Richard Schechner Essays On Performance Theory Wiki

Richard Foreman (born June 10, 1937 in New York City) is an American playwright and avant-garde theater pioneer. He is the founder of the Ontological-Hysteric Theater.[1]

Life and career[edit]

Richard Foreman graduated from Brown University (B.A. 1959), and received an MFA in Playwriting from Yale School of Drama in 1962.[1] As an undergraduate, he was instrumental in the formation of Production Workshop, Brown University's student theatre group, while taking part in other student theatre, including set-designing Brownbrokers' 1958 production of Down to Earth.[2] In 1993, Brown presented him with an honorary doctorate.[3] In 1968 he founded the Ontological-Hysteric Theater, which began as an art-oriented project in the New York district of Soho, and later moved to a semi-permanent "home" at Joseph Papp's Public Theater. From 1992 to 2010, the non-profit organization was in residence at the theater at St. Mark's Church in-the-Bowery.[4]

Foreman's dramatic works are driven by the notion of a constant reawakening of the audience; he is one of the major artists creating substantial works in the avant garde performance movement, now largely referred to as post-dramatic theater. Instead of focusing on conflict to shape his theatrical structure, Foreman's work draws on design, text and the live performance of actors equally, to create a different focus and relationship between the stage and audience. He describes his works as "total theater". The goal of his performances is a "disorientation massage", in contrast to Aristotle's goal of catharsis.[5]

Foreman was influenced by the work of filmmaker/performer Jack Smith and musician La Monte Young and their approach to time.[6]

Richard Foreman has written, directed and designed over fifty of his own plays both in New York City and abroad. He has received three Obie Awards for Best Play of the Year, and he has received four other Obies for directing and for "sustained achievement".[7] He has received the annual Literature Award from the American Academy and Institute of Arts and Letters, a "Lifetime Achievement in the Theater" award from the National Endowment for the Arts, the PEN American Center Master American Dramatist Award, a MacArthur Fellowship, and in 2004 was elected an officer of the Order of Arts and Letters of France. His archives and work materials have been acquired by the Fales Library at New York University (NYU).[8][9]

His work has been primarily produced by and performed at the Ontological-Hysteric Theater in New York, though he has gained acclaim as director for such productions as Bertolt Brecht's The Threepenny Opera at Lincoln Center and the premiere of Suzan-Lori Parks's Venus at the Public Theater.

In 2004, Foreman established the Bridge Project with Sophie Haviland to promote international art exchange between countries around the world through workshops, symposiums, theater productions, visual art, performance and multimedia events.[10] From 2006 to 2008, Foreman's Ontological-Hysteric productions have incorporated the projection of video footage generated through Bridge workshops as a kind of "film-score" that the live performance is conducted in a relation to. These include Zomboid! (2006), Wake Up Mr. Sleepy! Your Unconscious Mind Is Dead! (2007) and Deep Trance Behavior in Potatoland (2008).

Foreman's plays have been co-produced by The New York Shakespeare Festival, La Mama Theatre, The Wooster Group, the Festival d'Autumn in Paris and the Vienna Festival. He has collaborated (as librettist and stage director) with composer Stanley Silverman on 8 music theater pieces produced by The Music Theater Group & The New York City Opera. He wrote and directed the feature film Strong Medicine. He has also directed and designed many classical productions with major theaters around the world including, The Threepenny Opera, The Golem[11] and plays by Václav Havel, Botho Strauss, and Suzan-Lori Parks for The New York Shakespeare Festival, Die Fledermaus at the Paris Opera, Don Giovanni at the Opera de Lille, Philip Glass's Fall of the House of Usher at the American Repertory Theater and The Maggio Musicale in Florence, Woyzeck at Hartford Stage Company, Molière'sDon Juan at the Guthrie Theater and The New York Shakespeare Festival, Kathy Acker's Birth of the Poet at the Brooklyn Academy of Music and the RO theater in Rotterdam, Gertrude Stein's Doctor Faustus Lights the Lights at the Autumn Festivals in Berlin and Paris.

Seven collections of his plays have been published, and books studying his work have been published in English, French, and German.

Ontological-Hysteric Theater[edit]

The Ontological-Hysteric Theater (OHT) was founded by Foreman in 1968, with the aim of

Stripping the theater bare of everything but the singular and essential impulse to stage the static tension of interpersonal relations in space. The OHT seeks to produce works that balance a primitive and minimal style with extremely complex and theatrical themes. ... Foreman’s trademark "total theater" unites elements of the performative, auditory and visual arts, philosophy, psychoanalysis and literature for a unique result. ... He seeks to make work that unsettles and disorients received ideas and opens the doors for alternative models of perception, organization, and understanding. Of course as times, technologies and experiences change, strategies must shift as well. In 2005 Foreman began a second chapter in his work with the introduction of the digital video and film media as dominating forces in his redefinition of ontologically hysteric theater."[12]


Since taking up its home at the Ontological Theater at St. Mark's in 1992, the OHT has also been nurturing a new generation of artists who share Foreman's goals and passion for theater. Through internship, staffing, summer residency and curation efforts, the OHT has been a starting point for many artists making their mark in New York City and internationally including David Herskovits, Artistic Director of Target Margin Theater, Damon Keily, Artistic Director of American Theater in Chicago, some of the artists of Collapsable Giraffe, Radiohole, Elevator Repair Service, National Theater of the United States of America, Doorika, Richard Maxwell, Juliana Francis, Sophie Haviland, Robert Cucuzza, DJ Mendel, Ken Nintzel, Marie Losier, and Young Jean Lee.

In 2005, the OHT chose to formalize its relationship with emerging artists by starting the Ontological-Hysteric Incubator. The Incubator is programming that guides artists from workshop phases to fully realized productions. The Incubator houses artists, who follow in the compositional theater footsteps of Foreman, but have their own unique visions and strategies for unsettling perception and disorienting understanding. The Incubator programming provides these younger artists with aesthetic and practical mentorship and support on their way towards self-sustaining productions.



  • Angelface, New York City (1968)
  • Ida-Eyed, New York City (1969)
  • Total Recall, New York City (1970)
  • HcOhTiEnLa (or) Hotel China, New York City (1971)
  • Dream Tantras for Western Massachusetts, Lennox, Massachusetts (1971) (music by Stanley Silverman)
  • Evidence, New York City (1972)
  • Sophia= (Wisdom) Part 3: The Cliffs, New York City (1972)
  • Particle Theory, New York City (1973)
  • Classical Therapy or A Week under the Influence . . . , Paris (1973)
  • Pain(t), New York City (1974)
  • Vertical Mobility, New York City (1974)
  • Pandering to the Masses: A Misrepresentation, New York City (1975)
  • Rhoda in Potatoland (Her Fall-Starts), New York City (1975)
  • Livre des Splendeurs: Part One, Paris (1976)
  • Book of Splendors: Part Two (Book of Leaves) Action at a Distance, New York City (1977)
  • Blvd. de Paris (I've Got the Shakes), New York City (1977)
  • Madness and Tranquility (My Head Was a Sledgehammer), New York City (1979)
  • Place + Target, Rome (1980)
  • Penguin Touquet, New York City (1981)
  • Café Amérique, Paris (1981)
  • Egyptology, New York City (1983)
  • La Robe de Chambre de Georges Bataille, Paris (1983)
  • Miss Universal Happiness, New York City (1985)
  • The Cure, New York City (1986)
  • Film Is Evil: Radio Is Good, New York City (1987)
  • Symphony of Rats, New York City (1987)
  • Love and Science, Stockholm (1988)
  • What Did He See? New York City (1988)
  • Lava, New York City (1989)
  • Eddie Goes to Poetry City: Part One, Seattle (1990)
  • Eddie Goes to Poetry City: Part Two, New York City (1991)
  • The Mind King, New York City (1992)
  • Samuel's Major Problems, New York City (1993)
  • My Head Was A Sledgehammer, New York City (1994)
  • I've Got the Shakes, New York City (1995)
  • The Universe, New York City (1995)
  • Permanent Brain Damage, New York City (1996) (toured to London)
  • Pearls for Pigs, Hartford, Connecticut (1997) (toured to Montreal, Paris, Rome, Los Angeles, and New York City)
  • Benita Canova, New York City (1997)
  • Paradise Hotel (Hotel Fuck), New York City (1998) (toured to Paris, Copenhagen, Salzburg and Berlin)
  • Bad Boy Nietzsche, New York City (2000 (toured to Brussels, Berlin and Tokyo)
  • Now That Communism is Dead, My Life Feels Empty, New York City (2001) (toured to Vienna and the Netherlands)
  • Maria Del Bosco, New York City (2002) (toured to Singapore)
  • Panic! (How to Be Happy!), New York City (2003) (toured to Zurich and Vienna)
  • King Cowboy Rufus Rules the Universe!, New York City (2004)
  • The Gods Are Pounding My Head! AKA Lumberjack Messiah, New York City (2005)
  • ZOMBOID! (Film/Performance Project #1), New York City (2006)
  • IDIOT SAVANT, New York City (2009)[6]


  • Elephant Steps, Tanglewood (1968) / New York City (1970) (music by Stanley Silverman)
  • Dr. Selavy's Magic Theater, New York City (1972) (music by Stanley Silverman)
  • Hotel for Criminals, New York City (1974) (music by Stanley Silverman)
  • American Imagination, New York City (1978) (music by Stanley Silverman)
  • Madame Adare, New York City (1980) (music by Stanley Silverman)
  • Africanus Instructus, New York City (1986) (music by Stanley Silverman)
  • Love & Science, New York City (1990) (music by Stanley Silverman)
  • WHAT TO WEAR, Los Angeles (2006 (music by Michael Gordon)
  • ASTRONOME: A NIGHT AT THE OPERA, New York City (2009) (music by John Zorn)

Film and video[edit]

  • Out of the Body Travel, video play (1975)
  • City Archives, video play (1977)
  • Strong Medicine, feature film (1978)
  • Radio Rick in Heaven and Radio Richard in Hell, film (1987)
  • Total Rain, video play (1990)
  • Once Every Day, feature film (2012)


  • Plays and Manifestos (1976)
  • Theatre of Images (1977)
  • Reverberation Machines: The Later Plays and Essays (1986)
  • Love and Science: Selected Librettos by Richard Foreman (1991)
  • Unbalancing Acts: Foundations for a Theater (1993)
  • My Head Was a Sledgehammer: Six Plays (1995)
  • No-body: A Novel in Parts (1996)
  • Paradise Hotel and Other Plays (2001)
  • Richard Foreman (Art + Performance) (2005)
  • Bad Boy Nietzsche! and Other Plays (2005)
  • Manifestos and Essays (forthcoming 2010)
  • Plays with Films (New York: Contra Mundum Press, 2013)

Awards and honors[edit]

Foreman has won seven Village VoiceObie Awards, including three for "Best Play", and one for Lifetime Achievement. In addition, he has received:

See also[edit]



External links[edit]

Richard Foreman in March 2009
  1. ^ abForeman, Richard. "Richard Foreman Biography". Ontological-Hysteric Theater Web Site. Archived from the original on October 15, 2009. Retrieved November 5, 2009. 
  2. ^Ellen Shaffer. "'Down to Earth' Offers Gaiety and Diversity", Pembroke Record [Providence, RI] 18 April 1958: 4. Web. 2 December 2011.
  3. ^Gerald Rabkin, Richard Foreman, Johns Hopkins University Press, 1999, p. 240.
  4. ^"Ontological-Hysteric Theater leaves St. Mark's Church"Archived 2012-07-17 at the Wayback Machine. Ontological-Hysteric Theater website. Accessed: 12 August 2012
  5. ^Foreman, Richard. "Program Notes on Pearls for Pigs". TDR, Vol. 42, No. 2 (Summer, 1998). , pp. 157-159.
  6. ^ abAls, Hilton (2009-11-16), "Talk Talk: Richard Foreman puts language onstage", The New Yorker 
  7. ^"The Village Voice Obies Database". Retrieved November 7, 2009. 
  8. ^Jester, Barbara. "Fales Collection Acquires Papers of Acclaimed Experimental Playwright and Director Richard Foreman". NYU Today. Retrieved November 8, 2009. 
  9. ^Foreman, Richard. "Guide to the Richard Foreman Papers 1942-2004". The Fales Library & Special Collections. Retrieved November 7, 2009. 
  10. ^"About The Bridge". Archived from the original on October 2, 2011. Retrieved November 8, 2009. 
  11. ^Gussow, Mel (August 17, 1984). "Theater: 'Golem,' At the Delacorte". The New York Times. Retrieved September 4, 2015. 
  12. ^"Info" on the OHT website

In the philosophy of language, the notion of performance conceptualizes what a spoken or written text can bring about in human interactions.

Historical development[edit]

In the 1950s the philosopher of language J. L. Austin introduced the term 'performative utterance' to make clear that 'to say something is to do something'.[1] Developing this idea, scholars have theorized on the relation of a spoken or written text to its broader context, that is to say everything outside the text itself. The question whether a performative is separable from the situation it emerged in is relevant when one addresses for example the status of individual intentions or speech as a resource of power. There are two main theoretical strands in research today. One emphasizes the predetermined conventions surrounding a performative utterance and the clear distinction between text and context. Another emphasizes the active construction of reality through spoken and written texts and is related to theories of human agency and discourse. The ideas about performance and text have contributed to the performative turn in the social sciences and humanities, proving their methodological use for example in the interpretation of historical texts.

Classical theories[edit]

Early theories acknowledge that performance and text are both embedded in a system of rules and that the effects they can produce depend on convention and recurrence. In this sense, text is an instance of 'restored behaviour', a term introduced by Richard Schechner that sees performance as a repeatable ritual.[2] The focus here is largely on individual sentences in the active first person voice, rather than on politics or discourse. The syntactical analyses are firmly anchored in analytical epistemology, as the distinction between the research object and its context is not conceived as problematic.


J. L. Austin introduced the performative utterance as an additional category to 'constatives', statements that can be either true or false.[3] Language not only represents, but also can make something happen. Austin distinguishes between two types of performative speech acts. The illocutionary act is concerned with what an actor is doing in saying something (e.g. when someone says 'hello', he is greeting another person).[4] The perlocutionary act involves the unintended consequences of an utterance and refers to that what an actor is doing by saying something (e.g. when someone says 'hello' and the greeted person is scared by it).[5]

Every performative utterance has its own procedure and risks of failure that Austin calls 'infelicities'.[6] He sees a sharp distinction between the individual text and the 'total speech act situation' surrounding it. According to Austin, in order to successfully perform an illocutionary act, certain conditions have to be met (e.g. a person who pronounces a marriage must be authorized to do so).[7] Besides the context, the performative utterance itself is unambiguous as well. The words of an illocutionary act have to be expressed in earnest; if not, Austin discards them as a parasitic use of language.


Building on Austin's thought, language philosopher John Searle tried to develop his own account of speech acts, suggesting that these acts are a form of rule-governed behaviour.[8] On the one hand, Searle discerns rules that merely regulate language, such as referring and predicating.[9] These rules account for the 'propositional content' of our sentences. On the other hand, he discerns rules that are constitutive in character and define behaviour (e.g. when we make a promise).[10] These rules are the conventions underlying performative utterances and they enable us not only to represent and express ourselves, but also to communicate.[11]

This focus on effect implies a conscious actor and Searle assumes that language stems from an intrinsic intentionality of the mind.[12] These intentions set the prerequisites for the performance of speech acts and Searle sets out to map their necessary and sufficient conditions.[13] Like Austin, he thinks in terms of demarcated contexts and transparent intentions, two issues that in the 1970s led him into polemics with postmodern thinker Jacques Derrida.[14]

Postmodernist theories[edit]

The second set of theories on performance and text diverged from the tradition represented by Austin and Searle. Bearing the stamp of postmodernism, it states that neither the meaning, nor the context of a text can be defined in its entirety. Instead of emphasizing linguistic rules, scholars within this strand stress that the performative utterance is intertwined with structures of power. Because a text inevitably changes a situation or discourse, the distinction between text and context is blurred.


The postmodern philosopher Jacques Derrida holds with Austin and Searle that by illocutionary force, language itself can transform and effect.[15] However, he criticizes the notion of 'felicity conditions' and the idea that the success of a performative utterance is determined by conventions. Derrida values the distinctiveness of every individual speech act, because it has a specific effect in the particular situation in which it is performed.[16] It is because of this effect or 'breaking force' that Derrida calls the possibility of repeating a text 'iterability', a word derived from Latin iterare, to repeat.

According to Derrida, the effects caused by a performative text are in a sense also part of it. In this way, the distinction between a text and that what is outside it dissolves. For this reason it is pointless to try to define the context of a speech act.[17] Besides the consequential effects, the dissolution of the text-context divide is also caused by iterability. Due to the possibility of repetition, the intentions of an individual actor can never be fully present in a speech act.[18] The core of a performative utterance is therefore not constituted by animating intentions, as Austin and Searle would have it, but by the structure of language.


The philosopher Judith Butler offers a political interpretation of the concept of the performative utterance. Power in the form of active censorship defines and regulates the domain of a certain discourse.[19] Indebted to the work of Michel Foucault, Butler expounds how subjects are produced by their context, because the possibilities of speech are predetermined.

Notwithstanding such social restraints, Butler underscores the possibility of agency. The boundaries of a discourse need continuous re-demarcation and this is where speech can escape its constriction. The emphasis on the limits of what is allowed to be said also frames that what is silenced.[20] Performativity has a political aspect that consists in what Derrida has described as the breaking force, by which an utterance changes its context.[21] Butler assigns an important role to what Austin has called infelicities and parasitic uses of language. Quotations, parodies and other deviations from official discourse can become instruments of power that affect society.[22]

Historical methodology[edit]


The historian Quentin Skinner developed classical and postmodern theories on performative texts into a concrete research method. Using Austin's vocabulary, he seeks to recover what historical authors were doing in writing their texts, which corresponds with the performance of illocutionary acts.[23] According to Skinner, philosophical ideas are intertwined with claims of power. Every text is an act of communication that positions itself in relation to the status quo it seeks to change.[24]

Skinner agrees with Derrida that contexts in their entirety are irretrievable but nevertheless states that there is a relevant context outside the text that can be described in a plausible way.[25] Extensive research is required to relate historical texts to their contemporary discourses. According to Skinner 'there is a sense in which we need to understand why a certain proposition has been put forward if we wish to understand the proposition itself'.[24] He values agency over structure and stresses the importance of authorial intentions.[26] Skinner therefore proposes to study historical sources in order to retrieve the convictions the author held, reflect on their coherence and investigate possible motives for the illocutionary act.[27] This practical method seeks to deal with the blurred distinction between text and context and offer a meaningful way of interpreting historical reality.

See also[edit]



  • Austin, J.L., How to do things with words, the William James Lectures delivered at Harvard University in 1955 (Londen 1962, revised edition 1967).
  • Butler, Judith, Excitable speech, a politics of the performative (New York 1997).
  • Derrida, Jacques, 'Signature Event Context' in: Limited inc (1988), 1-23. (first published in Glyph vol. I, 1977).
  • Schechner, Richard, Performance Studies, an Introduction (New York 2006).
  • Searle, John R., Intentionality, an essay in the philosophy of mind (Cambridge 1983).
  • Searle, John R., Speech Acts, an essay in the philosophy of language (Cambridge 1974, 1st print 1969).
  • Skinner, Quentin, Visions of Politics, vol. 1 regarding method (Cambridge 2003).
  1. ^Austin (1962)
  2. ^Schechner (2006), p. 36
  3. ^Austin (1962), p. 6
  4. ^Austin (1962), p. 108
  5. ^Austin (1962), p. 101
  6. ^Austin (1962), p. 14
  7. ^Austin (1962), p. 8
  8. ^Searle (1974), p. 16
  9. ^Searle (1974), p. 24
  10. ^Searle (1974), p. 33
  11. ^Searle (1983), p. 165
  12. ^Searle (1983), p. vii
  13. ^Searle (1983), p. 163
  14. ^In 1972 Jacques Derrida published the article 'Signature Événement Contexte', in which he criticises several aspects of Austin's theory on the performative utterance. The first English translation appeared in 1977 in the first volume of Glyph. In the second volume (1977) Searle published an article called: 'Reiterating the differences: a reply to Derrida', in which he defended Austin's theories. Derrida responded with the essay 'Limited Inc a b c...', (1977).
  15. ^Derrida (1988), p. 13
  16. ^Derrida (1988), p. 9
  17. ^Derrida (1988), p. 3
  18. ^Derrida (1988), p. 18
  19. ^Butler (1997), p. 133
  20. ^Butler (1997), p. 129
  21. ^Butler (1997), p. 145
  22. ^Butler (1997), p. 160
  23. ^Skinner (2003), p. vii
  24. ^ abSkinner (2003), p. 115
  25. ^Skinner (2003), p. 121
  26. ^Skinner (2003), p. 7
  27. ^Skinner (2003), p. 119


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