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Students: Chapter 6. Performing

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An actor on the stage, a shaman, or someone in trance stands for or is taken over by someone else or something else. This “else” may be a character in a drama, a demon, a god, or a pot. On the other hand, a performer in everyday life is not necessarily playing anyone but herself. The non-stage roles of ordinary life are many, ranging from the highly formalized performances of government and religious leaders to the semi-fixed roles of the professions, to the more easy-going improvisations of informal interactions.

The two kinds of performing encounter each other when an actor studies a person in ordinary life in order to prepare a role for the stage. This mimesis is actually not of real life but of a performance. There is no such thing as unperformed or naturally occurring real life. The object of the actor’s “real life study” is also performing, though she may not be fully aware that her behavior is codified. All behavior is twice-behaved, made up of new combinations of previously enacted doings. A wholly conscious performer, if such a person exists, is one who twice-performs twice-behaved behaviors.

Classroom Activities


  1. Stage a scene from a realistic play by Henrik Ibsen, David Mamet, or Arthur Miller – in a totally nonrealistic manner. Is your scene successful? If so, why; and if not, why not? Discuss how the text of a drama does or does not determine the style of acting. Where is the "creativity" located? In the text, in the directing, in the acting, in the various interactions among these? Ought any be privileged over the others?
  2. Make a Happening. Be certain that all the performing in it is “nonmatrixed.” Discuss the differences between your Happening and the scene you made from a realistic play.
  3. Is realism a fixed quality or something that changes over time? As a group, watch part of an “old” film from the 1930s, 1950s, 1970s, and 1990s. Discuss whether the acting and directing are “realistic.” What changes do you note over time? Perform a scene from one of the films you watched in a style that you think of as realism for today. What's the difference between the scene you performed and the same scene as shown in the movie?  
  4. Take a class in a performance genre that includes codified training (ballet, tap, martial arts, yoga, piano, etc.). What differences do you note between what you were learning in the class and your ordinary daily behavior? Is it possible to master any elements of a codified performance genre in one class? 
  5. Create a piece of object and/or puppet and/or masked performance. How does working with objects, puppets, and/or masks differ from working with "just people"? 


  1. Think about the different roles you play daily. Write up your typical day with particular attention to the different roles you enact. How much do these vary day to day?
  2. Research two different kinds of shamanism. Determine what is similar about each type of shamanism and what is different. Can you generalize about shamanism from your two cases? How are shamanic performances different from theatre performances?
  3. Anna Deavere Smith is a performer who uses hybrid acting. Choose two other performers who use hybrid acting. What are the differences among these three examples?
  4.  TruTV describes itself as "Not reality. Actuality." What do the producers mean? What do they want viewers to think/feel? After watching several TruTV shows write about the differences between ordinary life, the staging of a play, performance art, and TruTV.

Sample Discussion Questions


  1. Are the performances of everyday life as codified as ballet? Is daily life a dance -- or some kind of known performance -- by another name? How can the concept of “restoration of behavior” help one understand ordinary life? Are there differences between the restoration of behavior approach and Shakespeare's "All the world's a stage" approach?
  2. What are the differences between how a shaman in trance performs, the acting of Meryl Streep, and a mother chiding her six-year-old daughter for some bad behavior?
  3. Is all acting in popular culture “realistic”? Where do you find examples of other kinds of acting? Think about television, film, YouTube, etc.
  4. How do you “perform yourself”? What roles do you play? Do you have some roles you play more or less often? Do you have roles that are more formal than others? What changes do you make in your physical appearance, voice, and actions to suit your different life roles? Put together and show a short collage -- no more than two minutes total -- of your life roles.
  5. Do you perform yourself if no one (or camera) is watching? If not, who is that "not-performing" person?


Some readers will have noticed a couple of errors in the quiz for this chapter. We apologise to anyone for whom this caused problems, and have made sure that everything is now correct.


Adolphe Appia (1862–1928)

Swiss visionary opera and stage designer who was particularly fascinated by the possibilities of “living light.” He also advocated abstract rather than romantic or naturalistic stage settings. His practical work and theories have had a deep impact on modern theatre lighting and stage design. Many of his important ideas are contained in Adolphe Appia: Texts on Theatre (1993).

Caesar Augustus (63 BCE–14 CE)

First emperor of Rome. Presided over the expansion of the Roman Empire across Europe and northern Africa.

Azuma Katsuko (1943–96)

Japanese nihon buyo dancer. Nihon buyo is closely related to kabuki. Azuma collaborated with Eugenio Barba for a number of years at the International School of Theatre Anthropology (ISTA).

Eugenio Barba (1936– )

Italian-born director and theorist, founder in 1964 of Odin Teatret of Holstebro, Denmark. The Odin features ensemble devised pieces, intensive actor training, workshops, and touring. In 1980 Barba convened the first session of ISTA – the International School of Theatre Anthropology, an ongoing intercultural investigation into performing. Barba’s books include The Floating Islands (1979) and Beyond the Floating Islands (1986), both with Fernando Taviani, A Dictionary of Theatre Anthropology: The Secret Art of the Performer (1991, with Nicola Savarese), The Paper Canoe (1995), and Land of Ashes and Diamonds (1999).

Jane Belo (1904–68)

American anthropologist and ethnographic filmmaker who collaborated with Margaret Mead and Gregory Bateson on the film, Trance and Dance in Bali (1951). Her books include: Trance in Bali (1960), Traditional Balinese Culture Essays (1970), and Bali: Rangda and Barong (1986).

Ruth Berlau (1906–74)

Danish novelist, actress, and theatre director. Collaborated with Bertolt Brecht on the writing of The Caucasian Chalk Circle (1943–5) and The Good Person of Szechwan (1938–41).

Matthew Bourne (1960– )

English dancer and choreographer. Winner in 1996 of the Olivier and Tony Awards for his all-male Swan Lake. Additionally, his work includes The Nutcracker (2002), Play Without Words (2002), Highland Fling (2005), and Edward Scissorhands (2005).

Johnnie Cochran (1937–2005)

The American lawyer who successfully defended O. J. Simpson on murder charges. Before defending Simpson, Cochran had a long and successful career – but the Simpson trial made Cochran a national figure. After the acquittal, Cochran hosted his own Court TV show and appeared as a guest on many talk shows. Cochran wrote two books: Journey to Justice (1996) and A Lawyer’s Life (2002).

Émile Jaques-Dalcroze (1865–1950)

Swiss educator and originator of “eurhythmics,” a system combining music, rhythm, and movement. The goal of Dalcroze’s method is to integrate all the senses in the service of aesthetics. Dalcroze’s method continues to be widely practiced and influential.

François Delsarte (1811–71)

French teacher of acting and singing. Originator of a complex system coordinating facial displays, hand gestures, movements, and voice to express specific emotions. His ideas are summarized in Genevieve Stebbins’ Delsarte System of Expression (1977 [1902]).

Paul Ekman (1934– )

American psychologist. Leading authority on the expression of emotions by the human face. Ekman has tried to prove that these emotional expressions are universal. Among his many books: Unmasking the Face (1975, with Wallace V. Friesen), Emotion in the Human Face (1982), Telling Lies (1985), The Nature of Emotion (1994, with Richard J. Davidson) Emotions Revealed (2003), and What the Face Reveals (2005, with Erika L. Rosenberg).

Johann Wolfgang von Goethe (1749–1832)

Prolific and influential German poet, novelist and playwright – first a Romantic and then a classicist. Among his many works are The Sorrows of Young Werther (1774), Iphigenia in Taurus (1787), Torquato Tasso (1789), The Apprenticeship of Wilhelm Meister (1796), and Faust (Part 1, 1808, Part 2, published posthumously, 1833).

Robert Herrick (1591–1674)

English poet and cleric whose 1648 collection Hesperides contained 1,200 poems. Herrick wrote about both scared and secular subjects. Herrick’s most famous poem, “To the Virgins, To Make Much of Time,” begins with the lines: “Gather ye rosebuds while ye may, / Old time is still a-flying: / And this same flower that smiles to-day / Tomorrow will be dying.”

Adolf Hitler (1889–1945)

Austrian-born dictator of Germany from 1933 to 1945. In 1921 Hitler became the Nazi leader; by 1932 the Nazis were Germany’s largest party. Hitler became Chancellor in 1933, re-titling himself “Führer” (Leader). By ordering the invasion of Poland in 1939, Hitler started World War II. A virulent anti-Semite, Hitler set the highest priority on the “final solution,” the Shoah (Holocaust). When he faced total defeat, Hitler committed suicide. Author of Mein Kampf (My Struggle, 2001 [1925–26]).

Henrik Ibsen (1828–1906)

Norwegian playwright noted for his pioneering realistic dramas dealing with the personal and social interactions of middle-class characters. Among his many plays are Peer Gynt (1867), A Doll’s House (1879), Ghosts (1881), Enemy of the People (1882), Hedda Gabler (1890), and The Master Builder (1891).

Kalidasa (probably 4th or 5th century CE)

The master poet-dramatist of the Indian Sanskrit tradition. His best-known play, Shakuntala, a tale of love lost and then regained, is still often performed. His other works include Mālavikāgnimitram (Malavika and Agnimitra) and Vikramorvashiyam (Urvashii Won Through Valor).

Rodney King (1966– )

African-American motorist who in 1991 was chased down a highway, taken from his car, and beaten by four Los Angeles policemen. Even though he did not resist, King was struck more than 50 times with metal batons. From a nearby apartment, George Holliday videotaped the beating – Holliday’s videotape was repeatedly broadcast on television. In April 1992, after a trial in California State Court and despite the graphic evidence, three of the policemen were acquitted (no verdict was reached on the fourth). The acquittals ignited rioting in Los Angeles. Fifty-three people died, 7,000 were arrested, and property damages totaled more than 1 billion dollars. In 1993 a US Federal Court found two of the four policemen guilty of violating King’s civil rights. They served two years in prison.

Michael Kirby (1931–97)

American performance historian and theorist, director, and actor. Editor of TDR: The Drama Review (1971–85). Author of Happenings (1965) and A Formalist Theatre (1987).

Rudolf von Laban (1879–1958)

German dance pioneer whose work included movement choirs, expressionist dance, and the development of a system of movement notation still widely used today. Laban for a time willingly worked for the Nazis until he was “dismissed” in 1936 because of his “decadent choreography.”

Mei Lanfang (1894–1961)

Chinese performer of jingju and kunqu, two kinds of classical sung theatre or “opera.” Mei specialized in dan roles (women). Mei’s international tours and demonstrations helped bring Chinese theatre to the attention of non-Chinese theatre practitioners and scholars.

Federico García Lorca (1898–1936)

Spanish poet and playwright, murdered by Falange fascists at the outset of the Spanish civil war. Lorca’s plays include Blood Wedding (1933), Yerma (1934), and The House of Bernarda Alba (1936).

David Mamet (1947– )

American playwright, screenwriter, and director. Among his many plays are American Buffalo (1975), Glengarry Glen Ross (1983), Oleanna (1992), The Old Neighborhood (1997), and Romance (2005). His films include House of Games (1987), The Spanish Prisoner (1998), and Wag the Dog (1998).

Christopher Marlowe (1564–93)

English playwright killed in a barroom brawl when he was 29, whose works include The Jew of Malta (c. 1589), Edward II (c. 1592), and Dr. Faustus (c. 1593).

Timothy McVeigh (1968–2001)

American terrorist convicted and executed for planning and carrying out the bombing in 1995 of the Oklahoma City Federal Office Building. One hundred and sixty-eight persons died in the blast and hundreds more were wounded.

Margaret Mead (1901–78)

American anthropologist and public intellectual who was a curator at New York’s Museum of Natural History from 1926 to 1978. Mead expressed strong opinions on a wide range of subjects from sexuality, women’s rights, and racism, to population control, the environment, and nuclear arms. Among her books: Coming of Age in Samoa (1928), Growing Up in New Guinea (1930), Sex and Temperament in Three Primitive Societies (1935), And Keep Your Powder Dry: An Anthropologist Looks at America (1942), and Male and Female (1949).

Arthur Miller (1915–2005)

American playwright in the realist style. Among his many plays are All My Sons (1947), Death of a Salesman (1949), The Crucible (1953), A View from the Bridge (1955), After the Fall (1964), The Price (1968), The Ride Down Mt. Morgan (1991, revised 1999), Broken Glass (1994), and Resurrection Blues (2002). For Miller’s views on theatre, see The Theatre Essays of Arthur Miller (1996).

Sanjukta Panigrahi (1932–97)

Indian dancer widely regarded as the leading exponent of odissi dance. Panigrahi also collaborated with Eugenio Barba at the International School of Theatre Anthropology (ISTA) on many experiments exploring the relationship between Asian and Western performing.

Arthur Schopenhauer (1788–1860)

German philosopher whose most important work is The World as Will and Representation (1818). A pessimist, Schopenhauer believed that some relief from the pain of living could be found in music, philosophy, and art.

Percy Bysshe Shelley (1772–1822)

English Romantic poet whose works include the plays The Cenci (1819) and Prometheus Unbound (1820) and “Adonais” (1821), an elegy written in memory of the fellow poet, John Keats.

O. J. Simpson (1947– )

American football star and then movie actor, television commentator, and pitchman who was tried in 1995 for the murders of his former wife Nicole Brown Simpson and her companion Ron Goldman. Simpson was acquitted, but later Nicole’s family won a large award in civil court.

Anna Deavere Smith (1950– )

American actor, performance artist, and writer best known for her one-woman shows – Fires in the Mirror (1992) and Twilight: Los Angeles (1993) – in which she embodied individual responses to the violent crises that shook their communities. Author of Talk to Me: Listening Between the Lines (2000) and House Arrest (2004).

Albert Speer (1905–81)

Hitler’s architect and later director of war industries during the 1940s. For the Nazi Nuremberg Rally of 1936, Speer designed a “cathedral of light” by aiming batteries of anti-aircraft searchlights directly up. Convicted of war crimes, Speer served 20 years and was released in 1966. Author of Inside the Third Reich (1997 [1970]).

Joseph Stalin (1879–1953)

Communist ruler of the Soviet Union from 1928 until his death. Stalin – “man of steel” – was the name he chose for himself (born “Dzhugashvili”). Once in power, Stalin ruthlessly disposed of his rivals in the Great Purge of the 1930s. During World War II, he allied the USSR with the Western powers. After Germany and Japan were defeated in 1945, the alliance disintegrated and the Cold War ensued. Under Stalin, the USSR became a superpower, but the brutality of his rule was repudiated by Nikita Khrushchev in 1956.

Konstantin Stanislavsky (1863–1938)

Russian actor, director, and acting teacher. Co-founder in 1898 with Vladimir Nemirovich-Danchenko of the Moscow Art Theatre. In the early part of the twentieth century, Stanislavsky developed principles of actor training that continue to be extremely influential. Author of My Life in Art (1924), An Actor Prepares (1936), Building a Character (1949), Stanislavsky on the Art of the Stage (1950), and Creating a Role (1961).

Margarete Steffin (1908–41)

German author who collaborated with Brecht on the writing of several of his plays including The Round Heads and the Pointed Heads (1931–4), The Terror and Misery of the Third Reich (1935–8), Señora Carrar’s Rifles (1937), Galileo (1937–9), The Good Person of Szechwan (1938–41), and The Resistible Rise of Arturu Ui (1941).

Lee Strasberg (1901–82)

American acting teacher, actor, and director. In 1931, he co-founded the Group Theatre of New York – whose actors and directors had a profound influence on American theatre and movies. Strasberg taught at the Actors Studio in New York from 1949 until his death. There he developed “the Method,” a system based on Stanislavsky’s but which emphasized how actors could use their own personal emotional lives as the basis for developing roles. Strasberg’s ideas are to some degree represented in two books: Strasberg at the Actors Studio: Tape Recorded Sessions (1965, with Robert H. Hethmon) and A Dream of Passion in the Development of the Method (1987, with Evangeline Morphos).

Suetonius (c. 70–c.130)

Roman historian, author of Lives of the Caesars (c. 110).

Helene Weigel (1900–71)

Austrian-born actor, the wife and partner of Brecht. Weigel played leading roles in a number of Brecht’s plays including The Mother (1932) and Mother Courage and her Children (1949). After Brecht’s death in 1956, Weigel became leader of the Berliner Ensemble.


Broad Spectrum of Performance