Tuesday, August 27, 2019

Hall, Fo, and theatrics of role and story

I'm reading a group of essays by Edith Hall concerned with Athenian theater, and came upon this:
In the twentieth century, theatrical roles became a notoriously
politicized issue. At the Moscow Art Theatre a hundred years ago,
Constantin Stanislavski focused on the actor’s conviction in the
naturalistic realization of a role. But his critics always urged that
this school produced self-regarding actors, who erected a wall be-
tween themselves and the voyeuristic audience: quintessentially
bourgeois theatre. Brecht insisted that the actor destroy the role
in order to present it as a manufactured entity, enabling the maintenance of critical distance. And for Dario Fo, acting means ‘recounting’: the actor must find the story rather than the character. Fo has urged that inherent in ‘the people’ is a collective dimension different from the individualizing tendencies of the bourgeoisie; this consciousness is supposedly expressed in ‘popular’ entertainment
forms that require actors to enter into dialogue with the audience,
rather than to display themselves for inspection.

The above is from Hall's The Theatrical Cast of Athens, chapter 1, where she addresses the question of which is primary, role (character) or story (plot). Hall's frame of reference is wide, and reflects decades of attention to the theater of Athens and well beyond. (And I'm grateful that she posted a free digital version of her book to Academia.edu).

I especially like her inclusion of Fo, whose Mistero Buffo I was privileged to witness in Florence in 1973.

Words fail to convey what Fo, using a public street, did there. To adapt Hall's mini-taxonomy (because it helps), one might describe it as Fo's finding a way to combine the vivid individuation of Stanislavski with an overlay of gestures, expressions and comments aimed to include the spectators in the scene. This connection opened the "fourth wall" (parabasis) to us, reminding us of both our genre awareness as an educated audience, as well as of the distance of history. We were at once the captive crowd on the streets of medieval Fireneze or Siena, and the 20th century latecomers, acutely conscious of the "collective dimension" undreamt of without the dialogic mimesis of Fo's genius.

Dario Fo

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