The solo performer and drama

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<ul><li><p>This article was downloaded by: [New York University]On: 08 October 2014, At: 02:25Publisher: RoutledgeInforma Ltd Registered in England and Wales Registered Number: 1072954Registered office: Mortimer House, 37-41 Mortimer Street, London W1T 3JH, UK</p><p>The Speech TeacherPublication details, including instructions for authorsand subscription information:</p><p>The solo performer and dramaTimothy J. Gura aa Assistant Professor of Speech at Brooklyn College , CityUniversity of New YorkPublished online: 18 May 2009.</p><p>To cite this article: Timothy J. Gura (1975) The solo performer and drama, The SpeechTeacher, 24:3, 278-281, DOI: 10.1080/03634527509378171</p><p>To link to this article:</p><p>PLEASE SCROLL DOWN FOR ARTICLE</p><p>Taylor &amp; Francis makes every effort to ensure the accuracy of all the information(the Content) contained in the publications on our platform. However, Taylor&amp; Francis, our agents, and our licensors make no representations or warrantieswhatsoever as to the accuracy, completeness, or suitability for any purposeof the Content. Any opinions and views expressed in this publication are theopinions and views of the authors, and are not the views of or endorsed byTaylor &amp; Francis. The accuracy of the Content should not be relied upon andshould be independently verified with primary sources of information. Taylorand Francis shall not be liable for any losses, actions, claims, proceedings,demands, costs, expenses, damages, and other liabilities whatsoever orhowsoever caused arising directly or indirectly in connection with, in relation toor arising out of the use of the Content.</p><p>This article may be used for research, teaching, and private study purposes.Any substantial or systematic reproduction, redistribution, reselling, loan, sub-licensing, systematic supply, or distribution in any form to anyone is expresslyforbidden. Terms &amp; Conditions of access and use can be found at</p><p></p></li><li><p>THE SOLO PERFORMER AND DRAMA</p><p>Timothy J. Gura</p><p>DRAMA, because of its dependenceon spectacle, poses a special chal-lenge for performance that is differentfrom other kinds of literature. True, wecan all recall solo performances in whichthe interpreter's implied simultaneousinterpersonal activity overcame the ob-stacles. Drama demands performance: bymeans of such concepts as "characterplacement," "action placement," and"focus," the solo performer can establishin the minds of his audience the core ofspectaclea sense of scene. Solo per-formers especially must rely on a widerange of conventions through whichaudiences, even audiences of skepticalactors and actresses, can be convinced.Nevertheless, because one" person is al-ways one person and because the "bodyfact" of a performer is always one sex,and because simultaneous physical inter-action is impossible, any rationale forthe solo performance of drama needscareful consideration.</p><p>The following views reflect only onerationale for the solo performance ofdrama. Doubtless many others exist.These are based on what I take to be thethree fundamental elements of theevent: what an audience expects fromthe solo performance of drama, what anaudience accepts during the perfor-mance, and the extent to which dramarequires the "spectacle fact" of the stagedproduction.</p><p>Too frequently one assumes that an</p><p>Mr. Gura is Assistant Professor of Speech atBrooklyn College of the City University of NewYork.</p><p>THE SPEECH TEACHER, Vol. 24, Sept. 1975</p><p>audience at a solo performance of dramaexpects from the performance the samekinds of pleasures and responses as froma staged production. This assumptionbelies an intriguing view of the func-tion of the solo performance of drama.If we, as audience, expect from the soloperformance and a staged production ofthe same play the same kinds of re-sponses and pleasures, we are admittinga sweeping philosophical assumption:since the solo performance cannot pro-vide the "spectacle fact" of the stagedproduction, the act of the solo perfor-mance must inevitably dim the very lit-erature it seeks to illuminate. Under-standably, few interpreters endorse thisposition. Yet by assuming that the soloperformance of drama and the stagedproduction elicit' essentially differentpleasures and responses, we accept atransformational function and effect fofthe act of interpretation, a position inwhich interpreters would feel equallyuncomfortable. The easiest positionwould be to ignore the genre of dramaentirely, and several theorists do so.1</p><p>1 Some of the major introductory textbooksthat pay little, if any, attention to the soloperformance of drama include Martin Cobin,Theory and Technique of Interpretation (Engle-wood Cliffs, N. J.: Prentice-Hall, Inc., 1959);Robert Beloof, The Performing Voice in Liter-ature (Boston: Little, Brown &amp; Co., 1966); andThomas Sloan and Joanna Maclay, Oral In-terpretation (New York: Random House, 1972).Advanced scholarship appears scarcely more in-terested in these problems. Little material de-voted to the solo performance of drama appearsin Doyle and Floyd (eds.), Studies in Interpreta-tion (Amsterdam: Rodopi V. I., 1972) or inHaas and Williams (eds.), The Study of OralInterpretation (Indianapolis: Bobbs-Merrill,1975). In all fairness, it must be admitted that</p><p>Dow</p><p>nloa</p><p>ded </p><p>by [</p><p>New</p><p> Yor</p><p>k U</p><p>nive</p><p>rsity</p><p>] at</p><p> 02:</p><p>25 0</p><p>8 O</p><p>ctob</p><p>er 2</p><p>014 </p></li><li><p>THE SOLO PERFORMER AND DRAMA 279</p><p>In the act of the solo performance ofdrama, either we do something to theplay (we process it through a perform-ing medium) or we do something withthe play, so that the play and the per-former exist as mutually significant (weattempt to achieve the goal of experi-enced literature).2 Obviously the func-tion of the solo performance providesthe key to understanding its nature,3</p><p>but two crucial qualifications must beexamined first.</p><p>One unique qualification of the soloperformance of drama arises from theaudience's acceptance of the perfor-mance. Interpreters rely strongly on vis-ual space in the performance of drama;but performances of poetry, for example,have long been received chiefly inacoustic space. This phenomenon mayarise from the earliest chanting poets,but also important is the fact that un-attenuated action and character interplayare not so often central to poetry as todrama, although the distinction is any-thing but ironclad. For example, wecharacterize as "dramatic" those poemsin which character interaction domi-nates, just as we describe as "poetic"those passages from plays in which char-acter interaction and overt physical ac-tivity seem minimal, and in which theverbal "music" seems heightened. Whilethe solo performer of prose fiction mustsolve a related problem, he enjoys anarrative viewpoint through which hemust present the action of the story.This cinematic focussing is by definitiondenied a drama, since the spectator's</p><p>many introductory texts do discuss the phe-nomenon.</p><p>2 While it is true that an interpreter rarelyperforms a whole play, the difficulties in per-forming the scene are also difficulties in per-forming the play, and no practical distinctionwill be made between them.</p><p>3 For a discussion of the relationship be-tween nature and function, see the first chapterof Rene Wellek and Austin Warren. The Theoryof Literature, 2nd. ed. (New York: HarcourtBrace and World, 1962).</p><p>eyes canand must in a staged produc-tionroam the scene to discover themeaning of the action. Passages of scenein prose fiction exist only within thepurview and at the pleasure of the nar-rative voice, accessible to audience andperformer orally (and aurally) first, vis-ually second, and always through thenarrational conscience. Moreover, theaudience at a solo performance of dramaexpects visual stimuli to dominate (we"see" a play and we "hear" a story or apoem). Indeed, the play itself was con-ceived with such scenic elements intactand unfiltered. We receive plays in visu-al space chiefly because dramatic actionpresumes the freedom of such space.</p><p>A second major qualification is thegeneral relationship between "spectacle"and a play. Some form of spectacle ispart of every play, from The Persians toEquus. The amount and degree of spec-tacle, and its function in the play, areother matters. The solo performer ofdrama seeks to incorporate the play'sspectacle into his performance, and fewwould quibble with his desire. But howcan we grasp, say, The Wild Duck orThe Three Sisters without the lights andsets so painstakingly described by theauthor? Or what of Shaw, whose stagedirections often tell more than the dia-logue? What response can the solo per-former make to these demands for spec-tacle?</p><p>Several answers are possible. A kiss, apie fight, a chase, or any intensely physi-cal interpersonal dramatic moment losespower when presented by the solo per-former. In scenes containing such mo-ments, the theatre's "spectacle fact" is soclearly a fundamental unmalleable ele-ment of the dramatic that the play diesif it is not presented in a manner gen-erally in keeping with the stated inten-tions of the playwright. The solo per-former cannot do justice to such plays.Without the sheer numbers which theat-</p><p>Dow</p><p>nloa</p><p>ded </p><p>by [</p><p>New</p><p> Yor</p><p>k U</p><p>nive</p><p>rsity</p><p>] at</p><p> 02:</p><p>25 0</p><p>8 O</p><p>ctob</p><p>er 2</p><p>014 </p></li><li><p>280 THE SPEECH TEACHER</p><p>rical spectacle demands, the play is dam-aged and the performance calls attentiononly to its inadequacies.</p><p>Nevertheless, the playwright com-municates a sense of the spectacular tothe silent reader through stage directions,scenic descriptions, and activity impliedin the dialogue. Perhaps the solo per-former of drama should look to Brecht's"alienation effect," and orally providewithin his performance those importantspectacle elements described in the play-wright's scenography. After all, no scenepainter or stage designer could constructas terrifying a bridge for Grusha to crossas the Singer and the peasants describein The Caucasian Chalk Circle. Whilethe scenography provides only a few feetof rope tied between two posts, not oneyard off the floor, our imaginations con-struct the spectacle. In the Dover Beachscene of King Lear (IV, vi), the cliff andshore are dreadful and real, at least par-tially so because they are designed andbuilt to the individual specifications ofeach audience member with the help ofEdgar's description.</p><p>Accepting the unique position of anaudience, and understanding the role of"spectacle" in drama, we are capable ofdetermining an appropriate rationale forthe solo performance of drama. We canbegin to understand the function of whatwe do.</p><p>In part, the solo performance of dramafunctions as a form of knowledge. Forthe performer, preparation followed byperformance is a cognitive experience inwhich he comes to know, in a number ofdifferent ways, the play he performs.Bodily, intellectually, emotionally, aes-thetically, he comes to a oneness with thetext he studies, in a way not unlike theactor. But since he attempts a numberof characters, the interpreter's knowledgeof the play may be broader than theactor's knowledge in a staged produc-tion. Unlike the actor, however, the cen-</p><p>tral goal of the interpreter is the play asa whole, and thus the cognitive act ofperformance for the interpreter often ismore spacious than the cognitive act ofthe actor.</p><p>At the same time, the audience mem-ber is able to experience the playthrough a unique perspective: the shift-ing focus of the speaking character.While his vision at a solo performanceis surely narrower than at a staged pro-duction, this more concentrated percep-tion of the play may illumine certainparts that are inaccessible in the morediffuse medium of the staged produc-tion. The play succeeds or fails as theobserver takes in the dramatic action,allowing characters to speak and be seenof and for themselves, without the myri-ad distractions which accompany anystaging and without the medial interposi-tions of the narrator. No one is upstaged,no one moves on another's line, no oneis covered. The viewer is led to the verbal(and, in a crystalline way, the visual)core of the play, seeing with an uncom-mon acuity the forces that, by acting in-dividually as they do, make the playwhat it is.</p><p>Thus we say that the solo performanceof drama directs the audience perceptionto a deeper kind of knowledge than thatreceived at a staged production. Thesolo performance also features an audi-ence which itself provides the "spectacleact," acquiring by the necessary and sev-eral uses of their own imaginations aknowledge of the play that an audienceat a staged production would be denied.The audience member at a solo perfor-mance creates sets, lights, costumes,dancesa process which is in itself apowerful act of performance.</p><p>In the solo performance, the playachieves organic unity, a kind of cogni-tion which assists the play in fulfillingits function. Of course, in any kind ofperformance the play changes to in-</p><p>Dow</p><p>nloa</p><p>ded </p><p>by [</p><p>New</p><p> Yor</p><p>k U</p><p>nive</p><p>rsity</p><p>] at</p><p> 02:</p><p>25 0</p><p>8 O</p><p>ctob</p><p>er 2</p><p>014 </p></li><li><p>THE SOLO PERFORMER AND DRAMA 281</p><p>elude kinds of knowledge of what it is.The solo performance, however, de-mands that unique embodiment of theplay which unites director, actor, anddesigner in one person, allowing the playto become one flesh, an acquisition obvi-ously denied the play in a staged version.When certain plays fail in solo perfor-mance, they are in fact displaying theartlessness of some element of the entireevent; seamswhether of the play, per-former, or performanceshow. And someplays even seem to resist those perfor-mances where certain of the interpreter'sconventions obscure the play. Let theperformer beware!</p><p>Function implies use, and the utilityof the solo performance of drama, likethe utility of literature itself, is found inthe seriousness or responsibility of itsprojected perceptions of experience.Solo performance is only one way of ex-periencing the world of dramatic litera-ture. A performer and a play can achieveresponsive perception without an audi-ence; in the solo performance the play,the interpreter, and the audience jointlyillumine the play. The play's perceptionof experience, the interpreter's experi-ence of the play, and the audience's per-ception of the performance are three dis-tinctively responsible elements produc-ing a creative dynamic different from allother forms of performance. The soloperformance achieves thereby specificand unique forms of knowledge, and aresponsible perception of forms of ex-periences.</p><p>The successful solo performance doesnot attempt to become the staged per-formance because the values of the soloperformance are inherent in its solo-ness,its individuality. To attempt thosepleasures of spectacle which expresslycharacterize theatrical media would vio-</p><p>late the nature and function of the in-terpretation of drama. Theatricalityneed...</p></li></ul>