Architectonics of Theatricality

Theatre Performance in a Semiotic Perspective

by Ivaylo Alexandroff (Author)
©2016 Monographs 173 Pages


The cultural discourse of theatrical performance defines the theatre sign interaction as an active semiosis. This, in turn, specifies the main objective of the study – the formulation of the basic parameters of this architectonics as a fundament of théâtralité. Since the time of Antiquity the theatre has always been discussing general aesthetic, philosophical, ethical and social issues in the context of a visual image of the specific objects of an intellectual discourse. The book takes a close look at this process of signification, formation of meanings, presentation and interpretation on stage: a theatre performance is a product of an intense sign environment and a major symbol of theatricality.

Table Of Contents

  • Cover
  • Title
  • Copyright
  • About the author
  • About the book
  • This eBook can be cited
  • Contents
  • Acknowledgments
  • Preface - Theatre of the Day Before (Text, Game, Semiotic Perspective)
  • Preface - By The Author
  • Introduction: Notes on the Semiotic Nature of Théâtralité
  • Part I: Theatricality and Semioticality
  • Signs and Sign Configurations - the Space of the Performance as a Signifier
  • Semantics of interpretation - the stage figure in the context of performance
  • Theatre communication and theatrical codes – aesthetic sign convention and spectator perception
  • Reflection of dominance - the sign as absence/presence
  • Linguistic and paralinguistic interaction: symbolic transmission, representation, and active convention
  • Part II: Performance and Signification
  • The performance as a theatrical text - morphology of stage signification
  • Actors in the stage space - semantics of interpretation
  • Semiotics of the stage – I in the stage space
  • Mise-en-scéne – The Representative Convention of Performance
  • Phenomenology of the Game-of-Lies - the Incorporation of Theatrical Representation in the Architectonics of Performance
  • General Conclusion
  • Theatrical Performance in a Semiotic Perspective – Conclusion
  • Supplement
  • Derrida - Artaud. The ultimate economy of difference or the suggested word of alienation. The theatre of cruelty and the radical purity of the expulsion of God
  • References
  • About the author

← 10 | 11 →Preface

Theatre of the Day Before (Text, Game, Semiotic Perspective)

Knowing how to conceive Metaphors, says Padre Emanuele, and thus to see a World immensely more various than it appears to the uneducated, is an Art that is learned. In this world where today all lose their minds over many and wondrous Machines, and I construct Aristotelian Machines that allow anyone to see with Words. The Metaphor is the only one capable of producing Wonder, which gives birth to Pleasure, as do changes of scene in the theater… And Padre Emanuele turned his cylinders and searched through his drawers, fast as a conjuror, so the metaphors seemed to arise for him as if by enchantment…1

This is how pages of the “Island of the day before” sounds. This Aristotelian telescope giving countless perspectives through the words, transported in time, even today is behind the side-scenes, waiting to be seen and animated on the stage with their own unique language. The analogy with the theatre is hardly accidental: the day before the universe looked like a canvas of uncertain enigmas behind which no longer stands the Author, or if there is one, he seems lost in remaking himself from the too many perspectives. Ivaylo Alexandroff’s book “Architectonics of Theatricality. The Theatrical Performance in a Semiotic Perspective” brings us to such stage alteration, in a time of machines no less astonishing for the mind: a telescope of such nature is the driving engine of its pages: is theatricality an enigma, seen in a semiotic perspective, is our writing for theatre changed by the day before, can we think the theatre of tomorrow without the knowledge of it? If we today open at a random place the Big Cabinet of theatre substances and search, for example, for “actor”, should we be surprised that in the drawers, along with the categories of Aristotle, up until Brecht and Artaud, there will be also the actant models of Greimas and Ubersfeld? What If we search for mise-en-scéne and along with the idea of putting, of embodying something on the stage, appears a whole semiotic treatise on the iconic nature of theatricality?

Today, the complexity of the theory is only a pale reflection of the infinite richness of experiments, which our time gives us, says Patrice Pavis in his foreword to the “Dictionary of the Theatre.”2 Some of these experiments we trust, ← 11 | 12 →others - no. Only two centuries ago, actors were still marked by social disapproval, and the concept of directing did not even exist. Today, both the former and the latter enjoy the prestige and theatricality is built inside a mental field rationalizing both traditions over the centuries and the smallest details of stage equipment. This field affects, but in its turn, feels the influence of other related fields of culture; emancipated and assimilating, it makes new pages in the millennial dialogue between word (a text) and game. But building its own, theatrical theories, this field is actually involved in the construction of a wide-scope theory that penetrates the big cultural intertext to which it belongs. Five decades ago, theatre criticism was not surrounded by the dominant processes in the humanities and especially the semiotic invasion, which it had known yet from the time of the Prague Linguistic Circle. Today the picture is quite different (as the reading itself is different in the internet era), but let us note: in the quoted “Dictionary of the Theatre” of Pavis, which is representative of contemporary theatre arts, of the eight thematic areas that the dictionary is divided into only one is devoted to a scientific paradigm, and it, as can be expected, is semiotics. The same scientific paradigm is crucial for the book of Ivaylo Alexandroff, even the same concepts appear: theatrical code, theatre communication, theatrical space, theatre text.3 This, of course, is not accidental.

In less than two decades the semiotic thinking of theatre (in terms of semiotics, in the perspective of semiotics) will become a century-old tradition. The early attempts of OPOYAZ in an elegantly disguised way shorten these two remaining decades to a few years - with more emphasis on textuality, on the making, whence at least two important things emerged: a reflection on the worlds that “theatre talks” about (as jokingly remarked today – we no longer dare to say: “that it represents”) and a denial of the almighty text frozen in a single meaning, which sees interpretation (director, actor, audience) as a very important aspect of the show, and its further fate. The book, which I agreed to write introductory words about, recognizes this context and fits into this tradition. Both in title and in spirit, it is inseparable from the semiotic paradigm in theatre field. Its attitude is to continue ← 12 | 13 →and intensify what has been done during the years, and even more - to postulate such discourse in the Bulgarian theatre criticism.

Before we continue with this conversation, I could enumerate at least seven reasons why the book of Ivaylo Alexandroff “Architectonics of Theatricality” is worth reading, especially for those who are interested in theatre and semiotics, individually or as a bundle. First - in my hands I hold a text written by someone who has long enough been tempted by semiotics to be able to treat it not only with excitement but also with the necessary distance and also by one having practical experience through which he may think semiotics. The practical understanding is what makes the book of Ivaylo Alexandroff sound different from many other books that attempt to theorize on the selected topic. When he says “semiotics” or “theatre”, “sign” or “performance”, “communication” or “mise-en-scéne”, we feel that he knows well the two aspects of them: the theoretical constructs and the practice; he has lived both through the text and its stage interpretation as a lab work, but also as a product). Other books stop where the theory starts sounding convincing in its own telos without leaving itself, its language; but for Mr. Alexandroff this is just the beginning – a theory should work well in order to convince, and this means it has to leave itself and its language, to be seen from the point of view of the game; on the other side of the theory.

Secondly. The introduction of a “semiotic perspective” in the reading of theatricality is a well-measured and functional move. Semiotics can be thought of as a scientific paradigm imposed as a measure (grid) on many different fields, but the use of “perspective” opens the wide connotative range of semiosis - as wide as readers can take it in. In this sense, such kind of talking about theatre in Bulgaria is as imperative as it is fruitful. This enables Ivaylo Alexandroff to approach semiotics as a way of thinking, and in turn - the theatre is enabled to recognize a semiotic effort as a way to think its true values and worlds without rejecting possible dialogue with other scientific approaches such as hermeneutics, receptive aesthetics, criticism of reader’s perception, psychoanalysis, let alone those aspects of theatre theory that have been successfully proven through the years.

Thirdly. The signification of the performance and the specifics of stage-theatre contexts were targeted in other works. But here the author talks about presence/absence of signification in close relation with the viewers’ perception; the stage is a place that needs the active role of the viewers/readers, without whom the hermeneutics of performance is not the same; the theatre sign environment is understood along with their participation. The stage communicative model (theatrical semiosis), combining verbal and non-verbal worlds, is displayed convincingly through the use of the proposed concept of a performance and an audience plus the reformulation of mise-en-scéne and theatricality. The book brings up key ← 13 | 14 →categories (for the theatre dictionary) and welds them into a complete story in a clear and logical syntax.

Fourthly. While in one way or another this is contained in the above remarks, I would like to point out the following: in the book of Ivaylo Alexandroff particular attention is paid to the systematics of stage signification. Typology, absence and presence, in and beyond the language - different modes of a sign have been thought over with respect to a performance so that we may reach to the monitoring of the overall semiotic discourse of a performance. The required and obligatory distinguishing between dyadic and triadic sign models (Saussure - Peirce) is implemented in a specific functional mode. In Bulgaria, this approach is most commonly used in the field of literary studies and linguistics, so that the transition from text to game proved a key to the understanding of complex cultural phenomena, not just theatre. For lovers of taxonomies – there are plenty of classifications, behind which shines the author’s desire, as a matter of fact - undisguised, to view the valences of theatricality from as many sides as possible, to name and rank, to explain how on the surface of the stage, as Deleuze would say, the logic of meaning flows.

Fifthly. I particularly like the definition of the semiotic function of stage space (a notion that is strong both with its literal sounding and role as well as with its metaphorical projections: the stage space is a figure, to which - as to the chronotope in literary studies – we still owe too much). What Ivaylo Alexandroff suggests in his book – and namely, to think about the stage space as a key component equal to the actor’s presence, is difficult to understand beyond the idea of stage conventions in signification. Something similar a few years ago was offered by Steven Mayo: discussing the hermeneutics of literary texts he defined the conventions of interpretation. The link between text and stage transformation is introduced also in a “semiotic perspective” of the thinking about theatricality, allowing the idea of interpretation to show new values in theatre criticism.


ISBN (Softcover)
Publication date
2015 (September)
Semantics of Interpretation Semiotics of Théâtralité Stage Signification Mise-en-scéne
Frankfurt am Main, Berlin, Bern, Bruxelles, New York, Oxford, Wien, 2015. 173 pp.

Biographical notes

Ivaylo Alexandroff (Author)

Ivaylo Alexandroff is a director, actor, theatre theorist, semiotician, choreographer and performer. He holds a MA in Theatre Arts from the Theatre Academy and a PhD in Philosophy and Semiotics from the New Bulgarian University in Sofia, Bulgaria, and is a specialist in the field of Argentine tango.


Title: Architectonics of Theatricality
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176 pages