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Christopher Innes and Maria Shevtsova (2013), The Cambridge Introduction to Theatre Directing, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press

Christopher Innes and Maria Shevtsova (2013), The Cambridge Introduction to Theatre Directing, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 296pp
ISBN: 978-0521606226 (paperback)

 

Review by Jonathan Heron[1], IATL, University of Warwick

'I am just trying to be supportive, but I'm not really a director' (Grzegorz Bral).

In the last chapter of their excellent The Cambridge Introduction to Theatre Directing, Innes and Shevtsova compare Grzegorz Bral, the 'Song of the Goat' co-founder, with the great English director Peter Brook. They state, 'If Brook observes that the "energy" of improvisation "produces a vast amount of raw material out of which the final shapes can be drawn", Bral focuses on how such material can be consistently co-ordinated by the actors, who finely tune in to each other, body and soul, throughout the process' (p. 245).

The notion of the theatre director as 'conductor' allows the authors of this survey to identify modes of collaboration, improvisation and musicality at the heart of the performance practitioner's craft. This companion primarily covers the twentieth century, in which the role of theatre director was created, adapted, dismantled and distributed among late modernist performance cultures, especially in Europe and occasionally in the United States. Indeed, this Euro-centric approach may prove problematic for readers in Cape Town or Melbourne, for example. While the division of this period of theatre practice into seven chapters, covering extremely broad categories, such as 'the rise of the modern director', 'the director as auteur' and 'directors of ensemble theatre', may at first seem amorphous, the individual chapters give specific case studies and carefully researched practitioner histories. Many of these accounts are breathtaking in their range and depth, allowing the juxtaposition of Edward Gordon Craig, Max Reinhardt, Peter Brook, Robert Wilson and Robert Lepage in the auteur chapter alone.

The significance of the approach is clear from the introduction, which notes that 'the patterns we have traced out show knots of interconnections, which means that a director whom we have grouped in one way belongs just as readily in another grouping: this is the case, noticeably, of Brook who appears in various chapters' (p. 3). This 'crisscrossing' is a common feature of studies such as this, and in a sense this enriches the text through layers of meaning, rather than constructing arbitrary divisions. This allows the authors to finish a section on Stanislavski with the sentence 'Outside Russia, the heir to this kind of seemingly invisible but wholly present directing was none other than Jerzy Grotowski, whom we will meet later in this book' (p. 76). Statements such as this not only reproduce structural problems, but also suggest the 'interconnectedness' of all practice.

From a faculty point of view, this text forms an accessible textbook for academic studies of theatre directing, especially at undergraduate level, although it would no doubt be useful to those teaching and learning on MFA programmes also. From the point of view of the theatre director, however, it becomes as a rattle-bag of approaches to the process of theatrical embodiment and the history of a reflexive profession (always already undoing itself). From the point of view of the researcher, it sits uneasily alongside other books in a series that attempts to summarise specific literary figures and textual traditions. That said, four of very few practice-focused volumes of that list, on Theatre Studies (Balme, 2008), Theatre Historiography (Postlewait, 2009), Modern British Theatre (Shepard, 2009) and this edition on directing published in 2013, collectively respond to this problem. It is therefore an extremely positive step that has been taken to include these particular textbooks in the Cambridge Introductions to Literature.

In a sense, this editorial context re-performs the concerns of the theatre directors covered in this book. This movement - from traditions, theories and texts, towards the embodied, the epic and the ensemble, via Moscow, Berlin and Wroclaw - suggests a transition in Western ontology from the object to the event, or from product to process (as has been recently re-appraised by performance scholars such as Nicholas Johnson and Mark Fleishman in Theatre Research International 37:1, 2012). The making of performance thus becomes a central metaphor for knowledge production and digital representation in the twenty-first century. This is especially resonant in the chapters on 'directors of theatricality', covering the practices of Vsevolod Meyerhold and Ariane Mnouchine, and 'Directors, collaboration and improvisation', with which this review began. It is here that we can glimpse the theatre as a 'human laboratory' (see Alan Read, 2008), and re-imagine the theatre director as life scientist.

 

Review by Thomas Lawton[2], Faculty of Arts, Monash University, Australia

'Power, or authoritativeness, is necessary for the director to incite, not subdue' (Eugenio Barba).

The Cambridge Introduction to Theatre Directing is an incredibly in-depth examination of the evolution, adaptation and formation of contemporary theatrical directors and their accompanying styles. With a focus on the twentieth century, the textbook style book discusses artistic and political values of key directorial figures, their rehearsal methods and how they deal with dramatic material, supported by case studies and literature from the directors' own literary works (p. 213). While the book focuses on contemporary directorial figures and practices, Innes and Shevtsova take the time to establish a historiographical basis for the evolution for the director by examining briefly ancient Greek theatre and medieval theatre all the way through to Goethe as the first director in European Theatre. The rest of the book is spent providing key examples of the major directorial approaches in directorial practice and reveal widespread patterns in the craft of directing.

While comprehensive, The Cambridge Introduction to Theatre Directing is incredibly Euro-centric in its analysis and discussion of theatrical figures and movements. This Euro-centric gaze will present no problem to anyone wishing for the major movements in Europe, but to anyone wishing for a focus outside this European hub (and to a lesser extent, the Americas) will be left wanting with major figures such as Anne Boggart and Yohsi Oida rating not a single mention.

The chapter titles, such as 'Directors of ensemble theatre' and 'Directors, collaboration and improvisation' seem incredibly broad in their description; however, delving into each chapter reveals rigorously constructed, deeply researched and case-study supported work that focuses on key individual artists as well as their work. In 'Directors of ensemble Theatre' chapter, Innes and Shevtsova discuss and cover the work of Giorgio Strehler, Peter Stein, Peter Brook, Lev Dodin, Anatoli Vassiliev, Katie Mitchell and Declan Donnellan, an incredibly impressive feat due to the sheer amount of research required in a single chapter.

This book was clearly written by academics with universities in mind as their target audience as a kind of 'history of directing' (p. 3). The vernacular, style and content form a perfect book for both undergraduate study of theatrical direction as well as a research aid for postgraduate researchers and tutors wishing to brush up on some of their directorial history. The index is comprehensive, clear and neatly organised for which students and researchers alike is a godsend. For a direction unit, or even a theatre history unit, this book forms an incredibly accessible and well-researched document for both undergraduate students and tutors alike, and no doubt this text will quickly become a staple text in university libraries.

What this book is not, which Innes and Shevtsova make very clear, is a 'how-to book for prospective directors' which is understandable as both writers are predominantly academics and critics rather than performance makers. For a theatre practitioner this book does not provide the tools needed to broach new areas of directorial development, create new methodologies or break established convention. The Cambridge Introduction to Theatre Directing is a book on what direction was, not what it currently is or will be. As such, to a practitioner in an ever-evolving industry that outstrips the printing of books, it may be worth keeping this book as an inspiration rather than a key working text.

However, this text is an excellent teaching tool and a wonderful addition to the Cambridge Introductions to Literature. As such it is a must for any university student studying theatre history or direction and a valuable aid to any theatre researcher, dramaturge or ambitious pre-university teacher or student wishing to further their knowledge of the director in theatre.

 


 

Notes

[1] Jonathan Heron is Teaching Fellow at IATL at the University of Warwick and is Artistic Director of Fail Better Productions.

[2] As well as being an aspiring playwright and theatre-maker based in Melbourne, Thomas Lawton is currently completing his Honours degree in Performing Arts at Monash University.

 

 

To cite either of these reviews please use the following details: Heron, J. OR Lawton, T. (2013), Christopher Innes and Maria Shevtsova (2013), 'The Cambridge Introduction to Theatre Directing', Reinvention: an International Journal of Undergraduate Research, Volume 6, Issue 2, http://www.warwick.ac.uk/reinventionjournal/archive/volume6issue2/heronlawton Date accessed [insert date]. If you cite these reviews or use them in any teaching or other related activities please let us know by e-mailing us at Reinventionjournal at warwick dot ac dot uk.