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On the Origins of Theater

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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 2: Paleo-Performances

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Chapter 2:  Paleo-Performances

The Oxford English Dictionary gives five separate entries for the word performance: the execution of an order; an act, something done; acting in a play or playing a piece of music; edging or piping; and a form of visual art in which the activity of an artist plays a central role. According to Richard Schechner, the founding father of performance theory, in fact every event, action, or behavior can be seen as a performance.

The lack of an unambiguous definition of “performance” seems to me to be a great advantage of this term, one that is particularly useful in an attempt to reconstruct events that may have taken place thousands of years ago in paleolithic caves. “Performance” takes on meaning only through use. This is like in the famous experience with Schrödinger’s cat, which may be dead, but as long as we do not look into the box to check, the cat may be equally dead or alive. When we speak, we define what performance we mean. Every change of the context of the utterance modifies the meaning of the term “performance.” But also simultaneously the use of the same term in differing contexts makes it possible to construct a more general model. This kind of “vague” or “fuzzy” term perfectly mirrors the far from obvious character of events from thousands of years ago. It makes radical and sometimes surprising interpretations possible. The latest studies relating to a...

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