Reflections Since The Present: On Staging Scalapino



All ground is foreign ground when you get to know it as well as I do.
Charles Bernstein, Dark City 51


The first of four plays by Leslie Scalapino that I have had the opportunity to direct was entitled The Present. 1 At that time, The Present did not seem attractive to me; even if the literary people had a reason to want to see this text staged, I didn't see the need for it to move from page to stage. After The Present had been presented, I felt differently. A need to stretch the mind — my mind, the audience member's minds, became more important — became, in fact, a political and aesthetic stance. While no stranger to poetic texts, I had previously only subconsciously articulated this stance in dramatic terms, on the level of subject matter and its embodiment in challenging forms. Because of its formal elements (alienation devices), Stefan Brecht's Threepenny Opera always spoke more loudly to me on the subject of prostitution than Bernard Shaw's Mrs. Warren's Profession , which merely conflated the conventions of Comedy of Manners with social problem plays. Shaw's play suffices as written, whereas Threepenny Opera (but not all of Brecht's plays) requires staging in order to work fully.

While most plays are written as a set of directions for readers, performers, and, even more so, directors to follow, Scalapino's plays describe the territory itself, and thus require the director to transcribe the landscape into a map before the play can be made to take place on stage. This act of transcription differs significantly from the acts of both interpretation and rewriting, falling closer to a melange of illustration and remapping. 2 The jump between the map I construct from my reading of Scalapino's poetry and the event eventually performed occurs in rehearsal, when my map is redrawn through the work of the actors. As with almost all theatrical presentations, what becomes playable on stage is in large part determined by individual and ensemble contributions by the actors and often compromised by budgetary and technological constraints. It really is like a great big game of telephone, with inevitable distortion and incomplete comprehension built into the process. With a typical play, agreement between all parties involved in its staging is sought after. But with a play by Scalapino, such agreement must be reduced to how the event works rather than what it means or what it is trying to get across.

Of course, a play by Scalapino is trying to get across the stage and into the audience, but in a much different way than most pieces of writing we recognize as plays. How can that getting-across possibly happen? How can writing which at first seems so opaque, so frustrating, so elusive, be re-articulated through embodiment, visual imagery, and theatrical (actual) rather than reading (private) time? This basic problem, how to render what appears to be the antithesis of dramatic writing into a theatrical event, serves as the surveying tool with which I will approach Scalapino's writing in this paper. 3


Four years before The Present , I had directed Memories from the Future , a performance that collaged assorted dystopian texts. Set during a time when technological advances had rendered history too remote to be learned about in any way other than enactment, the performance took place in a fictional museum where adolescents were instructed in how their world came to be this way. A living museum, which is perhaps what all theater is, except too often the exhibits are deadly, even or perhaps especially in their means of presentation. Experience is all too often reduced to objecthood. This reduction might be another way of defining a book of poetry, with the same inherent danger of lifelessness achieved inadvertently through translation into representation.

How to keep something alive and present should be the first responsibility of the theater maker, whether that aliveness is achieved through emotional identification with characters (as in the still prevalent mode of psychologically realist drama), Brechtian alienation, or Artaudian emphasis on spectacular depictions of the cruel nature of embodiment. Any text-based event's reliance on language presents a conflict. How can words written and then re-read (no matter how good the acting is) remain alive and escape what Gertrude Stein defined as “syncopation,” concretized by the curtain (or even merely the proscenium arch) which defines different realms of time for the audience and the performers? 4

Scalapino frames the question differently, so that escape is not sought after. Rather, syncopation is acknowledged as inescapable and the point becomes not to eliminate or minimize the nervousness it sets into motion but instead to make use of and relate that nervousness to the event itself, rather than letting it sit solely with the spectators. So, as Scalapino wrote in The Present, “people should be as cattle, dreaming” (n.p.). In other words, the audience is not alone in their alienation from all the time it took to get the play to its performance, but the personae are similarly estranged from the action of the drama, only able to execute each moment as it happens, rather than pursuing a trajectory of meaningfully motivated actions rooted in intentional strategies. This redefinition of action foregrounds the limitations of typical literary and practical genres and forces one to consider whether a play can be theatrical without being dramatic. Or, in an even more present-tense formulation, one may ask: What am I supposed to be attending to while this is going on in front of me?

The theater (where play becomes plays) has historically been a social event based on the idea of a center, a focus, a framed portion of activity made to be witnessed. The director's task has historically grown to be understood as one of directing an audience. Through manipulation of any and all effects at her disposal, the director of a staged event foregrounds certain elements of the event in order to get something across. And I deliberately use the vague term “something” because directors are notoriously divided as to whether that “something” is intellectual, moral, emotional, or (if possible) solely visual. Directors decide what should and shouldn't be part of the experience of witnessing — how much of the world outside the proscenium frame should be excluded, for example, or how conscious one should be of one's fellow audience members.

However, a director actually has very little control as spectators watch her or his work during the performance, because spectators watch the play with (at least) four “eyes”: director Robert Wilson's two screens — that is, internal and external; and theater theoretician Bert States' binoculars, with its two different lenses — phenomenological (sensory) and semiotic (meaning-oriented). 5 So private, public, sensation, and meaning perform a square dance; but in their exchanges, partners sometime stumble and end up outside the square, or resting for a moment on the floor. Four-dimensional experience gives way to six-dimensions when the performance acts reflexively, whether that's achieved through Brechtian demystifications, such as hanging the lights in full view, or Pirandellian doubling, which reveals the backstage “reality” simultaneously with the performed illusion — to give just two examples. How to get the right eye open to observe the right dancer at the right time then becomes the problem.

Only now, after my fourth remapping of a Scalapino play, have I come to a shimmering grasp on a process, not that the process for each work has been the same. Nor is there a surefire technique or approach that can be applied to the next work. Still, there is a specific set of problems that the poetic dramatic text generates, and by using that combination of words rather than the generic label “play,” I am proposing both distance and similarity to what we think of as plays. Perhaps “situations” is a better word to use, since the word “problems” evokes a notion of wrinkles to be ironed out. Although problems do need to be solved, I am not suggesting that there is something wrong with the writing that needs to be fixed. Situations also bring with them a connotation of placement, which points to the first problem/situation brought about by the transference of a Scalapino text to the stage, the difficulty of fixing in time and space writing that resembles a Situationalist drifting through the city streets. Language recaptures experience quite differently when spoken rather than read.

This fixing needs to be flexible, but not so flexible as to be purely arbitrary. Three relationships usually assumed to be axiomatically contained in the generic label of “play” need to be specifically rethought — remapped — in order to continue. In Scalapino's work (and in my experience, uniquely with her work) these relationships can be broken down into three basic danger zones of representation: 1) the relationship between frames and time, or time frames, or how frames evolve in time, or how frames create the sensation of time — I consider these one relationship; 2) the relationship between speaker and spoken (a notion of dramatic action that is beyond character); 3) the relationship of viewer to thing viewed. A new anti-Aristotelian poetics needs to be drafted prior to staging in order to know what sort of reaction one is going after. Working on a text by Scalapino means we — those on stage — need to rethink time, character, and audience.

Before addressing these relationships, I want to call attention to Stein's formulation of two of them — the relationships between viewer/viewed and speaker/spoken. Stein advocated rethinking plays from a sensorial perspective — sight and sound — rather than a narrative one — story and action. 6 While one can get rid of story in plays, one cannot eliminate action, once you have moved from the page to the stage. Even those performing the static dramas of Maeterlinck or Beckett have to breathe, to speak, to blink. But how can action be theatrical without becoming dramatic? Moreover, if “dramatic action” is to be eliminated from the stage presentation, why call such an event a “play” rather than a “staged reading”? The point to locate, then, becomes when there is enough action so that reading is transcended but not too much so that the whole dramatic mode is set into motion. What is sought is suspension rather than suspense, which might be another way of thinking about Stein's “continuous present.”


How does one go about addressing alternatives to time, character and audience in order to get the right “eye” open at the right time, in order to catch the right dancer? A great deal of the usual infrastructure of a dramatic text is missing from a Scalapino play. For example, complex psychological characters have been replaced by personae, often mere voices, and plot as a narrative sequence of causal events has been fragmented and magnified so as to conflate personal memories with global events. So, I read and read the text until I begin to imagine a world that can contain — as in make not only valid but also audible — the text, but also a world that supplements the text without remaining only on the level of illustration. Typically, most dramatic texts function (for directors, at any rate) as blueprints of events; and most textual analysis is aimed at uncovering the question (most commonly moral) that the playwright wishes to address. 7 But when complex characters and causal plots are dispensed with, how can the playwright hope to address a moral question? Or rather, how can a theatrical text continue to interest us as socially relevant when it appears to have jettisoned the very elements by which it is assumed to work on us? While these questions are not unique to Scalapino's plays, they need to be at least pondered if not answered before one can begin the collaboration with actors and designers.

As far as the actual concrete difference between staging a play by Scalapino and, say, Stoppard, I propose that the difference resides in a quality of service. The best directors want their work to serve the text. And the first level of a director's reading of a play, aside from collecting first impressions, is usually aimed at understanding what the playwright is saying through characters, plot, and patterns of tropes, whether linguistic, scenic or thematic. Already the first reading is conducted differently with a Scalapino play. In three of the four Scalapino plays I have directed, the text was provided to me without even any delineation of speakers. I did not have the impression that I was reading a play, but rather some other literary form, which then signaled me that my task was not to be one of interpretation or realization but rather adaptation or conceptualization. While Stoppard's plays contain some pretty heavy conceptualization within them, it has been provided by the author and doesn't require the director to come up with a semantic scheme that will stand beside or be superimposed upon the text of the play. We are all familiar with concept-driven interpretations of Shakespeare. But such directorial choices, in the best examples of this work, are woven together with the text in clear metaphorical or allegorical relationships. However, if you want to use Hamlet to comment on post-war Germany, the distance between medieval Denmark and industrial Essen, and Roland Barthes's “Death of the Author,” then you have crossed the line from interpretation and realization into adaptation and (re-)conceptualization, resulting in a new play altogether: in this case, Heiner Muller's Hamletmachine , which seamlessly welds together literary criticism, dramatic poetry, and almost journalistic commentary often too obscure for audiences outside Germany to comprehend. Muller's inter-textual work, referring to Euripides's Medea and Alcestis , and Laclos's Les Liaisons Dangereuses , among others, seems to rest comfortably on the bridge of revisionism that confound the conventional functions of playwright and director, since Muller has done the adaptation and realization part already, leaving the director to interpret and conceptualize. This bridge of revisionism is closely guarded, however, by a troll or ogre who controls access to the other side of the canyon — where truly unique vision resides — by asking those who proceed: Is this merely solipsistic subjectivity? If so, how can one propose to put this in front of others as a social activity? What in the text necessitates communal reception? How would this text benefit rather than be harmed by a necessarily limited and limiting visual supplement?

Faced with a poetic dramatic text, we stand poised at the bridge of revisionism, confronted by the ogre who is forcing us to defend the text as worthy of representation in a different medium. We'll only be allowed to cross that bridge if we can justify the work as 1) insufficient as written, and 2) accessible, comprehensible, or at least of interest to others.

Justification of a text labeled a “play” may seem unnecessary to those who regularly consume literature via the printed page (or screen); the criteria of insufficiency and accessibility/comprehensibility/interest may seem offensive to the creators of such texts. However, once that text circulates among the specialized readership of directors and actors (who, after all, are going to remap it and then “live” there), these considerations cannot be ignored without a convincing case to employ the theater machinery. Those participating in the presentation of the play need to believe that they are supplementing the insufficiency of the written work without violating it. They also need to believe that the representation of the text will include its audience, rather than simply resting in front of the audience as impenetrable object. Regardless of the difficulty of the text, many theatrical representations ultimately come to the stage as simply retinal or culinary objects under glass.

Thus, I imagine many Scalapino readers grumble or restlessly shift positions as they try to conceive of her plays as “plays.” The same might be true for readers of the plays of Stein — or Muller, for that matter. My experiences with directing Scalapino's work, however, lead me to believe that her plays transcend the page; staging improves her writing, although it can stand perfectly well on its own. While some audience members are exhilarated to see her words come alive, others resent the limited and limiting representations effected by their pictorial imagery and sonic renderings. There is really no way to effectively retain all of the private possibilities of reading in a medium like theater, which is so inescapably social. Still, one hopes to give the text enough theatrical structure so that a world with integrity is conjured, while still leaving space for individual readings.

This may sound like a recycling of the formalisms introduced by the Absurdists and similar writers, who used open symbols such as the Rhinoceros, the deserted landscape of Godot, or the titular Lady from Dubuque, or a variation on the scenographic collages of directors of the Theater of Images school. 8 But those exercises still give viewers the impression that a key to the code exists, and the smart audience member will be able to identify the notches of the director's key to unlock the play's meaning. In these instances, the subjectivity of the author is supposed to be passed on to the audience so that various interpretations can be weighed as closer to or farther from the meaning the author intended. Ultimately, this sort of divination of intentionality detracts from the experience of the viewing as we try to restate what was, after all, uniquely expressed in a medium that transpires in time.

Therefore, the problem of staging Scalapino becomes, for me, how to let the audience know that they should not look for a key to a lock. But what to look for if not a key? How do I enter a necessarily symbolic event without trying to “unlock” meaning? The unique situation of linguistically-based theater is that it cannot escape representation, because the body of the actor is always there. For many of us, the body implies a self; once that body starts talking, we habitually connect that talking to a self. So the theater can never be totally abstract. Nor can it circumvent the appearance of character, unless one employs strategic effects that undercut those habitual responses to the viewing relationship inherent in most performance situations

Granted, there are quite a few strategic effects already there in Scalapino's play writing, as the following lines (not stage directions) from The Present indicate:

This occurs later.

Occurring is in silence.

This hasn't happened before.
One doesn't see there's a center or that it's empty until later or ever know where
this occurred.

Any time an actor says “this” on stage, it is confusing, unless literally or figuratively she is pointing to something and thereby leaving a gap for viewer interpretation. And the use of “one” (reminiscent of Beckett's Not I ) similarly is confusing. It requires a decision to be made: Does she mean she? Does she mean me? Does she mean any one? Every one? Intentionally vague reference almost always upsets those who wish to perceive language as transparent, unambiguous.

References to time also disrupt the viewing experience. We cannot be sure if, when the word “now” is said, the speaker means the “now” that we share as in “right now,” or “now” in terms of the time frame of the poetry, or “now” in terms of the narrative that continually slips away. The practically involuntary need of the audience to see the framed slice of time that we call “the play” as a narrative comes from the fact that it is a play rather than an installation. Whether actual or only implied, at a certain moment, up goes the curtain (Stein's cathected object while at the theater). There is a beginning, and, of course, an end. To untether that time — the time between curtain up and down — from the time of the people on the stage is extremely difficult without that “willing suspension of disbelief” upon which so many plays and audiences still rely.

The syncopation that so disturbed Stein while in the theater actually arises out of the rehearsed nature of the play. While reading a book, one does not worry that the author has already written it and, thus, knows the ending. But, in the theater, the viewer relinquishes command of time, because the play continues even when she wants it to stop. Predictable scenes need to be played out in entirety, because so-called good playwrights don't skip beats. In this way, theater cannot escape its coercive shaping of time. But perhaps there is a way to turn this shaping into a spacious or dilated geomorphology of stratified times, and then to subject the layers to an earthquake so that the present ends up on top and the future buried. This departure from linear time is certainly a strategy in the experimental text, which then needs to be reinforced on stage. Through repetition of gestures, changes of perspective, fractured speech, and shifts in tempo, the theater can flesh out the text's play of time. 9

While working on Beckett's Play, with Mabou Mines, Philip Glass became aware that audiences experienced the play's epiphanies at different moments, for different individual audience members on different nights. He noted that Shakespeare's plays work towards a more unanimous sense of reaction time. 10 This observation, that the audience is composed of individuals and should be treated as such, need not cancel out the possibility of a common understanding. Play has a formal structure of repetition that allows for the narrative of the affair to become clear to different individuals at different moments, so that one person finds the key ten minutes after his next-seat neighbor. The two viewers concur that the man in the urn was sleeping with both of the women, and that they are all looking back on the events. Some “facts” emerge during the performance, which guarantees it is more than solipsistic subjectivity for both writer and audience.


Night rises and falls again and again in Scalapino's plays. I have suspected that this has less to do with nudging the public toward the realm of dreaming than reminding us of the every-night-ness of obscurity. After the Rapid Eye Movement (REM) stage of sleep, we do, after all, completely blank out. These moments beyond our grasp — our total blind spots — cannot be imaginary, symbolic, or real to us. Rather, they are beyond representation — missed, and not merely mis representations. When signifiers lose their stability, misrepresentation is a given potential, perhaps even a corrective. “I don't want realism,” says Blanche DuBois in Tennessee Williams's A Streetcar Named Desire , a character far away from any found in Scalapino's plays. “I want magic! Yes, yes, magic! I try to give that to people. I misrepresent things to them. I don't tell the truth, I tell what ought to be the truth” (Williams 35).

Perhaps it is impossible, as some have suggested, to “represent” Stein when producing or performing her plays. Yet that does not mean all presentations are de facto misrepresentations. There is a distinction between misrepresentation and missing representation. This distinction has something to do with active resistance to, rather than passive failure of, closure. 11

The search for new meaning or meanings appears to be another variety of this same resistance, but only after the fact. This search sometimes gives critics a tone tinged with jealously or paranoia, since, after all, any new meaning must originate with the artist before it is “discovered” by the critic. Attempting to superimpose one's own “passing theory” 12 onto that of another writer's seems to me to be fundamental to reading rather than writing. And while I agree with much of what Lisa Samuels has written concerning Henry James's “feeling of if” in connection with Scalapino's writing (Samuels 178), I am uneasy with her use of Gadamer as justification. Still, in a move that precariously conflates Walter Benjamin and Baudrillard, Samuels stakes a provocative claim, writing that “the verbal work of art in the age of mechanical reproduction has the common, though not ubiquitous, benefit of formally avoiding the authenticity of the original” (194). This avoidance of authenticity seems a little harder to get away with when it comes to performed verbal works of art, because performances do not retain their power of liveness when they are mechanically reproduced. 13 And so, when Samuels suggests the possibility, and even the desirability, of a Scalapino work “easier to read” yet “with all its inherent instability intact,” I would argue that one should encourage the text itself — as written — to change the reader's method of reading. This willingness to be changed by what one reads is without a doubt an unusual demand on a reader. But fundamentally changing the work seems to me to miss the point of the writing. It is analogous to staying away from the theater until the understudy goes on.

Although Scalapino's texts appear recalcitrant, their perplexing potpourri of instability, overdetermination, repetition – and, well, yes, difficulty — branches out from a voice humbly skeptical of its own intelligibility, as if one were building a house fully aware that the measurements specified on the blueprints contained rough approximations and even downright errors. Upon completion, a house will still be built, although it may not be the most comfortable for every potential resident; in fact, some may not even recognize it as a habitable space. The refusal to abandon the task of construction emerges as an act of resistance, a strategic missing (of) representation rather than misrepresentation.

In performance, missing representation involves giving up the ghost, letting go of the lie that Umberto Eco insists accompanies any utterance made in a performance context (“I am acting so I will lie” (Eco 108)). Blanche DuBois pleads, “Don't turn the light on,” because the magic will be exposed. Scalapino's nights, however, are not lightless, but moonlit, suggesting that she does want realism, and that she does tell the truth. Her plays take place in the real world, after all. Despite the sometimes chaotic surfaces, in the shadows lurk what was always already there before the record was written.

And this sub-linguistic 14 recording screws time around so that the always already becomes the soon. Scalapino's writing aims to capture something truthful (realistic) while simultaneously stubbornly refusing to let its constructed-ness, its artifice, vaporize away. It captures inauthentic truth, then, but one similar to the unnatural natural worlds created by Eiko and Koma, or the whimsical and pseudo-anthropological studies of imaginative “folk cultures” explored by Meredith Monk off and on throughout her career. 15 Scalapino's accuracy of vision expressed in a foreign sort of word flow, off-putting in its brevity and quirky rhythms yet coherent all the same — but not the same — and her act of writing outside the bounds of narrative time allows one to comprehend the inherent contradiction in her claim that “the setting and tone of these plays are both artificial and realistic” ( Phenomena 23).

This simultaneity of realism and artifice, common to all theatrical presentations, can prove especially difficult for actors when the text appears so impenetrable. It just so happened that, while working on The Present, I was reading a detective novel, a form referred to in the play. 16 The detective novel contained the following passage, which I read to the actors who were struggling with the problem of redefining motivation (and therefore character, and therefore sense, if not meaning):

The trouble with the layers of meanings that grew like a fungus all over little pieces of the particular was that the symbol might grow too huge, the stratification of meaning piled on meaning might become too ponderous, too heavy, too thick. One might start wandering in a forest from which there was no escaping; where every simple act and every trivial object became so much more than itself that one went mad. (Langton 142)

I do believe reading this passage helped the actors to stop trying to get something across and to redirect their energies towards executing a task. This created a kind of acting that Michael Kirby has famously labeled “non-matrixed,” because it is not based upon the usual location of character in recognizable time and place. 17

Another citation helped me to communicate to the actors that Scalapino's play holds its own place in theater history. Consider Brecht's definition of “Theatre of Visions,” which characterizes its constituency as

meaningful, but quite possibly the unique significations of… meaning. The making of such theater can not be construed as the making of a statement: there is, for the maker, no question of truth or plausibility. It is not an imitative nor in any way a significative act; there is, for the maker, no question of meaning. The maker's intent is not to induce pity, terror, or hilarity or to purge the spectator of fear or resentment, nor to uplift him (or her) morally, nor to induce him (or her) to change society or to give him (or her) information useful for this, but to impart the vision and a sense of its importance and significance. (Brecht 9)

In summary, I have striven for a careful balance of materials when working with staging the plays of Scalapino. Actors and audience must share some common ground, agree upon some social facts about the drama, without turning the whole performance itself into social fact. The language referents have to be decided upon by the cast so that each “this” is known to the actors. Time has to be accounted for in a way that makes sense for the viewers but does not violate the text — and this means that events in the theater space may have to happen not when they are mentioned but at other crucial times, depending on the rhythm of action. Such rhythm cannot be determined by the text alone. Rather, it must be determined by considering the needs of those watching and listening.

Brecht recommended that after a director reads a play, she record her first impressions in a “fable,” then seal it up and read it later on. 18 Impressions are one thing, but a fable is quite another — especially with its implied moral message, which I reject. The impressions I gather from a first reading of a Scalapino text I do write down. But often budget constraints have a greater impact on what actually gets depicted on stage than the limits of my imagination. We never did get that damn dead dog on a sled for The Present , but we did get smoke to suggest the battlefields of Kuwait as well as the Oakland fire by building little mountains of gunpowder that were ignited unpretentiously (i.e., actually) by a Kabuki-like stagehand in a black robe. Compromise turns out to be a major way of working then. And that does not need to be seen as bad. After all, Cage came up with the prepared piano because the performance space in which he was to provide accompaniment for a dance concert could accommodate only a piano and not an orchestra, and Cage wanted more sounds than a piano could generate. My sense is that both Leslie Scalapino and I want more play than the theater in its present state can generate. In both our own ways, we are on the lookout for that, which is why we work so well together. It would be wrong to say that we employ the same strategies. Yet we are both exploring the same questions — concerning representation and its failure, the construction of meaning and its implicit politicization, and how perceptions are manipulated by consciousness. This process of exploring allows our work to coexist with integrity.




“Acts of Change: The Work and Art of Translation,” Mantis 2 (2002): 85-103. Bernstein, Charles. Dark City . Los Angeles: Sun & Moon Press, 1994.

Brecht, Stefan. The Theatre of Visions: Robert Wilson . Frankfurt: Suhrkamp Verlag, 1978.

Eco, Umberto. “Semiotics of Theatrical Performance.” The Drama Review 21.1 (1977): 107-117.

Langton, Jane. The Transcendental Murder . New York: Penguin, 1989.

Samuels, Lisa. “If Meaning, Shaped Reading, and Leslie Scalapino's Way.” Qui Parle ,
12.2 (2001): 179-200.

Scalapino, Leslie. How Phenomena Appear to Unfold . Elmwood, CT: Potes & Poets, 1989.

-----. The Present . Ms, c. 1991.

Williams, Tennessee. Streetcar Named Desire . Mt. Vernon, NY: New Directions, 1947.


1. The Present was performed at New Langton Arts (SF) in 1992. I also directed Scalapino's The Weatherman Turns Himself In at The Lab (SF) in 1993 and a passage from Deer Night at Venue 9 (SF) as part of Common Cultural Practice's New Word Order in 1997. The fourth collaboration was How Phenomena Appear to Unfold/The Hind , which was presented at the San Francisco Poets Theater Jubilee, Barnard College's “Women and Poetry” conference, and at Stanford University, all in 2002. Some of these reflections were originally presented in a talk at the Barnard conference.

2. The question of artistic merit in the translation/transcription distinction resists resolution, since translators (like directors) occupy a tricky niche in the chain of reception. Some think their collective hand should be invisible, leave no trace of interpretation on thw “finished work,” but then groan at the lack of appreciation for all they have done. Still, as Marjorie Perloff posed at a recent panel discussion on translation, “why would it not be possible for a translation to be a work of art?” (See Acts of Change ).

3. The doing together of theater rather than the reading alone of literature has informed my reading of Scalapino ' s work; therefore, I prefer to describe, criticize, make comparisons from, and recapitulate her writing only indirectly, since my orientation has necessarily been practical and theatrical rather than (exclusively) theoretical and literary.

4. Syncopation is discussed in Stein ' s illuminating lecture ‘Plays,' included in Lectures in America (Beacon Press, 1985).

5. For a discussion of Wilson's internal and external screens, see Bill Simmer's Robert Wilson and Therapy , in The Drama Review , March 1976, pp. 99-110. Bert States outlines his binocular approach to dramatic reception in Great Reckonings in Little Rooms: On the Phenomenology of Theater (UC Press, 1987). States' idea of semiotic reception seems too simplistic, though, since meaning isn't usually perceived neatly through only one lens, but prismatically refracted and then reassembled. Vision in the theater isn't singular in that there is always depth (super-imposed sights) and the interaction with heard stuff. Still, to say that viewing or receiving is therefore totally subjective can't be right either.

6. See Stein's ‘Plays,' Lectures in America .

7. This moral aspect of drama, which emerged in the Classical period, still retains quite a hold on the theater of today, perhaps because we tend to consider the theater as a place of community discussion. The clearest and most comfortable way for an audience to consider moral questions tends to be exemplification, which leads to the social problem play so effectively written by Ibsen and his descendants such as Arthur Miller.

8. The classic foundational text on Absurdist dramaturgy is Martin Esslin's Theater of the Absurd (Anchor Books, 1961). The plays I refer to here are Eugene Ionesco's Rhinoceros , Samuel Beckett's Waiting for Godot , and Edward Albee's The Lady from Dubuque . The “Theater of Images” appellation was made popular by Bonnie Marranca's 1977 anthology of the same name (Drama Book Specialists).

9. Because she cannot fall back on technological means (the cinematographer's or editor's jump-cut) the skilled director (and her actors) must find creative ways to refer to other moments without losing this one, and this one's connection to the next now, even if that connection is severed by a newly-initiated or freshly-introduced action. Time can be, in the theater, both continuous and fractured, and the theater is the only place, other than the mind, where this can be so.

10. Glass's remarks can be found on the videotape Einstein on the Beach: The Changing Image of Opera , dir. Mark Obenhaus, Direct Cinema, 1987.

11. See Jacques Derrida's influential essay on the impossibility of Artaudian aesthetics, “The Theater of Cruelty and the Closure of Representation,” in Writing and Difference (U of Chicago Press, 1978).

12 Donald Davidson coined this term for “knowing how to interpret a particular utterance on a particular occasion,” distinguishing first meanings from context-determined usage and private linguistics. See ‘A Nice Derangement of Epitaphs' in Truth and Interpretation: Perspectives on the Philosophy of Donald Davidson (Blackwell, 1989).

13.The whole point of performance is that you have to be there (or, more often, more authentically, and more sadly: You had to be there!). For a provocative discussion of the power of live vs. mediatized performance, see Philip Auslande's Liveness (Routledge, 1999).

14. I employ sub-linguistic rather than subtextual, which ascribes psychological motivation to speech acts; what's underneath Scalapino's language as a system subverts the usual character-based interpretation of dramatic text.

15. For a brief introduction to Eiko and Koma, see ‘Movement as Installation: Eiko & Koma in Conversation with Matthew Yokobosky' in Performing Arts Journal 64 (January 2000, Volume XXII, No. 1), pp. 26-35. For an overview of Meredith Monk's work, see Deborah Jowitt's edited volume Meredith Monk (Johns Hopkins UP, 1997) and also Scalapino's title essay in How Phenomena Appear to Unfold , which discusses Monk's opera Quarry .

16. Scalapino cites (and questions) Stein's characterization of this literary form as the only new and interesting advance in modern literature. The actual play-text reads: “Why the form of the detective novel as if it were a certain thing known which is about finding corpses.”

17. See the introduction to Michael Kirby's Happenings (Dutton, 1966) and, for more recent applications, Philip Auslander's From Acting to Performance (Routledge, 1977).

18. See, in particular, Bertolt Brecht's ‘Short Organum' and ‘Theaterarbeit,' both in Brecht on Theatre: The Development of an Aesthetic (trans. and ed. by John Willett; New York: Hill & Wang, 1957).

BIO: Zack has directed over 40 plays by diverse writers including Karel Capek, Tom Stoppard, Agota Kristof and Kobo Abe. He has also performed in works by Meredith Monk, Ping Chong, Anne Bogart and in numerous shows with Common Cultural Practice, the experimental theater company he founded in 1993. Zack holds a BFA in Acting from NYU and an MFA in Directing from UCLA. Currently, he is a doctoral candidate in Drama and the Humanities at Stanford University, where he also teaches in the Dance Division. He recently co-edited a special “Poetry and Performance” issue of Mantis , Stanford's Journal of Poetry, Criticism and Translation.

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