Reinventing performance, reproducing ideologies
Pate, George Jarrard
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The 1960s ushered in a new era of theatrical experimentation and innovative performance practices, many founded upon rejecting the text as a central authority or guiding principle for production. At the same time, theorists were busy declaring the author dead. But the author refused to die quietly, and attempts to emancipate performance from texts have followed a complex and non-linear path. The purpose of this study is to examine how the concept of authorship as a cultural construction affects theater and performance practices from the 1960s to the present. Several key developments in the relationship between authorship and performance occur in this period, and these changes and their effects have yet to be fully explored. Two questions regarding authorship and theater guide my research. First, what role does authorship play in theater and performance since the 1960s? Second, what unique challenges do theater and performance present in this growing body of research about the relationship between theory, the law, and cultural production. Though the precise effects of this relationship vary among the different theater and performance genres I examine, a major theme appears repeatedly: theater practitioners’ rhetorical embrace of postmodern concepts such as the death of the author or espousal of anti-capitalist ideological commitments conflicting with their simultaneous engagement with modes of production ultimately aligned with an author-centric, hierarchical, capitalist ideology. I will argue that these conflicts result not from hypocrisy but from something much more complex: a series of contradictions and paradoxes built into legal and institutional systems that provide a place for resistant ideologies while simultaneously keeping them in check. Authorship occupies an ideologically privileged space as the default mode for cultural production. The 1960s to the present is a period full of performance practices moving away from or rhetorically resisting a textual basis, so understanding how authorship resists its own decentralization is crucial to understanding this period in theater and performance history.
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