The Paper Canoe: A Guide to Theatre Anthropology

The Paper Canoe: A Guide to Theatre Anthropology

The Paper Canoe: A Guide to Theatre Anthropology

The Paper Canoe: A Guide to Theatre Anthropology


An enormously exciting, beautifully written and very moving work. It comprises a fascinating dialogue with such masters of theatre as Stanislavski, Meyerhold, Craig, Copeau, Brecht, Artand and Decroux.


I wrote this book in Holstebro, but I conceived it during long, silent rehearsals and on journeys, while seeing performances and meeting theatre people from various continents. It grew during involved discussions or 'brainstorms' dealing with questions which at first seemed childish or foolish: What is the performer's presence? Why, when two performers execute the same actions, is one believable and the other not? Is talent also a technique? Can a performer who does not move hold the spectator's attention? Of what does energy in the theatre consist? Is there such a thing as pre-expressive work?

A friend, gentle and insistently curious, made me sit down and put everything on paper. From then on, my room was invaded by books, by memories of and dialogues with my 'ancestors'.

There is a land-less country, a country in transition, a country which consists of time not territory, and which is confluent with the theatrical profession. In this country, the artists who work in India or Bali, my Scandinavian companions, or those from Peru, Mexico or Canada, in spite of the distance between them, work elbow to elbow. I am able to understand them even if our languages separate us. We have something to exchange and so we travel in order to meet. I owe a great deal to their generosity. Their names, dear to me, are remembered in the following pages.

When one is working, to be generous means to be exigent. From exigent comes exact. Precision, in fact, has something to do with generosity. And so in the following pages, precision, exactness, will also be discussed. Something which appears to be cold anatomy on paper, in practice demands maximum motivation, the heat of vocation. 'Hot' and 'cold' are adjectives which are in comfortable opposition when one is talking about the work of the performer. I have also tried to alternate 'hot' pages with 'cold' pages in this book. But the reader should not trust appearances.

The 'ancestors' are the most exacting. Without their books, their tangled words, I could not have become an auto-didact. Without a dialogue with them, I would not have been able to hollow out this canoe. Their names have a double existence here: within the current of questions, they are live presences; in the bibliographical notes, they are books.

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