What is training for? I think of five functions that do not always exist separately. They overlap. In North America we train performers so they can interpret dramatic texts. That is a Euro-American cultural need. For this job of interpreting of a variety of texts from many periods in different styles you want flexible performers, people who can play Hamlet one day, Gogo the next, and Willie Loman the day after. Training to do this means that the performer is not the primary author or guardian of the text. He is the transmitter. And you want a transmitter to be transparent, as clear as possible.
The second function of training is to make the performer into one who transmits a ‘performance text’. The performance text is the whole multi-channel process of communication that makes up a performative act. In some cultures, in Bali and Japan, for example, the notion of a performance text is very clear. No Drama does not exist as a set of words which are then interpreted by actors. No Drama exist as a set of words inextricably woven into music, gesture, dance, methods of recitation, and costuming. We must look at No not as the realisation of a written text but as a total performance text, where during portions of the performance non-verbal components are dominant.
These performance texts – No, Kathakali in India, classical ballet – exist as networks of behaviour rather than as verbal communications. It is not possible to translate performance texts into written texts. All attempts at ‘notation’ can be only partly successful. Training for the transmission of performance texts is fundamentally different than training for the interpretation of dramatic texts.
The third function of training – not too well known in Euro-American culture but very well known in Native America, Japan, and elsewhere – is the preservation of secret knowledge. Methods of performing are the valuable and they belong to specific families or groups who guard their secrets carefully. To be selected for training is to gain access to esoteric, powerful, closely-guarded knowledge. This gives performance a power.Training is knowledge, knowledge is power. Training is the link to the past, to the other worlds of reality, to the future. And for a person to have access to performance knowledge is both a special privilege and a dangerous risk. It’s not advertised, offered for sale at schools, of freely written up in books.
This is the way shamans work. To shamans, performance knowlwdge is not simply about how to entertain, although it does not disparage entertainment, but goes beyond entertainment to getting at the core of the culture. The shaman isformer whose personality and tasks put him or her at the fringe or the margin, but whose knowledge locates him or her at the centre. There is always that terrible tension between the centrifugal and the centripetal. Sophocles’ Philoctetes is a kind of shaman – to get use of his bow society must put up with his stinking wound.
The first two functions of training – the interpretation of dramatic texts and the transmission of performance texts – can be abstracted and encoded. But this third – the learning of secrets – can be acquired person-to-person. It is a most intimate process.
The fourth function of training is to help performers achieve self-expression. This is an outgrowth of individualism. This kind of training specialises in getting the inside out – it is more concerned with psychology than behaviour. This kind of training is manifest in Grotowski’s work, Stanislavski’s, and the Actor’s Studio. Personal expression is closely woven into the interpretation of dramatic texts. So that we have Olivier’s, Burton’s, Brando’s, Langella’s Hamlet, but not England’s or America’s or Canada’s Hamlet. The performer comes through the role. This kind of performer does not add to or vary a set role but shows himself in and through the role. The performer has a fuller claim on reality than the role. The role exists as a dramatic rather than a performance text. The personal expression of the performer is somehow twisted and kneaded into the interpretation of the written text. The text takes on a distinct personal flavour. And thereby, audiences enjoy both the sense of a collective act and the participation in a private revelation.
The fifth function of training is the formation of groups. In a culture as individualistic as the Euro-American, training is needed to overcome individualism. Even to work together as a grpup takes extensive training. Group expression with individual variation is the norm in Japan and India. It must be learned in Euro-America. Interculturally, there are two kinds of group training. In individualistic cultures, groups are formed to stand against the mainstream. In cultures with traditions of collective performances, the group is the mainstream. The group is either biological or sociological. Its bonds are very strong. And its leader is a ‘father’ or ‘mother’ who teaches the ‘children’. Groups draw on the strongest allegiances a culture can offer. That’s why Euro-American groups sometimes resemble families, religions, or political cells.
Let me now summarise these five functions of training:
1. interpretation of a dramatic text
2. transmission of a performance text
3. transmission of secrets
4. self expression
5. group formation
This text by Richard Schechner is an excerpt from a talk given by him at the University of Toronto, Canada, in 1981. Subsequently expanded, it was published as The performer: training interculturally, in Between Theatre and Anthropology (University of Pennsylvania Press, 1985).