If man is a sapient animal, a toolmaking animal, a self-making
animal, a symbol-using animal, he is, no less, a performing animal,
Homo performans, not in the sense, perhaps that a circus
animal may be a performing animal, but in the sense that a man
is a self-performing animal--his performances are, in a way,
reflexive, in performing he reveals himself to himself.
This can be in two ways: the actor may come to know himself better through acting or enactment; or one set of human beings may come to know themselves better through observing and/or participating in performances generated and presented by another set of human beings. (Victor Turner The Anthropology of Performance 1986: 81)
Introduction--Performance Theory and Anthropology
Teaching performance theory in an anthropology program requires relating the act and practice of performance to the broad questions posed by the field of anthropology. In the most general sense these questions lead to a comparative analysis of human similarities and differences in all times and over all geographical locations. Such an analysis also involves the four theoretical sub-fields of anthropology: archaeology, biological anthropology, linguistic anthropology, and social/cultural anthropology.
With this broad set of concerns in mind, in my teaching I help bring students to an understanding of performance as an inherently human activity. It is presented as having origins in pre-historic behavior and having functional value in the evolution of human cognitive functions. Performance is seen an essential aspect of human communicative capacity that cannot be completely understood without a full appreciation of the roles of language and other semiotic behavior in human life. In cultural terms, performance is seen as pervading virtually all institutions of public expressive behavior.
In general there are three pedagogical goals in my instruction of performance theory. First, I want to help students understand the basic human questions that the investigation of performance raises. Second, I want to provide them with observational and analytic skills that will help them to conduct ethnographic observation of performance activity. Third, I want them to be able to analyze the activities that they observe and read about in terms of performance-specific criteria. Finally, I want to help them to understand the "big picture"--the meaning of performance activity for broad patterns of human life, including the ways that performance transforms and is transformed by everyday life. My discussion below is organized to address these pedagogical goals.
Basic Human Questions
Anthropological approaches to performance go beyond description. I try to help students to begin to think in terms of explanation. Questions such as the following are posed early in the course and direct much of the reading, discussion and research undertaken by students.
· Why are activities involving display and evaluation/appreciation so essential and endemic to the human condition?
· Why do such activities convey meaning in such a powerful fashion?
· What special tools for behavior and communication are found in performance mode and what do they do?
I will try here to provide some of the ways I help students to approach these questions, by way of example, and through helping students develop research approaches to a series of studies of human activities that embody performative skills and capacities.
Central to helping students develop this understanding is showing them how performance is not so much a cultural institution as a set of clear accomplishments on the part of human beings. In particular, successful performance represents the successful accomplishment of cultural representation resulting in transformations in society. These transformations can be very small or cataclysmic, but no one is left unaffected by performance behavior.
I start with some conventional observations about "performance" and move to a gradual discussion of "performative behavior," which I consider to be a separate concept, and the main subject of instruction. My characterization of the concept of performance is influenced by the work of Richard Schechner.
First, I begin with a discussion of performance as mimetic behavior(in the conventional Aristotlian sense) and is imitative of an "action" "Tragedy is the imitation of an action that is serious, complete and of a certain magnitude (Aristotle 1961:61 in Schechner 1988: 37).
Second, performance is presented as "cooked" in the Levi-Straussian sense, meaning that it is action that is transformed through culture into a conventionally understandable symbolic product. Helping students come to a clear understanding of this aspect of performance brings them to an understanding of the difficulty anthropologists face in making direct perceptions of reality. "Making art is the process of transforming raw experience into palatable forms. This transformation is a mimesis, a representation." (Schechner, IBID:38)
Third, I show performance as one of the most basic ways to study human interaction. Concomitantly, I demonstrate that regularities in performance derive from human interaction. This observation has been made by Clifford Geertz and many others. It has a long pedigree dating back to Durkheim and Simmel.
Fourth, I aim to help students see performance behavior as socially co-created, with continual evaluative feedback. They are brought to realize that evaluation of auditors/spectators/consumers (the audience) is crucial for the continuance of the communication.
Fifth, students are shown that performance is intentional. It aims to be transformational or "effective" (Beeman 1986: 6-10). It has the qualities of the speech act as treated by Austin, Searle, Halliday and others, in that, if successful, it does cultural work in the world. It strives to affect human affairs, leaving the individuals involved in the performative act in a changed state. This approach is in contrast to many anthropological approaches to culture that view cultural products as passive derivatives of the cultural dynamics of a given society.
Sixth, I help students to see that the effects of performance only take place in a rich context, taking account of all environmental factors. Therefore performance is always "emergent." "The emergent quality of performance resides in the interplay between communicative resources, individual competence, and the goals of the participants, within the context of particular situations. . . Relevant here are the keys to performance, genres, acts, events and ground rules for the conduct of performance that make up the structured system of conventionalized performance for the community. (Bauman 1977 38)
Finally, students are shown that there is always an element of skill in performance whether it be in speaking, narration, acting, song, dance or the synthetic structures such as the numerous music-theatre forms throughout the world. This reflects the problem on the part of all humans engaging in performative behavior of determining what can best convey the complexity of the particular human condition they wish to represent in "concrete" representative form. For this reason, performance behavior can always be judged as relatively successful or unsuccessful depending on the particular individual and the particular event. Everyone and every element involved in the performance bears responsibility for its success. Performance can fail through lack of skill on the part of the performer, lack of receptivity on the part of an "audience," or because some unforeseen event intervenes. Of course, the play fails when the actors are ineffective at conveying the text or their characters, but all is not up to the personal skills of the performer. The political speech fails when the electricity in the town is knocked out by a storm. The rock concert fails when the audience gets in to a brawl. The marriage proposal fails when the prospective partner gets sick and vomits in the middle of making the proposal.
To sum these views up, in helping students to understand performance behavior I hope to bring them to focus on: a display, a mimetic representation of views of human interaction, human situations, human conditions, human structurings. They should be able to discern how displays are successful or unsuccessful to the degree that they are able to accomplish the representations they set out to present, and have a concrete effect on human affairs.
The Ethnography of Performance
Discovering Objects and Settings
The study of anthropology involves experiential learning. Research by professionals is most commonly carried out through the practice of participant-observation in an ethnographic field setting. It is most effective to give students some experience of this kind of experiential learning. Therefore my teaching of performance theory balances theoretical material with practical experience in both participating in and observing the process of performing.
My classes typically consist of students from the performing arts who have no experience in social science research and students from the social sciences and humanities who have little or no performing experience. It is a challenge to bring these students into dialog with each other. This is partially accomplished through reading and seminar discussion of a wide variety of theoretical works in performance theory. To acquaint everyone with the process of ethnographic participant-observation, I devise a series of short field exercises. These consist of observing and reporting of mundane everyday experiences that are nevertheless highly performative, such as the eating of a meal in the company of others, or carrying out greeting rituals. Students proceed from this introduction to the principal exercises for the course.
The "participant" aspect of instruction is accomplished by having everyone perform. The course finishes with a "cabaret" in which every member must perform for five minutes. This aspect of instruction also involves observation. Every student must observe his or her own preparation for the cabaret, and the preparation of one other class member (or group of class members). These observations are written in performance diaries which students maintain throughout the course, and turn in at the end of the course. In addition, each student prepares a research paper for the course centering on the observation of a performance event seen throughout its preparation, incorporating the theoretical materials read for the course. This research paper must go beyond mere description and attempt to answer an important larger question about the functioning of the performance event in a larger social/cultural framework.
In the past student research for the course has consisted of studies of theatrical presentations, of political speeches, of musical events and of performative aspects of everyday life. Aside from many fine studies of theatrical and dance troupes, much research involved performative aspects of "everyday life." One of the most interesting papers in recent years was a study of a high-school student preparing for her high-school prom, studied as a performative event. The researcher went shopping with the student, interviewed her family, kept a record of her interactions with her date and her friends and attended the prom. Another paper investigated my own classroom teaching style--a very enlightening study for me. Still another was an early study of the "mosh pit" and the performative dimensions of being an audience member at rock concerts that involve this kind of participation.
In these ways I attempt to unite fine-grained observational research practice with the larger theoretical concerns that typify anthropological studies. Students taking this course have gone on to do a variety of things. Some have become theater or music professionals, or teachers of both. Several have pursued professional studies in anthropology, and still others have gone on to other professions, such as law or medicine. Two have become psychotherapists, and have written me to tell me that the course in performance theory provided them with some of their most important operating principles in their therapy.
In general, the broad approach taken in this class has given it applicability and breadth beyond the usual clientele for performance studies courses. It is a course that students regularly "seek out" as part of their graduate and advanced undergraduate training. At this time when performance studies is just gaining a foothold in the university curriculum, I find this broad approach not only pedagogically satisfying but also politically useful. Paradoxically, its construction is in and of itself a conscious performance strategy.
The schema outlined above provides a wide palate for the investigation of performance behavior. Some of the more common forms in human life which students study include:
1. Face to Face Interaction
2. Verbal Play
3. Rhetoric and Public Use of Speech
4. Storytelling and allied arts
5. Acting/Theatrical Performance
Another group of activities could be labeled as semi-performative. Such activities involve the use of performance behavior, and they require the presence of an "audience" to witness their execution, but the activity is not directly communicative, or is not directly affected by positive or negative evaluation. These include:
1. Spectator Sports
2. Didactic Communication
3. Rehearsal for Performance
4. Ceremony and Ritual
Finally, we can contrast the above categories of activity with human endeavors that embody few, or minimal performative skills. Although they are culturally patterned, these are largely activities that have minimal communicative or cultural transformational intent, and do not require observers for their execution. These events can quickly turn into performative events if the individuals engaging in them want to convey a sense of the activity to others (See Chapter 3 below for further discussion on self-validating activities). These include:
1. Unobserved Work activities
2. Solitary activities such as reading, eating in private, hiking alone, driving a car.
Observing Performance Skills and their Development
Seeing how a performer learns performance skills is an essential aspect of learning to study performance. Any individual who wants to achieve success in performance behavior needs to recognize their own abilities--knowing what they are good at and have an easy facility for. Skills can always be developed. The process of honing any performance skill involves three dimensions:
1. Analytic--the performer must assess the task and what s/he needs to accomplish to achieve successful representation.
2. Technical--the performer must develop the necessary motor skills to actually carry out the performative activity.
3. Interpretive--the performer must develop a method of making the performative activity uniquely their own--an embodiment of their own skill.
To these ends the rehearsal process is crucial. Schechner's description of performance as "twice behaved" is an essential statement of the fact that all performative activity is repeated activity.
Strategies of performance are varied, but the following skills are commonly sought to make performance more effective.
1. Timing--the ability to display symbolic elements precisely at a time when they will most effectively convey an intended meaning.
2. Charisma--the ability to engage and hold the attention of an "audience." This can be a shared function, as in a conversation when individuals take turns at narration.
3. Focus and Concentration--the ability to concentrate fully on the task of accomplishing a representation provides engagement for individuals being affected by the performance.
4. Freshness and Spontaneity--the ability to display symbolic materials in novel and unexpected ways is a means of capturing the attention of an "audience."
Performers have a set of universal difficulties which hamper the effectiveness of their performance. Among these are:
1. Pushing--showing obvious effort in the representation of symbolic materials. The effort can be read by others and distracts them from seeing the message of the performance
2. Losing Concentration--when the performer is not totally engaged with the task of performing, this also provides a distraction for the audience.
3. underpreparation--lack of adequate preparation and rehearsal makes it impossible to present material in a smooth and spontaneous way.
4. overpreparation--similarly, too much rehearsal or preparation de-humanizes the performance, and makes it less believable.
5. Miscalculation of context. This can cause the performance to fail. It is due to several causes. The performer may misread the audience, and present something that they already know and will be bored with, or that is so esoteric that they cannot comprehend it. Other possibilities are presenting offensive material, or material that is insulting to persons of importance. The performer may also misread the circumstances of the performance and present material that is inappropriate, although the same material might be effective on other occasions.
Every performer must perfect a certain basic set of skills. The techniques used to implement these skills vary from society to society and place to place, but the skills are human abilities.
These skills vary depending on the specific performative action being undertaken. Among them are:
1. The ability to communicate clearly.
Skilled performative behavior, depending on the genre and type of performance, involves the use of a wide range of communicative tools. Among them are clean, purposeful actions, words, physical objects in the world, and music and symbolic movement.
2. The ability to focus other people's attention.
Like Coleridge's ancient mariner and stage magicians, a persons adept at performance skills can get people to pay attention to what they want them to see. Here the "poetics" of performance in Jakobson's sense are brought into play. (Jakobson 1960). In music, the nuance of style allows the musician to direct the listener's attention to particular musical phrases (Cassals 1978). In speech, reading the phone book so that it is interesting. Stage presence.
3. The ability to contextualize actions and words by "setting up" the performance for participants and observers.
I utilize a basic understanding developed in an earlier study of stylistics and discourse strategies in Persian to help students see how these skills work in having a concrete effect on an audience.:
"Definitive meanings arise for language elements to a large extent as a function of their role in defining the contexts in which they occur (Beeman 1986: 202).
The process of using the elements of communication to constrain and define the contexts for their own interpretation is a basic performative skill. This can be done verbally (storytelling) or through "production" techniques using costumes, sets, props, lighting, and other players. In face-to-face interaction dress, makeup, etc. all play a role.
4. The ability to enter "flow"
The psychologist Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi has worked for some years on studying the concept of "flow" (Csikszentmihalyi 1975). Flow is the experience of loss of sense of the physical body or of conscious control of one's own actions when one becomes totally engaged in a given activity. This typically takes place when the activity is not so familiar as to be boring, and not so challenging as to be anxiety producing. In daily life one typically "rehearses" difficult tasks until they become routined enough in the body so as to not require active attention to the physical details of executing them.
An experience of flow can take place outside of performative activity. Common examples are the loss of attention to the body one experiences when driving a car over familiar territory (Wallace 1968), or in achieving meditative states. Sports activity often results in flow. It may be that trance states are the result of a particularly strong sense of flow.
I would contend, along with Turner (1982: 55-58) that effective performance also involves a the concomitant ability to enter "flow." Part of the ability of any individual to engage in successful performative activity is the ability to make that activity appear effortless and natural. This is the bedrock on which the sense of "truth" created during a performative activity. This is as true for the most commonplace incidents of performance, such as when individuals are engaged in face-to-face interaction, as it is for highly conscious performance, such as for stage actors, dancers and other entertainers.
5. The ability to enter into framed behavior.
The concept of the cognitive "frame" in human behavior is now well established. I treat it at much greater length in Chapter 3 below. Nevertheless, it is important to mention it here. "Framing" is a cognitive contextualization device whereby all rules for behavior, symbols and their interpretation are bounded by a particular activity with its own overall structure. Frames have temporal beginnings and endings, and often embody specified physical boundaries. The classic notion of frame was expostulated by Gregory Bateson in his essay "A Theory of Play and Fantasy" (Bateson 1955), and elaborated in both is ethnographic and his psychiatric work. Play is a quintessential example of "framed behavior." Individuals engaged in play suspend the rules of everyday life when play is deemed to have begun. They then regulate their behavior according to a set of rules that operate only as long as the play frame is in force.
The notion of framed behavior is exceedingly powerful as an explanatory device. It has been used in the analysis of face to face interaction (Goffman 1974), discourse structures (Tannen 1993), theatrical and ritual events (Schechner 1993, Turner 1982), sporting events and festivals (MacAloon, ed. 1984) and trance phenomena (d'Aquili, et. al., eds. 1979; Lex 1979)
6. The ability to work in ensemble with other performers
The ability to perform in consort with others is an ability that is essential to any performative activity. In face-to-face interaction, it must be possible to maintain contact with others (Jakobson's "phatic" function), and to bring an interaction through it's various stages of development from opening to closing (cf. Tannen 1993). In ritual, it is necessary to be able to coordinate activities with others so that the ritual process can continue from beginning to end in an uninterrupted stream. In stage performance it is essential for performers to be totally engaged with other performers and with the performing space, or the performance will fail.
7. The ability to work in ensemble with an audience.
This latter point is most subtle. Most often we think of performer audience interaction as if it were action and reaction, whereas it is in reality an ensemble event with no clear boundaries demarcating the originator of the stimulus for the performance product. An audience, whether it be 25,000 people, or one person sets conditions for the performer to deal with. The performance event is, in any case always an act of co-creation between performer and audience. The situation is complicated in considering ritual where the "audience" may also be the performers. "Funny" audiences are those whose ensemble work with performers falls outside the predicted bounds.
8. The ability to acquire and execute set performance routines.
Richard Schechner describes all performance as "twice behaved." performative--twice behaved--rehearsed--prepared--done again--with no clear "original"--behavior (Schechner 1994). With some inspection, the range of these routines can be seen to be quite extensive. Some examples include:
a. A stage play
b. a stand-up comedy monologue
c. a night-club torch song
d. a political stump speech
e. a sales pitch
f. a standard marital argument
g. a pick-up line in a bar
In a set performance routine much of the performance routine is boilerplate, because it has been done so often and with so many people that the probability of predictable shape in ensemble work with the audience is very great. They will provide a predictable range of "reactions" to elements of the performance.
Students come to see the development of these skills by working on a specific performance for presentation to the class at the end of a semester, and by keeping a performance diary that embodies the principles stated above. They likewise observe another person preparing their own performance, and keep a careful diary of what the other person is doing. These "field notes" are preparatory to the final term paper in the course where students use a large repertoire of observational performance skills to trace the course of and analyze the dynamics of a particular performance.
Seeing Regularities and Patterns
The observational exercises, prepared performances and term papers used in coursework are designed to lead students to see that performance is structured and regular--indeed, that it must be in order to achieve any effect.
Students are often surprised to see that even a simple greeting routine has structure, or on a more complex level that a television drama is usually organized into a simple three-act form. Only by observing raw data themselves can students fully appreciate the highly organized nature of any performance form.
Once they are able to see the overall pattern of any given performance form, they are then able to see how the individual performative elements are arranged within the pattern to provide overall effectiveness for the form. A simple example is the pattern of volume contrast in a good public speech. Once students have a grasp of the overall structure of the speech, they can then see how elements such as volume serve performatively to make the message of the speech effective.
It is important, as mentioned above, that students come to understand the organizational patterns of performance as accomplishments of performers rather than passively received structural elements, as is often the case in anthropological studies of ritual and ceremony. Even the pattern in a simple greeting routine must be accomplished through choices of action. Of course, such complex performance activities as drama require far more preparation and effort to accomplish their patterning.
Analyzing Positively and Negatively Valued Performance Activity
Once they are able to see the organized nature of performance, students find it particularly interesting to discuss the reasons why performance is positively or negatively valued. I help students to see that in order for performance activity to be positively valued, it must accomplish a successful representation of symbolic reality. It must also fulfill a series of additional criteria. It must be spontaneous, true, skillful, and effective
Seeing a successful performative representation of symbolic reality requires an observer to be able to see how that performance correctly embodies a culturally recognizable form and displays it so that it can be recognized and reacted to by observers. The number and range of culturally recognizable forms are infinite, and ever expanding, since members of a society can continually create new ones, provided they can constrain events in such a way that these new forms become recognizable. Among possible forms that performers can represent are emotional states (anger, sincerity), values (human rights, basic decency, etiquette, pity, kindness), culturally recognizable arguments (contradiction, congruity, paradox, authority, common knowledge, scientific method), cultural archetypes (martyr, hero), actual legendary figures (Christ, Rama, Mohammad).
Usually the repertoire for representation is drawn from a stock of cultural material that is readily accessible to members of the public. The performer must then invoke the correct form, draw attention to that which is to be represented, and attempt the representation.
The requirement that the representation be spontaneous refers to the need for evaluators to see that the representation is being presented directly, without the need to account for the mediation of the act of presentation. This is difficult to achieve, but when performance falls short of spontaneity it is less effective, because it is seen as less "pure." Sincerity and truth in performance are related to the relative perception of mediation.
Negatively valued performance is by contrast: non-Fluid/Stilted, self-conscious, inept/Unskillful, and therefore ineffective
The audience shows positive evaluation by symbolically encouraging continuance of the performance, requesting repetition of the performance, rewarding the performer.
It shows negative evaluation by symbolically discouraging the continuance of the performance through withdrawal of attention, through lack of enthusiasm, trough overt disapproval, by failing to request repetition of the performance, and by failing to reward (or by actually punishing) the performer. The performer learns to recognize the symbols of positive and negative evaluation
In the research exercises carried out in class students come to see how performance can be successful or unsuccessful even in very small and limited situations such as in greetings or in retail interactions using these criteria. This helps them to be able to evaluate more complex forms of performance, and to see the skills that are needed in any performative situation.
Understanding the Big Picture
Cultural performances and social meaning
Merely understanding how a particular performance works is not adequate for the anthropological study of performance. Students must eventually be directed to the large human questions mentioned at the beginning of this discussion that the study of performance can answer.
In helping students develop a "big picture" approach to performance, the work of Victor Turner is very helpful. Turner's work forms an essential foundation for the anthropological study of specific institutionalized structures of organized performance. His interest in performance centers on concerns with universal institutions. His work therefore plays a large role in my performance theory courses. Turner helps students to unify in their minds the institutions of
3. Liminal behavior
as well as make a connection concern with the universal processes of:
1. Social dramas
2. Ritual processes
A third important concern reflected in his writings has to do with the ways in which societies construct meaning in life
.. . . any society which hopes to be imperishable must whittle out for itself a piece of space and a while of time, in which it can look honestly at itself. . . . the supreme honesty of the creative artist who, in his presentations on the stage, in the book, on canvas, in marble, in music, or in towers and houses, reserves to himself the privilege of seeing straight what all cultures build crooked. (1986: 122).
Turner's concerns reflect those of Milton Singer, whose work, When a Great Tradition Modernizes, is often cited as the starting point for most anthropological studies of performance phenomena. Indeed, Singer identified the object of study as "cultural performances."
They included what "we in the west usually call by that name--for example, plays, concerts, and lectures. But they include also prayers, ritual readings and recitations, rites and ceremonies, festivals and all those things which we usually classify under religion and ritual rather than with the cultural and artistic. (Singer 1972: 71)
Cultural performances are composed of "cultural media" consisting of "modes of communication" that included not only spoken language, but also non-linguistic media such as song, dance, acting (and acting out), graphic arts and plastic arts. All of these phenomena combine and contribute to creating an event for public expression and display that accomplishes representation in everyday life.
Performative events have other qualities that relate to their basically social nature. First, they are not so much reflective as reflexive--they have concrete effects on the societies in which they occur. Some of the principal functions they serve are cultural prophylaxis, cultural regeneration, and cultural reinforcement.
There is also the point, often noted by Turner that mainstream society generates its opposite (1988: 24). That opposite picture is then presented in performance frames in order to indicate both the possibility of change, and the importance of the basic structure of society. I will treat this topic below at greater length in Chapter 9
Performance is subjunctive. Turner has used the notion of liminality and the phenomenon of liminality extensively in his discussions of ritual and performance. Liminal states dissolve all factual and commonsense systems into their components and "play" with them in ways never found in nature or in custom, at least at the level of direct perception. (Turner 1986: 25)
Drama and Social Drama--Special Forms of Cultural Performance
The bulk of my students come to the study of performance because they are specifically interested in drama and theater. Drama consists of literary compositions that tell a story, usually of human conflict, by means of dialogue and action, and are performed by actors, and presented to an audience, the nature and degree of whose involvement and participation varies from culture to culture (cf. Turner 1986: 27).
Helping students to see drama in a larger cultural context is a challenge, particularly because so many are involved themselves in dramatic training and performance, and they tend to see drama as an all-encompassing environment. In having them study performance ethnographically, I hope to help them realize that drama can be an effective way to scrutinize the quotidian world. Here too, Turner's work is an essential element through his analysis of social drama--public events that have a ritual or semi-ritual character, and that involve performative actions. These "social dramas" are often seen as political in nature. They are outlined extensively in Turner's publications, particularly Dramas, Fields and Metaphors (1974) and The Anthropology of Performance (1986).
I make a strong attempt to help students recognize social dramas in the world around them by coming to recognize the series of events: a breach in the social fabric, caused by a social action, natural disaster, disagreement or other disruptive event; a resulting cultural crisis; a redressive action on the part of social actors; and finally a reincorporation of the society as either a return to the status quo ante, or as a new social order.
A good deal of effort is devoted to helping students see how performative acts pervade social dramas. Like stage drama, social drama involves passionate social reflexivity. The breach may involve performative activities that characterize the society and its opposite. The strength and power of the crisis may hinge upon the success of accomplishing representation of the threat or danger to society posed by the breach. The third stage: redress, may often contain episodes of purification and sacrifice, both of which aim to remove the pollution of self-serving or factual conduct and restore, sometimes in the image or an ideal or mythical past a pure state of relations among the members (Ibid: 46). In this stage, the purification and sacrifice cannot take place unless the objects or individuals being purified or sacrificed can be demonstrably identified as symbolically potent. Performative skills are needed to make that identification operative. As Turner states:
The "force" of a social drama consists in its being an experience or sequence of experiences which significantly influences the form and function of cultural performative genres. Such genres partly "imitate" (by mimesis), the processual form of the social drama, and they partly, through reflection, assign "meaning" to it. (Turner 1986: 95)
Seeing What Performance Can Do
The bottom line for my instruction is to bring students to the realization that performance is the means--perhaps the principal means--through which people come to understand their world, reinforce their view of it and transform it on both small scale and large scale. It can be employed for conservative and for revolutionary uses. As a conservative force, it reinforces the truth of the world and enacts and verifies social order. It does this by example, as in dramatic presentations showing the workings of good and evil as culturally defined. It also does it by contract, showing the world as it looks in an inverted state through paradox, contradiction, comedy, and confrontation.
As a transformational force, performance behavior has the power to restructure social order through the persuasive power of rhetoric, and through the power of redefinition of both audience and context. It has the power to transform social structure in several ways. First and foremost, performance skills can be used to redefine the role of the performer him or herself. Richard Bauman notes in commenting on the autobiography of Dick Gregory that:
"Through performance, Gregory is able to take control of the situation creating a social structure with himself at the center. (Bauman 1977:44)
Studies of performance skills are for general anthropological understanding of human societies extremely valuable. Performance is generally highly valued in society. Successful performers are usually rewarded. One needs only look at the role of successful speechmakers (former president Ronald Regan), West African praise singers, rock and opera stars, and shamans and healers of all cultures to see this dynamic at work. Performers also have the power to sway public opinion regarding other individuals. Invective, praise, public recognition and vilification are important tools for reordering the social universe. When students see this clearly, their ability to analyze and understand ongoing social and political events in their own lives becomes greatly enhanced.
Conclusion--What students gain
An anthropological approach to teaching performance with a serious ethnographic component is ideal for a broad constituency of students. Students from the performing arts regularly come to see the interconnection of performance activity with "real life," and students from the social sciences and humanities gain an appreciation of the power of performance to transform society and culture.
One of the great lessons most students learn is a personal one: they come to terms with their own performance abilities in a powerful way. Students in the performing arts are able to examine what they do as performers in ways that help them become more effective. Students with little performance experience are surprised at what they can do themselves, and how sharp their observational skills become with regard to other performers and performances.
For anthropology students the lesson is particularly effective. Much of anthropology has taken the lead presented in literary studies and has treated culture as a "text" to be read and analyzed. The study of performance in human life shows burgeoning anthropologists that culture is dynamic and mutable, and that much of the unexpected changes that take place in cultural life are the result of effective performative activity on the part of strong members of the society. In this way the study of performance not only helps students, it helps anthropology strengthen a view of culture in which individuals have an essential role.
1955. A Theory of Play and Fantasy. Psychiatric Research Reports 2: 39-51.
1977. Verbal Art as Performance. Rowley, MA: Newbury House.
Beeman, William O.
1993. The Anthropology of Theater and Spectacle. Annual Review of Anthropology.
1986. Language, Status and Power in Iran. Bloomington: Indiana University Press.
1982. Culture, Performance and Communication in Iran. Tokyo: Institute for the Study of Languages and Cultures of Asia and Africa. (ILCAA).
1979. Man, Play and Games. New York: Schocken Books, 1979
1975. Beyond Boredom and Anxiety: The Experience of Play in Work and Games. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.
d'Aquili, Eugene G., Charles D. Laughlin and John Mc Mannus,
1979. The Spectrum of Ritual. New York: Columbia University Press.
1974. Frame Analysis. Cambridge: Harvard University Press
1979. Neurobiology of Ritual Trance. In Eugene G. d'Aquili, Charles D. Laughlin and John Mc Mannus, eds. The Spectrum of Ritual. New York: Columbia University Press. pp. 117-151.
MacAloon, John, ed.
1984. Rite, Drama, Festival, Spectacle. Philadelphia: Institute for the Study of Human Issues.
1988. Performance Theory: London and New York: Routledge.
1993. The Future of Ritual. London and New York: Routledge.
1972. When a Great Tradition Modernizes. New York: Praeger.
1993. Framing in Conversational Structures. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
1982. From Ritual to Theater: The Human Seriousness of Play. New York: PAJ Publications.
1986. The Anthropology of Performance. New York: PAJ Publications.
Van Gennep, Arnold
1960. The Rites of Passage. Chicago: University of Chicago Press. First published in 1908.
©1997 William O. Beeman, All rights reserved.