Gave a talk today about what I see as some of the consequences of the curiously morbid way in which we in the West have chosen to make theatre. It went very well though now I'm a little fuzzy on the free wine and the congratulations.
For the sake of space and interest will just put an excerpt here but if anyone is interested please let me know and I can send you the full transcript.
The theatrical text gives new life to dead performances. But it is a different life, not the live performance itself, but a textual memory, a recreation. An afterlife.
These theatrical texts provide a way of remembering and a way of mourning. Frequently, within at least the conventions of the British theatre, on leaving the auditorium, even during the interval, the theatrical text is immediately available for purchase. At the National Theatre Bookshop, every major production in London is represented, under the name of the venue at which the production is being performed, by a theatrical text. The commodified text has come to serve the same purpose as the holiday photograph or more specifically, the theme park photograph that captures the screaming rollercoaster-riders in mid flight. It becomes, in the truest sense, a souvenir of the performance; both the photograph and the text are at once a ‘spur to memory’ and a remembrance of something irretrievably passed.
The theatre text as ghost is both the memory of what remains and the mourning of what is lost, or, to borrow Eduardo Cadava’s Benjaminian description of photography, ‘simultaneously what passes away and what survives this passing, that is, passing itself.' The text is a locus of ‘ghostings’, hauntings, memories of what has been lost, mourning and death. And in the western text-based theatrical tradition it is upon those haunted spectres that ‘survive this passing’ that new performances are continually built. Even new work is created in the knowledge of the textual afterlife that it will inevitably have.
The text haunts the performance with its own death, with its certainty that it is ‘all that will remain of what passes into history.’ And perhaps this explains the curiously morbid nature of the western theatre tradition built upon these spectral texts; a tradition in which ghosts are mistaken for characters, memorials are mistaken for blueprints, and everybody wants to play Hamlet. Indeed, as Marvin Carlson states, ‘not only all Ibsen’s plays but all plays in general might be called ghosts.’