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  • Steve Tillis


Geography has been accorded surprisingly little attention in the study of world theatre history. Maps are by no means the sum total of geographic knowledge, but their existence (or the lack thereof) provides a handy indicator of an author's interest in the subject. Oscar G. Brockett and Franklin J. Hildy's History of Theatre has numerous pictures of actors and diagrams of theatres but only one map that directly pertains to theatre. All the rest of its maps (of which there are fewer than two dozen) are standard-issue political maps. Theatre Histories: An Introduction, by Phillip B. Zarrilli and others, is groundbreaking in many ways, but it includes only six maps, and none of these directly concerns theatre. Each of the six volumes of The World Encyclopedia of Contemporary Theatre includes only one map, a basic political one. Other standard reference works on the history of theatre contain no maps; these include The Cambridge Guide to Theatre, The Oxford Companion to the Theatre, and The Oxford Encyclopedia of Theatre and Performance. Numerous types of map might be relevant for a study of theatre, but aside from the occasional political map, the basic overviews of theatre history do not include such resources.


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1. The singular map identifies the locations of theatres in Shakespeare's London. In a few other instances, authors claim that a map identifies what they call “theatrical centers,” but this claim is questionable. The political map of Asia identifies sixteen cities (along with three Chinese provinces), but some of these cities (e.g., Gansu) have no particular theatrical significance. On the other hand, some hotbeds of theatre, such as the island of Bali, are not identified. See Brockett, Oscar G. and Hildy, Franklin J., History of the Theatre, 10th ed. (Boston: Allyn & Bacon, 2008), 606. Note that although I will regularly refer to this text, I do so only because it of its prominence. My intention is not to target it but to use it as representative of many textbooks.

2. This small collection of maps is eclectic to the point of being bizarre. For example, although no Asian maps are included, we are offered a map of “the three linked Thornborough Henges” in England; see Zarrilli, Phillip B. et al. , Theatre Histories: An Introduction (New York: Routledge, 2006), 28. The authors write in the preface of engaging in three different “mappings,” but they do not use the word in a geographic sense. The most notable of their mappings, based on changing “modes of human communication,” provides the overall structure for the text; however, it is entirely a temporal mapping. See xxviii–xxx.

3. Rubin, Don, gen. ed., The World Encyclopedia of Contemporary Theatre, 6 vols. (London: Routledge, 1994–2000).

4. Ricardo Padrón makes a strong case for the importance of alternative mappings, such as itinerary maps, in his remarkable book The Spacious Word: Cartography, Literature, and Empire in Early Modern Spain (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2004); see chapter 2, “Tracking Space,” 45–91.

5. See, e.g., McNeill, William H., The Rise of the West: A History of the Human Community (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1963); Cunliffe, Barry, Europe between the Oceans: 9000 b.c.a.d. 1000 (New Haven: Yale University Press, 2008); Darwin, John, After Tamerlane: The Global History of Empire since 1405 (New York: Bloomsbury Press, 2008); Davies, Norman, Europe: A History (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1996); and Hourani, Albert, A History of the Arab Peoples (New York: MJF Books, 1991).

6. Braudel, Fernand, On History (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1980), 115. Along similar lines, literary critic Franco Moretti argues that “geography is not an inert container, is not a box where cultural history ‘happens,’ but an active force, that pervades the literary field and shapes it in depth”; Moretti, , Atlas of the European Novel: 1800–1900 (London: Verso, 1999), 3.

7. This article is not concerned with perceptions of geography within the fiction of plays. For that topic, see Chaudhuri, Una, Staging Place: The Geography of Modern Drama (Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 1997). For geography and maps in novels, see Moretti, Franco, Graphs, Maps, and Trees: Abstract Models for a Literary History (London: Verso, 2007), 3564.

8. See, e.g., Frank, Andre Gundar, ReORIENT: Global Economy in the Asian Age (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1998), 2.

9. Lewis, Martin W. and Wigen, Kären E., The Myth of Continents: A Critique of Metageography (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1997), 32. Subsequent citations form this book are given parenthetically in the text.

10. For a full account of the futile search for a natural border between Europe and Asia, see Lewis and Wigen, 27–8.

11. Hodgson, Marshall G. S., Rethinking World History, ed. Burke, Edmund III (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1993), 289.

12. Tillis, Steve, “East, West, and World Theatre,” Asian Theatre Journal 20.1 (2003): 7187.

13. Brandon, James R., “Introduction,” in The Cambridge Guide to Asian Theatre, ed. Brandon, (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1993), 9.

14. Rubin, Don, The World Encyclopedia of Contemporary Theatre, vol. 4, The Arab World (London: Routledge, 1999). One might wonder, however, if it would not have been better to speak of Islamic or Southwest Asian (rather than Arab) theatre and therefore include theatre in Iran.

15. The phrase is used, for example, in the title of a recent work by historian Ferguson, Niall, Civilization: The West and the Rest (London: Penguin Books, 2011).

16. Braudel, Fernand, The Mediterranean and the Mediterranean World in the Age of Philip II, trans. Reynolds, Siân, 2 vols. (New York: Harper & Row, 1972).

17. These subsystems are centered on Europe, the Mediterranean, Central Asia (from the Black Sea to Beijing), the Persian Gulf, the Red Sea, the Arabian Sea, the Bay of Bengal, and the South China Sea; Abu-Lughod, Janet L., Before European Hegemony: The World System a.d. 1250–1350 (New York: Oxford University Press, 1989), 34.

18. Chaudhuri, K. N., Trade and Civilisation in the Indian Ocean: An Economic History from the Rise of Islam to 1750 (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1985).

19. Roach, Joseph, Cities of the Dead: Circum-Atlantic Performance (New York: Columbia University Press, 1996).

20. Wilmer, S. E., “On Writing National Theatre Histories,” in Writing and Rewriting National Theatre Histories, ed. Wilmer, (Iowa City: University of Iowa Press, 2004), 1728, at 17.

21. Ibid.

22. A recent example of diasporic movement would be that of the Jewish communities that fled Eastern and Central Europe in the years around World War II. Many of these communities brought to the Americas a theatre form known as purimspielen (Purim Plays). See Shifra Epstein, “The Celebration of a Contemporary Purim in the Bobover Hasidic Community” (Ph.D. diss., University of Texas at Austin, 1979); and Shari Shoshana Troy, “On the Play and the Playing: Theatricality as Leitmotif in the Purimshpil of the Bobover Hasidim (Ph.D. diss., City University of New York, 2001).

23. Wilmer, 21.

24. Yael Zarhy-Levo and Freddie Rokem, “The Creation of a Canon: Re/Evaluating the National Identity of Israeli Drama,” in Writing and Rewriting National Theatre Histories, ed. Wilmer, 174–200.

25. For an overview of this troupe's work, see Broyles-González, Yolanda, Teatro Campesino: Theater in the Chicano Movement (Austin: University of Texas Press, 1994).

26. Barbara Pušić, “Nationalism, Tradition, and Transition in Theatre Historiography in Slovenia,” in Writing and Rewriting National Theatre Histories, ed. Wilmer, 65–87, at 71.

27. Cavalli-Sforza, Luigi Luca, Genes, Peoples, and Languages (Berkeley: University of California Press, 2001), 23.

28. I favor the term “Amerindian” because it applies specifically to the indigenous populations of the Americas. I need scarcely add that this entire matter of nomenclature is highly contentious.

29. Perhaps the most egregious omission is that of seventeenth-century Dutch theatre.

30. Erika Fischer-Lichte, “Some Critical Remarks on Theatre Historiography,” in Writing and Rewriting National Theatre Histories, ed. Wilmer, 1–16, at 12; Fischer-Lichte's italics.

31. Lewis and Wigen, 15. As before, subsequent citations form this book are given parenthetically in the text.

32. Lane, Jill, “Hemispheric America in Deep Time,” Theatre Research International 35.2 (2010): 111–25, at 116.

33. Hodgson, 278–9.

34. For details about the Indian forms mentioned, see the various essays in Richmond, Farley P., Swann, Darius L., and Zarrilli, Phillip B., eds., Indian Theatre: Traditions of Performance (Honolulu: University of Hawaii Press, 1990); see also Vatsyayan, Kapila, Traditional Indian Theatre: Multiple Streams (New Delhi: National Book Trust, 1980); and Gārgi, Balwant, Folk Theatre of India (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1991).

35. Crosby, Alfred W., Ecological Imperialism: The Biological Expansion of Europe, 900–1900 (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1986), 6.

36. Ibid., 7.

37. Ibid., 7, 146–7.

38. Some 43 percent of all slaves were brought to the Caribbean islands, whereas 38.2 percent went to Brazil. The rest were divided between other portions of South America (11.8%), North America (4.5%), and Mexico and other parts of Central America (2.4%). See Bernstein, William J., A Splendid Exchange: How Trade Shaped the World (New York: Grove Press, 2008), 277.

39. See, e.g., Warner, Lisa, “The Russian Folk Play ‘Tsar Maximilian,’” Folklore 82.3 (1971): 185206.

40. According to Natasha Rapoport, “The intensive process of cultural colonization . . . led to the total Europeanization and Russification of Kazakh life in many spheres of activity, especially in literature and the performing arts.” Rapoport, Natasha, “Kazakhstan,” in The World Encyclopedia of Contemporary Theatre, vol. 5, Asia/Pacific, ed. Rubin, Don (London: Routledge, 2000), 251–6, at 252.

41. Ortolani, Benito, The Japanese Theatre: From Shamanistic Ritual to Contemporary Pluralism (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1990), 1011.

42. Pronko, Leonard C., Theater East and West (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1967), 45.

43. For basic information on many wayang forms, see Yousof, Ghulam-Sarwar, Dictionary of Traditional South-East Asian Theatre (Kuala Lampur: Oxford University Press, 1994), 276314.

44. The Philippines presents a difficult case. It has long had a distinctive set of highly localized indigenous theatre forms, though over the past five hundred years it has been profoundly influenced by European colonization. In this regard, it is rather like India and Insular Southeast Asia, though in those regions the European influence began hundreds of years later. I view all of these as regions. In the many years before they attracted Europeans, Australia and New Zealand were most likely also distinct regions, though there are painfully few data to confirm this. The arrival and dominance of Europeans, however, have turned these lands into neo-Europes. New Guinea and its surrounding islands might well have been, and continue to be, another relatively small region that can be called Melanesia. See Lewis and Wigen, 187.

45. Vansina, Jan, Oral Tradition as History (Madison: University of Wisconsin Press, 1985), 56.

46. For sub-Saharan Africa, among the most useful accounts are Kerr, David, African Popular Theatre: From Pre-Colonial Times (London: James Curry, 1995); Banham, Martin, ed., A History of Theatre in Africa (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2004); and Banham, Martin, Hill, Errol, and Woodyard, George, eds., The Cambridge Guide to African and Caribbean Theatre (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1994). Amerindian theatre is considerably less well served. Among the most consequential studies are Stanlake, Christy, Native American Drama: A Critical Perspective (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2009); and Geiogamah, Hanay and Darby, Jaye T., eds., American Indian Theater in Performance: A Reader (Los Angeles: UCLA American Indian Studies Center, 2000). The latter book includes a particularly important essay that offers a general overview of traditional theatre: Jeffrey F. Huntsman, “Native American Theatre,” pp. 81–113. Among the great virtues of this essay is its extensive bibliography. I am not aware of any overviews of Amerindian theatre in South America.

47. Martin Banham's A History of Theatre in Africa is organized primarily in terms of European languages, while his Cambridge Guide to African and Caribbean Theatre (coedited with Hill and Woodyard; see n. 46) follows a nation-by-nation basis.

48. For overviews of these forms, see Cole, Catherine M., Ghana's Concert Party Theatre (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 2001); and Barber, Karen, The Generation of Plays: Yoruba Popular Life in Theater (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 2003).

49. For information on the theatre of two of these advanced societies, see Harris, Max, Aztecs, Moors, and Christians: Festivals of Reconquest in Mexico and Spain (Austin: University of Texas Press, 2000); and Tedlock, Dennis, Rabinal Achi: A Mayan Drama of War and Dance (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2003).

50. Some progress in delineating (nontheatrical) regions in Africa has been made. For linguistic study, see Greenberg, Joseph H., The Languages of Africa, 2d ed. (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1966). For genetic study, see Cavalli-Sforza, Luigi Luca, Menozzi, Paolo, and Piazza, Alberto, The History and Geography of Human Genes (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1994), “Africa,” 158–94. Both of these studies have generated much criticism, but it is possible (though by no means certain) that they might inform theatre history.

51. Conteh-Morgan, John, “African Traditional Drama and Issues in Theatre and Performance Criticism,” Comparative Drama 28.1 (1984): 318, at 11–14.

52. Scholarship on postcolonial theatre is abundant. For an overview, see Gilbert, Helen and Tompkins, Joanne, Post-Colonial Drama: Theory, Practice, Politics (London: Routledge, 1996).

53. Lo, Jacqueline and Gilbert, Helen, “Toward a Topography of Cross-Cultural Theatre Praxis,” TDR: The Drama Review 46.3 (2002): 3153, at 35.

54. According to legend, a Chinese theatre troupe was captured in the course of a Chinese invasion and its leader pressed into training elite performers for the Vietnamese court; see Brandon, James R., Theatre in Southeast Asia (Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1967), 73.

55. For a general account and history of Karagöz, see And, Metin, Karagöz: Turkish Shadow Theatre (Ankara: Dost Yayinlari, 1975); for the Greek variant, see Myrsiades, Linda S. and Myrsiades, Kostas, Karagiozis: Culture and Comedy in Greek Puppet Theater (Lexington: University of Kentucky Press, 1992); for the two together, see Aekaterina P. Mistakidou, “Comparison of the Turkish and Greek Shadow Theatre” (Ph.D. diss., New York University, 1978).

56. Cunliffe, 271.

57. Herodotus, , The History, trans. Grene, David (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1987). His first mentions of these various lands are, respectively, Hdt. 2.5, 1.166, 3.107, 1.1, 3.97, and 4.16.

58. The one notable exception to these limits was the province of Dacia, which was part of the Roman Empire for about 150 years.

59. Braudel, Fernand, Afterthoughts on Material Civilization and Capitalism, trans. Ranum, Patricia M. (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1977), 25.

60. Referring to the same idea as megaregions, historian Ross E. Dunn writes of “superregions”; see “Interregional and Superregional History,” his The New World History: A Teacher's Companion (Boston: Bedford/St. Martin's, 2000), 161–63, at 161. Because “super” can too easily be misunderstood to mean “superior,” I prefer to avoid that term.

One can also identify intermediate units between the levels of theatre centers and regions. It should be possible, for instance, to determine subregions within each region. In some cases (and at certain times), forms are limited to one or another subregion; in other cases, more or less distinct subregional variations might develop in forms with a more fully regional distribution. A subregional scheme would be particularly useful when dealing with theatre in Insular Southeast Asia. Java and Bali, for example, both host the wayang kulit family of forms (which uses shadow puppets), but beyond the different languages used for performance on each island, the Javanese puppets are appreciably larger and more refined in design. Also, the Javanese performances last significantly longer (i.e., through the night, rather than for three to four hours). See Brandon, Theatre in Southeast Asia, esp. 332–33.

61. Although money is the most obvious form of compensation, it by no means the only one. Compensation can be in goods or favors of any kind; it can also be in social status or opportunities (including sexual opportunities).

62. The most detailed account of the Winter Ceremonial is in Boas, Franz, Kwakiutl Ethnography, ed. Codere, Helen (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1966), 171298.

63. Owomoyela, Oyekan, “Folklore and Yoruba Theatre,” in Forms of Folklore in Africa: Narrative, Poetic, Gnomic, Dramatic, ed. Lindfors, Bernth (Austin: University of Texas Press, 1977), XXX, at 259. Although Owomoyela is writing of performance in Africa, his point seems widely applicable.

64. Tuan, Yi-Fu, Space and Place: The Perspective of Experience (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1977), 173.

65. Lefebvre, Henri, Writings on Cities, trans. and intro. Kofman, Eleonore and Lebas, Elizabeth (Oxford: Blackwell Publishers, 1996), 101.

66. Ibid., 211–12.

67. Lefebvre, Henri, The Production of Space (Oxford: Blackwell Press, 1991), 11.

68. Examples (respectively) are Chūshingura (The Treasury of Royal Retainers): A Puppet Play, by Izumo, Takedo, Shōraku, Miyoshi, and Senryū, Namiki, trans. Keene, Donald (New York: Columbia University Press, 1971); and Love Suicides at Amijima by Chikamatsu, , in Four Major Plays of Chikamatsu, trans. Keene, Donald (New York: Columbia University Press, 1961), 170208.

69. Barber, Karin, Collins, John, and Ricard, Alain, West African Popular Theatre (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1997), 23, quotation at 2.

70. Porter, Roy, London: A Social History (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1995), 67.

71. Hall, Sir Peter, Cities in Civilization (New York: Pantheon, 1998), 280–1.

72. Ibid., 125.

73. Carlson, Marvin, Places of Performance: The Semiotics of Theatre Architecture (Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 1989), 68.

74. Donald H. Shively, “The Social Environment of Tokugawa Kabuki,” in Studies in Kabuki: Its Acting, Music, and Historical Context, ed. James R. Brandon, William P. Malm, and Donald H. Shively (Honolulu: University of Hawaii Press), 1–61, at 11.

75. Ibid., 24.

76. Ibid., 11.

77. In the following paragraphs I press into service some concepts developed in the historiographic school of “world systems” theory. See, e.g., Wallerstein, Immanuel, The Modern World-System, vols. 1–2 of 4 (New York: Academic Press, 1974 and 1980); Frank, Andre Gundar, “A Plea for World System History,” Journal of World History 2.1 (1990): 128; and Abu-Lughod's Before European Hegemony. Franco Moretti outlines a use of world-systems theory in the study of literature in a pair of articles: “Conjectures on World Literature,” New Left Review 1 (January–February 2000): 54–68; and “More Conjectures,” New Left Review 20 (March–April 2003): 73–81.

78. Lefebvre, Writings on Cities, 72; Lefebvre's italics.

79. World-system theorists speak not of semicores but of a semiperiphery. For our purposes, however, semiperiphery does not seem to fully account for the idea that these secondary theatre centers each has its own, more limited, sphere of influence.

80. Frank, Andre Gundar, “The Development of Underdevelopment,” Monthly Review 18.4 (1966): 1731.

81. Hodgson, 279.

82. For a detailed examination, see Bentley, Jerry H., Old World Encounters: Cross-Cultural Contacts and Exchanges in Pre-Modern Times (New York: Oxford University Press, 1993).

83. Diamond, Jared, Guns, Germs, and Steel: The Fates of Human Societies (New York: W. W. Norton, 1997), 185.

84. Bentley, Old World Encounters, 114.

85. Finnegan, Ruth, for instance, has claimed “With a few possible exceptions, there is no tradition in Africa of artistic performances which include all the elements which might be demanded in a strict definition of drama—or at least not with the emphases to which we [i.e., Europeans] are accustomed”; Oral Literature in Africa (London: Oxford University Press, 1970), 516.

86. The occasional suggestion that Chinese theatre is in some way descended from Sanskrit theatre is a “tantalising possibility,” but “there is no even vaguely reliable proof that Sanskrit drama became generally known [in China] or ever played a direct part in the rise of Chinese drama”; Dolby, William, A History of Chinese Drama (London: Paul Elek, 1976), 4.

87. When theatre forms are carried to foreign lands by colonials, there can be significant (and often quite tangible) advantages to the colonized people who take up the form.

88. McNeill notes evidence in Chinese sources that suggest a population decrease from 123 million in 1200 to 65 million in 1393. This decline would also include the effects of the Mongol conquest of China in 1279, but the sheer magnitude is primarily the result of the plague. In Europe, meanwhile, some one-third of the population succumbed to the plague. See McNeill, William H., Plagues and Peoples (Garden City, NY: Anchor Books, 1976), 144, 149.

89. Fletcher, Joseph, “Integrative History: Parallels and Interconnections in the Early Modern Period, 1500–1800,” Journal of Turkish Studies 9 (1985): 3757, at 8–17. Fletcher also notes a few other developments: rural unrest, religious revivalism, and the decline of nomadism.

90. The idea here is that Europe itself was modernized through its adaptation of advanced technologies and ideas from other regions of the world; these include printing, gunpowder, ceramics, the compass, the concept of zero, and double-entry bookkeeping.

91. See, respectively, Artaud, Antonin, The Theatre and Its Double, trans. Richards, Mary Caroline (New York: Grove Press, 1958), esp. 5373; Brecht, Bertolt, Brecht on Theatre, ed. and trans. Willett, John (New York: Hill & Wang, 1964), esp. 91100; and Yeats, William B., “Introduction to Certain Noble Plays of Japan,” in Pound, Ezra and Fenellosa, Ernest, Certain Noble Plays of Japan (New York: New Directions Publishing, 1959), 151–63.

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