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Culture, Memory, and American Performer Training

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  10 January 2003


In today's technologically complex and racially hybrid society, what is the meaning of ‘cultural memory’? Like performance, Ian Watson argues, culture ‘exists only in the doing’ – yet if our formative experiences are in that sense ‘rehearsals’ for life, the subsequent ‘performance’ is in a constant state of flux and renewal. Here, Ian Watson looks at the interface between theatrical and cultural training in American society, from the old apprenticeship system of the stock companies, through the Delsarte-based approach of the earliest conservatoires and the pervasiveness of Americanized Stanislavsky in the post-war period, towards a renewed concern with the techniques of voice and movement to meet the demands of both the classical and the contemporary experimental repertoires. In contrast to the deep cultural roots of much eastern theatrical training, perceptions of actor training in America are, he argues, as eclectic and diffuse as American society itself, and so (using Eugenio Barba's distinction) lean strongly towards creating a ‘professional’ rather than a ‘personal’ identity for the performer – one which ‘bears the signature of the hybrid narrative it springs from’. Ian Watson, who is an Advisory Editor of New Theatre Quarterly, teaches at Rutgers University–Newark, where he is the Acting Chair of the Department of Visual and Performing Arts. He is author of Towards a Third Theatre: Eugenio Barba and the Odin Teatret (Routledge, 1993) and of Negotiating Cultures: Eugenio Barba and the Intercultural Debate (Manchester University Press, 2002). He edited Performer Training across Cultures (Routledge, 2001), and has also published numerous articles on theatre in scholarly journals.

Research Article
© 2003 Cambridge University Press

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