Performance Studies: ‘Richard III’s Inauthenticity’ & ‘Searching for Meyerhold in Australia’
‘Drunken prophecies, libels and dreams’: Richard III’s Inauthenticity
A presentation by Daniel Johnston
Richard III is perhaps the greatest actor in Shakespeare’s oeuvre. There is a doubleness in the would-be king since he is ‘outwardly’ caring while ‘inwardly’ scheming. Although Richard has been interpreted as a Machiavellian tactician, a phenomenological interpretation might examine his actions in terms of ‘inauthenticity’ – the failure to face the truth of one’s own being. Folding philosophical themes back into the performance process, this paper builds on previous research (Johnston 2021) by offering a phenomenological language for ‘thinking through theatre’ and the ‘knowing body’ in rehearsal – crafting the conditions for decentring scholarship and pedagogy in drama. Such an analysis follows Emily Shortslef (2017) who explores ghosts in Richard III as the materiality of Being-with others rather than interior conscience. Likewise, Hatice Karaman (2020) relates Shakespeare’s text to Levinas (the face-to-face encounter with the other) and Arendt (the two-in-one dialogue within the self). The approach involves reconfiguring knowledge by recognising theatre-making as a mode of epistemological inquiry and performance as an event of truth. In this sense, theatre phenomenology is a decentring practice in that it doesn’t take for granted the ‘inside’ (thinking) and ‘outside’ (material) body as an ‘isolated self’ but rather explores how we come to experience an inside and an outside in the first place. In approaching a role, theatre phenomenology begins with sensations, objects, actions, and other beings to reveal the interconnected whole of Being-in-the-world – something Richard fails to recognise.
Daniel Johnston is the author of Phenomenology for Actors: Theatre-Making and the Question of Being (2021) and Theatre and Phenomenology: Manual Philosophy (2017). He is an Honorary Associate at the Department of Theatre and Performance Studies, The University of Sydney. Previously, he was a Principal Lecturer at Sheffield Hallam University, UK., and also lectured at The University of Notre Dame, Australia, The University of Sydney, the National Institute of Dramatic Art (NIDA), and Macquarie University. He holds a PhD in Performance Studies (University of Sydney) and MA (Cantab) in Philosophy (University of Cambridge).
Daniel Johnston (2021) Phenomenology for Actors: Theatre-Making and the Question of Being, Bristol and Chicago: Intellect.
Hatice Karaman (2020) ‘The Spectral Other or the Self: Justice in Richard III’, British and American Studies, 26, 153-59.
Emily Shortslef (2017) ‘A thousand several tongues”: The Drama of Conscience and the Complaint of the Other in Shakespeare’s Richard III’, Exemplaria: Medieval, Early Modern, Theory, 29(2), 118-35.
Nesting Dolls: Searching for Meyerhold in Australia
A presentation by Chris Hay and Ian Maxwell
In a 1997 newspaper profile, the fêted director Barrie Kosky – at that time a freelancing provocateur – appraised the state of theatre reviewing in Australia:
You should not be writing any theatre reviews in major newspapers in this country unless you can sit down and have a conversation about Brecht, about Meyerhold, about 17th-century drama, about 20th-century forms. If you’re writing and you’re reviewing and you’re talking about our hybrid Western tradition, then f- – – you if you don’t know these things, because I won’t be bothered with you. There’s only a handful of people who know the territory. And the others? Dilettantes.
(“I’m Kosky and You’re Not!” Sydney Morning Herald, 9 May 1997)
Despite Kosky’s bullishness, Vsevolod Meyerhold never travelled to Australia, nor did any work or companies that he directed; in Australia, Meyerhold’s work is discussed mainly at a secondary school level – if it is discussed at all. Despite this, multiple high-profile practitioners and producing companies – most notably Peter Evans at Bell Shakespeare – cite the (in)direct influence of Meyerhold on their work. In this paper, we set off in search of the lineages of Meyerhold in Australia.
We argue that Meyerhold’s influence in Australia has always been felt at a remove from the original – a series of nesting dolls that lead back to the source, but always with intermediate layers. In this way, while we might observe that much work has been staged in Australia with a Meyerholdian mise-en-scène, his influence on these creators has passed through an intermediary. The same is true of training methodologies, which have similarly been developed through response and influence from an original already at a remove from Meyerhold’s work itself.
Chris Hay is Senior Lecturer in Theatre History and ARC DECRA Senior Research Fellow in the School of Communication and Arts at the University of Queensland. A PhD graduate in Theatre and Performance Studies from the University of Sydney, Chris is an Australian theatre and cultural historian, whose research focusses in part on the origins of institutional theatre training in Australia between 1949 and 1975. He is also an Associate Editor of the journal Theatre, Dance and Performance Training, for which he co-edited a special issue on Performer Training in Australia (vol. 12, no. 3, 2021), and has published widely on actor training and failure in creative arts learning and teaching in journals including About Performance, Australasian Drama Studies, and the Journal of Australian Studies.
Ian Maxwell is Acting Head of the School of Literature, Art and Media in the Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences at the University of Sydney. He has published essays and book chapters on romantic modernism in Australian theatre history, on actors’ health and wellbeing, and on hip hop culture. He is particularly excited about the imminent publication of a book titled A Holocaust Cabaret: Remaking Theatre from a Jewish Ghetto, edited by Lisa Peschel, focussed on the Prince Bettliegend project, and including scripts and essays (including one by Laura Ginters) about the work undertaken in the Rex Cramphorn Studio in 2017 to re-invent a cabaret/revue first performed in the ghetto city of Thereisenstadt/Terezin during the Nazi occupation.
AV Room, John Woolley Bldg, Rm S113, Sydney University