Printer Friendly

Theatre and Cultural Interaction.

"Try as we might," writes Maria Shevtsova in the first chapter of Theatre and Cultural Interaction, "we cannot cut society out of theatre" (6). In the pages that follow, Shevtsova demonstrates the mutual usefulness of theatre studies and sociology by showing the contextualized, situated ways in which theatre is produced and received. Discussing theory, productions, spectators, and performers in four separate sections, she ably illustrates how "works-in-performance are also works-in-society" (25). Shevtsova locates herself as a sociologist of theatre. Committed to empirically-based research but not empiricism, she insists on the material processes of theatre and the agency of practitioners and spectators. She subtly critiques semiotics for what she sees as the asocial sign and the loss of the conscious, acting subject. At the same time, she criticizes (conservative) theatre academics' resistance to what they perceive as the "science" of sociology.

In the first section of the book, Shevtsova outlines her theory of reception by reading Bourdieu and Bakhtin together. Emphasizing what she calls "the social sign," she allows Bakhtin's theories of multivocality and the social-situatedness of communication to permeate Bourdieu's delineation of "distinctions" by "taste," making Bourdieu's theories more flexible. She also works through critiques of the theories and work of Peter Brook, Eugenio Barba, and Jerzy Growtowski, attempting to infuse their universal humanism with sociological specificity.

Shevtsova then considers specific productions in context. Timberlake Wertenbaker's Our Country's Good, for example, creates completely different meanings for second-generation Australians in their 20s than for white, middle-class Londoners in their 40s. Spectators' ethnicities, nationalities, ages, and occupations play a significant role in reception competencies. The "myriad of sociological meanings" available to spectators emerge from specific production choices in context (44). Two productions of Peer Gynt, one in France and one in Australia, both by French directors, and a bilingual production (Russian and French) of The Three Sisters in France serve as examples. Shevtsova creates clear, evocative images of the productions, particularly through the directors' choices. But the complex theoretical frame which she introduces in the first chapter seems to fall out here, and directors' intentions stand in unproblematically for received meanings.

Most fascinating, I think, are Shevtsova's own case studies, which she details in "Spectators." She conducted her fieldwork at several theatres in Sydney, Australia to track the similarities and differences among audiences who attend "mainstream," "radical," "community," and "bilingual-bicultural" performances. She developed written audience surveys whose questions were sometimes open-ended ("Why do you come to the theatre?") and sometimes more pointed toward specific aspects of the production ("How did the set of Three Sisters affect the meaning of the play?").

The findings, while often not surprising, are nonetheless intriguing. For example, most spectators at all venues assert that theatre's primary function is "entertainment." But what "entertainment" means across sites and across productions varies from emotional rapture to cultural education. For other spectators, being "entertained" precludes education or emotional involvement. At this point, though, I longed for more analysis, since Shevtsova stopped after presenting her results. The numerous examples clearly demonstrate the degree to which notions of theatre are entrenched in notions of entertainment. Although she raises provocative questions about the significance of such repetitions and trends in thinking, she doesn't make an argument which analyzes those connections.

The last section of the book on "Performers" is the most formally innovative. It features an interview stitched together from five separate interviews with the Italo-Australian women actors from one of the case study productions. While the interview appears to be seamless, there are many voices, including the author's, which echo and contradict each other in disturbing and illuminating ways. One actor describes how "meeting Italo-Australian actresses was like home" (203). Another explains, "There was no censoring, no bullshit . . . . The shared experiences were amazing" (192), while a third said, "I've learned that just because you come from the same ethnic background, it doesn't mean that you will necessarily work well together. . . . I felt really repressed" (209, 213). The interview exemplifies a kind of critical ethnography which reveals the complexities of social negotiations. It also requires the reader to participate self-consciously in the production of meaning.

From the beginning of Theatre and Cultural Interaction, it is dear that Maria Shevtsova works "as a" sociologist. Her description of her research methodologies, her use of statistics, and her defense of qualitative research all locate her within the "social sciences." So while Shevtsova criticizes the division between theatre and sociology as academic practices, the text reads more like sociology and less like theatre studies. The division of the book into four parts also in some ways defeats Shevtsova's purpose - to prove that producers and spectators are mutually implicated as "active partners" in the production of theatrical and social meaning (13). In terms of form, Shevtsova often gestures toward what might be called a postmodern sociology. She describes some sections as "conversations" and acknowledges her complicity in the construction of "facts." I would suggest, though, that her description of her writing is more provocative than the writing itself, which usually reads as linear, organized, and contained. Finally, I found the book to be somewhat undertheorized. When theory does appear, it tends to be Bourdieu's (although she also mentions Brecht and Benjamin). I was disappointed that Shevtsova never refers to other sociologists of art like Janet Wolff, Paul diMaggio, or even Judith Blau, whose theories might complicate her analyses.

My quibbles with the book are small, though, because I think it's an important contribution to theatre studies. Theatre and Cultural Interaction is a fine example of interdisciplinary work; it focuses on the local uses of theatre production and reception; it relies on evidence that is empirical and works toward theorizing it. Its case studies - socially, culturally, and historically specific - serve as useful models for theatre scholars working on issues of reception in context.

STACY WOLF Florida State University
COPYRIGHT 1995 Johns Hopkins University Press
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 1995 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

Article Details
Printer friendly Cite/link Email Feedback
Title Annotation:Gay & Lesbian Queeries
Author:Wolf, Stacy
Publication:Theatre Journal
Article Type:Book Review
Date:May 1, 1995
Words:968
Previous Article:Paying the Piper: Causes and Consequences of Art Patronage.
Next Article:Kurze Geschichte Des Deutschen Theaters.
Topics:

Terms of use | Privacy policy | Copyright © 2019 Farlex, Inc. | Feedback | For webmasters