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On the Origins of Theater


Mirosław Kocur

This book presents an interdisciplinary investigation into the emergence of the actor and theater. Scholarship helps us to realize how we have evolved to who we are today and to understand the transformative power of performance. The author proposes to boost and advance theater studies by reviewing new research in anthropology, archaeology, paleoanthropology, classics, ethnography, physics, cognitive science, neuroscience, theater anthropology and performance studies. Referring to his fieldwork in Bali and Tibet, and to his professional experience in theater, the author explains the role of bipedality, toolmaking and trance in the evolution of the performer, examines the performativity of space and writing, and argues that ancient culture emerged from dance.
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Chapter 1: On the Origin of the Performer


The Old French etymology of the noun performer comes from the verb par- or perfourmer, “to achieve in the correct form,” or from parfournir, “to do in its entirety” or “to attain.” According to the Oxford English Dictionary, the expression performer today, in principle, defines every active human being doing anything, and, in a narrower sense, an actor, a musician, a dancer, or a singer.

Biologically, a performer inherits the ability to practice culture. He/she develops and modifies genetic predispositions in action. Straightening up in order to walk on two legs, our ancestors radically altered the relation between the sexes, and made possible the emergence of cultural practices inaccessible to quadrupeds. The prehistoric hunter became a dancer when he tried to hunt down an antelope in a long-lasting, rhythmic chase, and when he drove the exhausted animal with cries, he turned into a singer. The performer is the initiator of and participant in events.

The last decade has radically enriched our knowledge of human prehistory. There is a lot of evidence that hominins became better and better performers as a result of many and often chance evolutionary experiments. This whole process lasted seven million years. Two key events determined the possibility of the formation of the contemporary human-performer: the emergence of bipedality and adaptation to running over long distances. The freeing up of the upper limbs made it possible for our ancestors to use tools; it also made gesticulations possible, which in turn affected...

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