The analysis of theatrical performance has always provided a problem of particular difficulty to semiotic theory, for a variety of reasons—the ephemerality of the event, the complexity of the interrelationships of so many communicative channels, the almost infinite variety of physical realizations that may be generated from a single written script, the phenomenological concerns generated by the physical presence of the event, and the effects upon interpretation of changing historical and social reception strategies. Historical placement is of course a concern involved in analysing the interpretive process of any work of art, but it is particularly obvious and important in theatre, where an institutional collective process at a particular historical moment is always involved both in the specific realization and in the specific reception of the work.
Certain aspects of this complex problem have received useful attention, others have been very little considered. The Prague circle provided some useful distinctions in dealing with, for example, the various operations of the actor in the semiotic process.
More recently, theorists with a phenomeno-logical orientation or with an interest in reception aesthetics have further enriched our understanding of what is involved in the theatre event. Clearly much remains to be explored. One area is the effect on theatrical reception of the re-use of the same performance elements or combinations of elements in physical realizations of what might be quite different written scripts.
The most obvious example of this is the individual actor, who in the course of a career will be seen by the public in many different roles.