Academic journal article Theatre Research in Canada

Postmodern Display: Staging the Mind of Marshall McLuhan (1)

Academic journal article Theatre Research in Canada

Postmodern Display: Staging the Mind of Marshall McLuhan (1)

Article excerpt

Creatively commingling the life and theories of Canadian media icon Marshall McLuhan may yield robust material for negotiating and staging postmodern performance. This article considers certain of McLuhan's theories that have parallels to influential postmodern theoretical constructions and the ways in which these parallels are ripe for performance. It considers the uneasy relationship between dramaturgies and dialectics, and deals with frequent criticisms leveled at postmodern thought, including a hectic rejoicing over consumerism, a cacophony of signs, and the dangers of incorporating into performance the mixed-media environments inherent to McLuhanism and postmodernism alike. Finally, the article considers the potential for mixed-media performance to engage with social objectives linked to producing alternative theatre. But it begins and ends by asking the question: Do artists who attempt to stage theory risk allowing the theory to distract from and overwhelm the performance? In order to probe these effects, the sprawling Edmonton science-fiction "Alt-Rock Opera," The Illumination of Marshall McLuhan, is offered as a case study.

Associer de facon creative la vie et les theories de Marshall McLuhan, celebre figure canadienne des medias, voila une demarche qui promet de produire du materiel solide qui permet de penser la negociation et la presentation d'une performance postmoderne. Whittaker s'attarde dans cet article a quelques-unes des theories de McLuhan qu'on peut inscrire en parallele a des constructions theoriques d'une grande importance en postmodernisme; l'auteur cherche ainsi a voir comment ces paralleles peuvent servir a enrichir une representation. Whittaker examine le rapport precaire qu'entretiennent la dramaturgie et la dialectique et aborde quelques-uns des reproches formules a l'egard de la pensee postmoderne, y compris sa rejouissance fievreuse a l'egard de la consommation a outrance, sa cacophonie de signes et le risque que represente le recours aux environnements multimedia si essentiels aux tenants de la pensee de McLuhan et du postmodernisme. Enfin, Whittaker voit comment la performance multimedia peut servir a aborder des enjeux sociaux lies a la production d'un theatre alternatif. Sa contribution part d'une question a laquelle elle revient a la toute fin : l'artiste qui cherche a montrer la theorie risque-t-il de voir son public distrait et sa performance monopolisee par la theorie? Pour examiner ces effets, l'auteur propose une etude de cas d'un opera tentaculaire << alt-rock >> science fiction d'Edmonton, The Illumination of Marshall McLuhan.

   Marshall is everywhere. He sees everything; he knows everything. [
   ... ] Look, there he is, on the screen! Isn't he the greatest? When
   I grow up I want to be just like Marshall.

   --children, in The Illumination of Marshall McLuhan (36-37) (2)

In the perpetual dialogue between theory and performance there seems to exist a point at which performance becomes saturated by theory such that the performance is denied the presence that allows the audience to freely engage in the immediacy of the event. The Derridian play of signifieds--the endless chain of presence disrupted by absence disrupted by presence--can cloud reception when theory, in its turn, overwhelms performance. To stage theory in mimetic space is a problematic proposition for the playwright: Is it more desirable to relegate theory to diegetic space encased in layers of performance sign systems to prevent it from distracting from the play's dramatic action? (3) Patrice Pavis has argued that "postmodern art uses and reinvests theory in the process of producing meaning at every place and moment in the mise en scene" (19), but while attempts at staging "theory" on stage remain popular as playwrights flirt with seemingly endless reconsiderations of postmodern performance aesthetics, such flirtations risk obscuring the presence of the performance text by the theory itself. …

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