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Theatre and Social Justice (January 2020): Performance Studies, Performance Theory, and Richard Schechner

by Martha Schmoyer LoMonaco

Performance Studies, Performance Theory, and Richard Schechner

Much of the theory and praxis of social justice theatre from the late twentieth century onward is indebted to performance studies, a new field of study that formally debuted at New York University in 1980 as an academic discipline under the stewardship of Richard Schechner. Schechner’s seminal collection Performance Theory (first published as Essays on Performance Theory, 1970–1976) continues to be the gold standard for understanding performance as a broad spectrum that includes (as he writes in the introduction) “ritualizations of animals (including humans) through performances in everyday life—greetings, displays of emotion, family scenes, professional roles, and so on—through to play, sports, theatre, dance, ceremonies, rites, and performances of great magnitude.” Schechner’s studies in anthropology and sociology, especially the work of Victor Turner and Erving Goffman, propelled a deeper investigation into all aspects of life where performance is engaged.

The Performance Studies Reader, edited by Henry Bial and Sara Brady, which includes essays by Schechner and numerous other luminaries, serves as a companion volume to Performance Theory by expanding its purview to the theory and work of scholars and practitioners throughout the world. Lastly, The Rise of Performance Studies: Rethinking Richard Schechner’s Broad Spectrum, edited by James Harding and Cindy Rosenthal, traces the genesis and development of the field of performance studies over forty years.