The Shock of the Actual: Disrupting the Theatrical Illusion Theodore Shank
Traditionally the theater presents an illusion that may resemble actuality or may be fantastic. Whether the performance presents the fairy world of A Midsummer Night's Dream or the estate of Madame Ranevskaya with its cherry trees, the audience is expected to focus on the illusion being presented--that is, on the characters rather than on the actors, makeup, and costumes used to create them; on magical forest, drawing room, or orchard, not the paint, flats, and theatrical lighting used to project an illusion of place. Unless there is an accident--say an actor forgets his or her lines or a piece of scenery falls over--we typically focus on the illusion. But we are not deluded. We do not mistake this illusion for efficacious actuality; we recognize it as an illusion. We have become so accustomed to this way of perceiving in the theater that theatrical illusions coincide with our expectations. One of the ways of presenting something startling or fantastic in the theater is to direct the audience to focus on actuality, which is something we do not expect to see on the stage. When such a focus is accomplished purposefully, rather than by accident, actuality is framed as art by the circumstances of performance, and we perceive it in a different way than we perceive actuality outside the theater. Much of the experimental work in the theater since the 1950s has involved disrupting the theatrical illusion by framing actuality in various ways that cause us to perceive it as fantastic.
Most definitions of fantasy contrast the illusion presented by an art work with actuality--that is, the fictional world presented by the work of art is juxtaposed against what we have come to accept as normative empirical reality. Ann Swinfen says, for example, that the essential ingredient of fantasy is the marvelous which is anything outside the normal space-time continuum of the everyday world (5). William R. Irwin considers fantasy in fiction to be "a story based on and controlled by an overt violation of what is generally accepted as possibility"
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Publication information: Book title: Staging the Impossible:The Fantastic Mode in Modern Drama. Contributors: Patrick D. Murphy - Editor. Publisher: Greenwood Press. Place of publication: Westport, CT. Publication year: 1992. Page number: 169.
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