Commentary on Richard Schechner’s Work on Defining Drama, Script, Theatre and Performance

When a colleague saw me reading the essay “Drama, Script, Theatre and Performance” by Richard Schechner, I was not surprised when she informed he that he is in fact a professor at my university who teaches the course, “Ritual and Play”. Schechner’s paper was published in The Drama Review in September 1973. In his paper, Schechner discusses how the words named in his title, have distinct definitions though the lines between them are often blurred. He brings forth examples to discuss the differentiation between the terms, relating them through the function of play and rituals that exist in certain cultures and communities (hence why it was not so surprising to learn that he in fact teaches the aforementioned course). He attributes theatre as having originated out of rituals. The difference in prehistoric ritual and contemporary ritual however lies in that “the doing is a manifestation more than a communication” (7). Schechner continues to explain that “’scripts’ in ancient performances are patterns of doing, not modes of thinking” (7).

I was initially confused when reading Schechner’s work. I had never considered that the terms drama, script, theatre and performance, are actually distinct from one another. With the exception of perhaps script, I used these words interchangeably in conversation. Schechner breaks down these words in a way that not only distinguishes them, but also shows how one exists within another. He claims drama to be “the smallest, most intense” of the terms (8). It is a written map, and can be taken from place to place regardless of whom the ‘messenger’ is. With a script however, the basic code of the event, it requires that the messenger be able to know the script and teach it to others. Theatre then becomes the event itself enacted by a specific group of performers, the actual “manifestation or representation of the drama and/or script” (8). Lastly, the performance is what becomes “the whole constellation of events” and involves the performers and the audience (8).

I would call Toshi Reagon’s concert version of Octavia Butler’s Parable of the Sower a performance. Rather than retain the illusion of a wall between the audience and the performers, one where both parties are meant to conform to a certain kind of etiquette, Toshi would talk to the audience casually. She would check in with the audience (often, but not in a way that was disruptive), and guide them through the importance of a particular song, for example. More importantly, she gave the audience a sense of her personality and her story. I was also lucky to have a class where she was our guest for the day. This may sound strange to say, but she felt real. I think so often one is taken a back by the success of a particular person and by the work that defines their career, but both in class and on the night of the show, I felt like she was able to connect with the audience in a way that was personal, and real. The audience in itself is such a major component to the way the stage is set up. The audience influences the stage as Toshi and her band wanted to make sure that the audience was a part of the experience. Singers would also sing outwards to the audience, not just by coming up to front or center stage, but by also trying to make eye contact and singing to the people who were seated beside them. In a performance, the physical space itself where it all takes place is important. Additionally, Toshi and her ensemble wrote the songs sang. They adapted Butler’s novel and turned it into something that can be taken from place to place (like drama), person to person (script), is enacted by they themselves (theatre), and involves the audience (performance). Ultimately, performance is a culmination of all these different elements coming together. Toshi truly found ways for each element and aspect of performance to be enhanced and created an experience that was one to remember for a lifetime.

Works Cited:
Schechner, Richard. “Drama, Script, Theatre, and Performance.” The Drama Review: TDR 17.3 (1973): 5-36. JSTOR [JSTOR]. Web.


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