Council, 1999), p. 10.

6. Arts Council of England, ‘£100 Million More for Arts’, Arts Council News, 08 2000, p. 1.

7. Ansorge, Peter, From Liverpool to Los Angeles: on Writing for Theatre, Film, and Television (London: Faber and Faber, 1997), p. x, 134.

8. Gottlieb, Vera and Chambers, Colin, ed., Theatre in a Cool Climate (Oxford: Amber Lane Press, 1999), p. 109.

9. Kustow, Michael, Theatre@Risk (London: Methuen, 2000), p. xiii.

10. Eyre, Richard and Wright, Nicholas, Changing Stages: a View of British Theatre in the Twentieth Century (London: Bloomsbury, 2000), p. 378.

11. Gottlieb and Chambers, op. cit., p. 109–10.

12. Kustow, op. cit., p. 206.

13. Smith, Anthony, Software for the Self: Culture and Technology (London: Faber and Faber, 1996), p. 96.

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New Theatre Quarterly
  • ISSN: 0266-464X
  • EISSN: 1474-0613
  • URL: /core/journals/new-theatre-quarterly
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