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Alkazi Theatre Archives

A Bibliographic Listing from the Archive

From Ritual to Theatre: The Human Seriousness of Play

Book: From Ritual to Theatre: The Human Seriousness of Play
Written by:Victor Turner
Published by:PAJ Publications, 1982

Victor Turner in his book ‘From Ritual to Theatre’, analyzes the question – how is social action related to aesthetics and anthropology? What is a performance? A play? dancing? A concert? Circus and Carnival? Television shows? A press conference? And do these events have anything to do with ritual? The author states that the essays in the book chart his personal voyage of discovery from traditional anthropological studies of ritual performance to a lively interest in modern theatre, particularly experimental theatre (p.7). The author believes that the roots of theatre are in social drama. For him, “the anthropology of performance is an essential part of the anthropology of experience. In a sense, every type of cultural performance, including ritual, ceremony, carnival, theatre, and poetry, is an explanation and explication of life itself” (p.13) 

The book is devised in four essays. In the first essay, drawing from Van Gennep’s Rites of Passage and his theorization — separation, transition, and incorporation in a society — Turner discusses his ideas of liminal and liminoid phenomena. He explains the “communitas” in three forms– spontaneous, ideological, and normative communitas. In the second essay, Turner defines social drama as “a sequence of social interactions of a conflictive, competitive, or agonistic type” (p.33), and that works with the stages of the breach, crisis, redress, and reintegration or schism. The third essay explores the interface between ritual and theatre and between social and aesthetic drama with the case study of Ndembu village life in Zambia. He suggests the term “Ethnodramaturg” for studying society as a process punctuated by performances of various kinds. In The fourth chapter, considering theatre as the most powerful and close genre to life, Turner talks about acting in everyday life and everyday life as acting. According to the author,

“Acting is, therefore, both work and play, solemn and ludic, pretense or earnest, our mundane trafficking and commerce and what we do or behold in ritual and theatre” (102).

From Ritual to Theatre- The Human Seriousness of Play