Academic journal article Themes in Theatre

Playing Culture - an Introduction

Academic journal article Themes in Theatre

Playing Culture - an Introduction

Article excerpt

'Salve, clarissime! '

'Hail to you, most enlightened,' exclaims the Promotor and continues: 'accipe coronam lauream, ecce diploma publicum', that is, 'receive the laurel crown and the official diploma.'

This solemn greeting is extended to those who during the last academic year have completed their doctoral examination. The ceremonial Latin words are uttered by a Promoter, a person who has been assigned this particular task by each of the faculties of Stockholm University.1 Such a graduation ceremony is held once a year in the large Blue Hall of the Stockholm City Council. The Stockholm University ceremony will serve as an introductory example of a playing culture, in which many of the characteristic features of playing are acted out within the very core of the academic community.

Playing culture constitutes a cornerstone of the Theatrical Event such as it has been elaborated upon in the IFTR working group. In some models of the Theatrical Event, Playing Culture appears as one of the main features together with Cultural Context, Contextual Theatricality and Theatrical Playing. This and other models have been thoroughly discussed in the group's earlier publications.2 In this book models will be presented, modified and extended, although the examples that the contributors describe come from a broad range of geographical, disciplinary and artistic origins.

The book contains four sections called Theories, Extensions, Politics, and finally, Conventions. In each section there are a number of chapters which address the particular aspect of playing. Even though these aspects are of great importance, they will not exhaust the broad spectrum of playing and playing culture. The titles of the sections should be understood as emphases, not as distinctions. Many of the chapters include a variety of perspectives and their allocation in the book might seem arbitrary. For this reason, I will try to show that all these aspects of playing can very well be found in one and the same event, even in academic graduation ceremonies.

In what sense can such ceremonies be understood as a form of playing culture? Are academics really playing when new professors are instated and new doctors receive their laurel crown? Playing is not necessarily playful and the ceremony in Stockholm is highly formalized and solemn. I will not offer a definition of playing at this point and various theoretical approaches to playing will be discussed in the first section. It seems safe to state that theatrical events always contain some elements of playing and the idea that graduations can be seen as theatrical events is entertaining. Play can imply performance, but in a sense playing culture goes beyond performance. It is true that the concept of performance studies has broadened the range of what might be included in the discipline. From performance as the presentation of stagecraft in front of an audience, the term has - via performance art - assumed a meaning equivalent to Milton Singer's Cultural Performance (1959). The quality of playing has, however, been largely ignored in the practice of performance studies. For the working group, playing has become the basis of acting, performing and spectating, be it in a theatre or in an open square, enacted by professional performers or by academic players.

In John Austin's terms, academic ceremonies are non-serious utterances because there are no direct consequences. Nobody becomes a professor or doctor because s/he has gone through a graduation ceremony; the ceremony is just a way of giving visibility to the new status that has been attained. This coincides with Johan Huizinga's claim that playing does not have a purpose. Indeed nothing changes through the ceremonial speeches. Even though there might not be a purpose, there are several important functions that can be pointed out by examining academic ceremonies as a playing culture.


One could say that all ceremonies consist of conventions or a number of (unwritten) rules similar to the rules of play. …

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