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What Says the Fire Chief?

  • Alan Read (a1)


As a theatre practitioner I am interested in how the conventions and jurisdictions which determine what I can do and cannot do, under the sign of theatre, came to be. The most intriguing of these determinations are, of course, the silent ones, those about which least is said but on which most is predicated. These are what I call theatre taboos, a complex of shadowy restraints and controls, from prompting to possession, that transgress the theatre's limit, informs us politely what theatre is not and in so doing inadvertently tells us something about what theatre is.



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1 This paper was first presented at the ATHE conference, Chicago, August 1990. It was a contribution to a panel entitled, “Theatre, Social Practice and Representation,” the common theme of which was the theoretical work of Michel de Certeau. I would like to thank John Lutterbie for chairing the session and initiating my participation in the conference, and Joseph Roach for critical support.

2 Cetteau, Michel de, The Writing of History, trans. Conley, Tom (New York: Columbia University Press, 1988), 96. For a full discussion of these themes, see de Certeau's two methodological essays: “Making History” and “The Historigraphical Operation” in The Writing of History, 19–113.

3 Carlson, Marvin, Places of Performance (Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 1989), 2.

4 Certeau, Michel de, The Writing of History, 56–7.

5 The Builder, 15 March 1856, 137–9.

6 de Certeau, 334.

7 de Certeau, 48.

8 de Certeau, 2–3.

9 de Certeau, 5.

10 de Certeau, 70–1.

11 Leacroft, Richard, The Development of the English Playhouse (London: Methuen, 1986), 167.

12 See The Builder, 16 February 1856, 191–3.

13 J. W. von Goethe. “Zahme Xenien, V,” quoted by Rehbinder, Manfred in Theatre Space, ed. Arnott, J. P. et al. (Munich: International Federation for Theatre Research, 1977), 202.

14 Kierkegaard, Søren, “What Says the Fire Chief?” in A Kierkegaard Anthology, ed. Bretall, Robert (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1946), 448–9.

15 Bachelard, Gaston, The Psychology of Fire, trans. Ross, Alan (Boston: Beacon Press, 1968).

16 For information concerning French theatre fires see F.WJ. Hemmings, "Fires and Fire Precautions in the French Theatre," Theatre Research International 16 (Autumn 1991): 237-248.

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What Says the Fire Chief?

  • Alan Read (a1)


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