Introduction

By Manuwald, Gesine | Helios, Fall 2011 | Go to article overview

Introduction


Manuwald, Gesine, Helios


The Committee on Ancient and Modern Performance (CAMP), a subcommittee of the American Philological Association (APA) chaired successively by Eric Dugdale, Mary-Kay Gamel, and Nancy Sorkin Rabinowitz, sponsored a series of three panels over the three APA conventions from 2006 to 2008, supported by the APA Program Committee and the Vice Presidents for Outreach, Barbara Gold and later Judith P. Hallett. This three-year colloquium, entitled "Performing Ideology: Classicism, Modernity, and Social Context," explored the ways in which performance functions as a vehicle for ideology in the contemporary interpretation of antiquity.

From the start, CAMP and the APA's Outreach Committee had intended to publish the papers from those panels while preserving the connections between the three separate panels and the individual contributions, for it seemed that the collective papers' coherent, yet multi-faceted discussion of the issues raised deserved to be presented to a readership beyond the original audiences. Papers from the first year (the 2006 panel, organized by Eric Dugdale, "Classical Drama as Political Drama") have recently appeared in Syllecta Classica (19 [2008]: 181-269), supplemented by a response from Gonda Van Steen. It is a great pleasure that papers from the second and third years (slightly revised) can now appear together in Helios, thanks to the generosity and support of the journal's editorial board, especially Steven M. Oberhelman.

The contributions presented here (in chronological order) come from the 2007 panel, "Ancient Theater and Sexuality in Modern Performance," organized by Eva Stehle, and from the 2008 panel, "Performing 'Identity': National and Social Transformations in Modern Performance," organized by Timothy Moore. The seven papers offer a broad spectrum of self-contained case studies that allow for exciting and valuable insights into the individual performances examined while simultaneously illuminating the colloquium's overall theme. This introduction attempts to contextualize these papers, to comment on some of the terms and methodology used, and to summarize the main topics and results. (1)

The topic of the three-year colloquium, "Performing Ideology: Classicism, Modernity, and Social Context," invited the discussion of the mutual relationship between specific ideologies and modern performances of classical or classically-inspired plays. The opportunity to develop such a topic over three years made it possible to look at three different but related aspects of this issue: political commentary, issues of sexuality, and national and social identity. In terms of methodology the topic called for the combination of several approaches to and perspectives on ancient drama, including performance criticism, reception theory, and political and other ideological readings of ancient texts in the contemporary world. (2)

In particular, the general topic prompted contributors to look at the reuse and appropriation of ancient plays through performance; (3) that is, rather than seeing ancient drama as a fixed text, they approached it as an event occurring in a context within fixed temporal limits. Such a perspective as a starting point is in line with the rise of performance criticism as an important form of studying theatre and drama over the last few decades and its subsequent adoption by classical scholars, who have applied this approach both to ancient plays and to the study of classical reception. As Pantelis Michelakis (2008, 219) has noted, "In recent decades, the performance reception of Greco-Roman drama has emerged as a. subfield of classical reception at the intersection between classics and theatre studies." This perspective also acknowledges that the revival of classical plays can only have a major impact beyond particular groups of people if the products are performed and presented to a wider audience and to groups who would normally not be reached.

Performance criticism can be done in a number of ways: the panelists of this three-year colloquium did not merely analyze details of individual performances with an eye towards how each aspect of the performances related to the written script. …

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