Theatricality as Medium

THE ESSAYS that compose this book seek to respond to two sets of questions.

First, how does it come about, and what does it signify, that, in an age increasingly dominated by electronic media, notions and practices that could be called “theatrical,” far from appearing merely obsolete, seem to gain in importance? In other words, given that the medium of theater and the effect of theatricality presuppose, as one of their indispensable preconditions, some sort of real, immediate, physical presence, and given that the status and significance of such presence has been rendered increasingly problematic by the advent of the “new media,” with their powerful “virtualizing” effects, one might expect to find that practices relating to theater and theatricality would tend to diminish progressively in scope and significance. Yet the contrary appears to be the case. Theatrical practices, attitudes, even organizations seem to proliferate, in conjunction with if not in response to the new media. Why is this happening, and what are its possible consequences?

The notions of “theater” and “theatricality” are anything but selfevident or unambiguous. They have a vexed and complex history, and only by articulating some of the major traits and tendencies of this history can we begin to investigate the renewed significance these terms are acquiring today. This brings me to the second set of questions to which I seek to respond.

Second, how has theater been conceptualized in the West? I limit myself here to the Western European tradition and its sequels, not because non-Western theater and theatrical practices lack importance, on the contrary. Non-Western theatrical practices have played a decisive and determining role throughout the long history of Western


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