Monday, January 15, 2007

‘society-in-miniature’? but where does the stage end?

Before a note of music has been played, the building and its mode of organization have created among those present a set of relationships, which are a microcosm of those of the larger… society outside its walls.
Small, 1998, p. 36.
Thanks to sjz and Peter, I got myself into a complete twist a while ago. The problem revolved around words like ‘diplomacy,’ and in retrospect that entry was prescriptive and consequently, ironically enough, totalitarian. Even in retracting my implicit prescriptions, however, there are still problems.
Many of these problems, I think, come from my gung-ho attitude to language. Some of the confusion stems from using ‘sociological’ terms such as ‘compromise’ and ‘diplomacy’ in discussing life on the stage, but the serious issues come, I think, from my use of the expression ‘society-in-miniature’ to describe the acts and relationships that take place on, and constitute, the stage.
Let me take that latter point first. I think, in retrospect, ‘society-in-miniature’ is, at best, a kludge, and, at worst, a discursive liability. It implies that the social (the world off-stage) is clearly separate from the stage. Consequently, what happens on the stage can only mirror the off-stage world.
So that’s what I’ve been saying all this time….

Oh, crap.

I’ve been implying that there’s some hard-edged border between the constitutive and the discursive; between the ‘real’ and the ‘fictional’; between the off-stage and the stage.

Pure, 100%, distilled, idiotic garbage.

And, as a result of using this short hand—‘society-in-miniature’—I’d been implying a causal relationship between the macro-social and the micro-social (something that I had already disputed).
Okay, if I were smarter, what could I have said?
Stage as the place where the artist can be and function in any way the artist wants…. Being real…. A place to act 'as if' at the very least.
Stage as place where audience can be as concerned with the world as little or as much as they want.
sjz, Dec-6-2006
The stage is not separate from the social. The stage is not (necessarily) a fictionalized version of the off-stage world (there’s no ‘as if’). On the other hand, the off-stage world is no more real (non-fictional) than the stage. If I use ‘sociological’ terms to describe the stage it is not to make the stage mirror society, but because the stage, and what happens on it, is sociological: it is the (dis)orderings and (de)structurings of agents and relationships.
What happens in a ‘theatre’ or other ‘performance space’ is important in the context of the world ‘outside’. They exist in some sort of dialectical relationship with each other, rather than in separate compartments.
Frost and Yarrow, 1998, p. 3.
However, to put on my prescriptive hat back on for the moment, I don’t think that we do ourselves any favors by claiming any kind of political innocence on stage.


Frost, Anthony, and Ralph Yarrow (1990), Improvisation in Drama (London: MacMillan).
Small, Christopher (1998), Musicking: The Meanings of Performing and Listening (Hanover: Wesleyan University Press).

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