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Theatre in Life

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Theatre in Life   ::   Living Theatre   ::   Performance   ::   Activities

Elements of Living Theatre

Part I:

No matter what type of performance you undertake, there are elements that all performances have in common. Think of it as the grammar of performance: we don’t think about how commas are used; we just see them and know what kind of meaning to make when they’re there. It is the same with these elements that were derived by well-known theatre theorists Richard Schechner and Willa Appel and anthropologist Victor Turner. Knowing them can help us not only understand theatre, they can help us create and change our various performances for the better.

Part II:

Element #1:
The Whole Performance Sequence

This is the sequence of performance from beginning to end. In a play, for instance, the sequence begins long before the actors appear on the stage. The play must be written, the director comes up with a concept, designers communicate with each other about how to help the play’s concept. Then the rehearsals begin. When the play is over, the cast must strike (take down) the set. They may have a party.

Think of the whole performance of a wedding. She (or he) says "yes," and then all kinds of things happen. Parents meet. Arrangements for the wedding are made. Announcements are designed and sent. Bride's maids' dresses are chosen. And after the wedding and reception, there is still the honeymoon (and some think that a lot of performing goes on there too!).

It is important to remember that most performances have activities that take place where an audience won't see them—but these are very important to the performance!

Part III:

Element #2:
Transformation of Being

How deeply are the performers transformed into someone else? In some societies and in some rituals, the officiators and enactors feel that they actually become different people. The Hopi Indians in northern Arizona, for instance, have ceremonies in which Kachinas come to visit the tribe and take part in the ceremonies. Kachinas are like the Hopi’s cousins, except that they have super powers. Hopi tribesmen wear masks to show these Kachinas, and the ideal is for the Kachina to actually be present, through the performer, at the ceremony. Other ceremonies with which most of us may be more familiar do not require participants to actually change into someone else. Instead, like a wedding, the participants take on roles that are, in the course of the ritual, more important that their own personalities (“bride,” “groom” for example).

When it comes to actual acting for the stage, it appears that some great actors such as Robert DeNiro or Meryl Streep seem to “become” the characters they are portraying. Other great actors such as John Wayne or Humphrey Bogart do not become their characters so deeply. They simply make them plausible and believeable while retaining much of their own personality. In other words, good acting does not always rely upon transforming oneself into someone else. However, transformation of being is a vital element of performance.

Part IV:

Element #3:
Intensity of Performance

There are times in nearly every performance when the intensity builds. In a movie or a play, this may come at the climax, when the plot is finally at its most suspenseful point. Rituals and other performances have intense moments, too. At a wedding, it is probably when the nuptial couple proclaims “I do!” with love stricken eyes. Notice when people cry the most! Different performances have their intense moments at different times. News broadcasts usually begin with intense moments to entice viewers to watch, then they go to the more mundane and less exciting stories. Knowing when the intense moment should be will help you in your own performances and interactions whether you are a participant, or a planner of such performances.

Part V:

Element #5:
Audience/Performer Interactions

For performance to be performance, there must be an audience, even if someone is performing only for oneself. Does the audience sit silently and watch? Do they join in the performance, such as with a sing- along? Different performances require different kinds of audiences and these audiences do different things depending on the context of the performance.

Some plays require the audience to "join in" in some way. In melodrama, for instance, audiences nowadays are encouraged to boo and hiss for the villain and say "Aaaaaah" for the damsel in distress. In some plays, the actors speak right to the audience while in others, the audiences looks, as it were, through a "fourth wall" that is implied between the action and the audience. Some rituals require the audience to participate by either singing or clapping or doing some other activity. Every performance is partially defined by how the audience joins or does not join it.

Copyright 2008, by the Contributing Authors. Cite/attribute Resource . admin. (2005, October 05). Theatre in Life. Retrieved January 08, 2011, from Free Online Course Materials — USU OpenCourseWare Web site: This work is licensed under a Creative Commons License Creative Commons License