Between Theater & Anthropology

Between Theater & Anthropology

Between Theater & Anthropology

Between Theater & Anthropology


In performances by Euro-Americans, Afro-Americans, Native Americans, and Asians, Richard Schechner has examined carefully the details of performative behavior and has developed models of the performance process useful not only to persons in the arts but to anthropologists, play theorists, and others fascinated (but perhaps terrified) by the multichannel realities of the postmodern world.

Schechner argues that in failing to see the structure of the whole theatrical process, anthropologists in particular have neglected close analogies between performance behavior and ritual. The way performances are created--in training, workshops, and rehearsals--is the key paradigm for social process.


By Victor Turner

For an anthropologist (working in several cultures, “posttribal,” “peasant,” and “urban-industrial”), it was both theoretically illuminating and personally rewarding to meet Richard Schechner, whose life has been dedicated to organizing and understanding performances. My own field experience had forced me to pay special attention not only to institutionalized performances, such as rituals and ceremonies, but also to what Erving Goffman calls the (dramatic) “presentation of self in everyday life.” My own self was now presented with an experimentalist in performing. I learned from him that all performance is “restored behavior,” that the fire of meaning breaks out from rubbing together the hard and soft firesticks of the past (usually embodied in traditional images, forms, and meanings) and present of social and individual experience. Anthropologists usually see and hear but try not to interfere with the life they immerse themselves in among initially “alien” cultural milieus. Inevitably, like all scientists, their modes of observation do set up disturbing ripples in the “fields” of social relations they “observe,” but on the whole they try to be discreet. a director like Schechner is committed by his role to “interference.” If he happens also to be fascinated by theory, he tries to infer from the results of his interference in all the components and relations of theater certain conclusions about the nature and structure of the whole theatrical process, indeed about the whole cultural performative process, of which his professional speciality is an outstanding species.

A theatrical impresario, versed in and open toward sociological and psychological theories, clearly has available to him, as does any social scientist with complementary interests, a laboratory of performative experiments normally inaccessible to field anthropologists, who can look and stare but seldom change or experiment with the cultural performances they encounter. Almost by chance, though we had read snatches of each other’s publications, Schechner and I met a few hours before Clifford Geertz’s 1977 Trilling Lecture . . .

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