Monday, January 02, 2006

Jill Dolan and Film and Theatre

Over at The Feminist Spectator (see sidebar), Jill Dolan in "Holiday Films: Mainlining Popular Culture,"does a wonderful job responding to the films she spent part of her holiday watching. If you're wondering what to see, I recommend you check out what she has to say. Near the beginning of her essay, she has a wonderful description of the differences between the film experience and the theatre experience that I wanted to quote:

But first, this experience of spending so much time in movie theatres instead of
live theatres has made me think about the differences I feel consuming the two
forms. In a brief piece in last week’s Entertainment Weekly—which I read
religiously, since I enjoy the smart, literate film reviews by Lisa Schwarzbaum
and Owen Gleiberman—their “Ask the Critic” column answered a question from a
reader who wondered why it’s so much easier to tolerate plot confusions or
peculiarities on television shows (or films on tv) than it is when you go to see
a movie. Schwarzbaum replied that we go to the movies with so much more hope,
that schlepping out into public to be with people to watch something on the much
bigger screen demonstrates an investment of hope for the experience that shoddy
plotting disappoints.

Her remark seemed right to me, and very much in line with my own belief in what I call “utopian performatives,” those moments when you go to see a performance and feel yourself in the presence of a group of strangers experiencing a moment together that fills us with hope that our world might be better than the way we currently know and experience it. Performances, because they’re live, are richer for me than film: the presence of the actor in front of breathing spectators implies an expectation that sharpens our watchfulness, our awareness of ourselves as a group, and the potential for our hope to translate into action.


These comments increase my interest in getting a copy of Dolan's book Utopia in Performance, because she seems to be writing about something I have been trying unsuccessfully to express on this blog: hope. An ad for a presentation Dr. Dolan gave in February at the Institute for the Study of Culture and Society described a "Utopian Performative" this way:
What is a Utopian Performative? How can it enable us to reclaim the language of
humanism, of commonality, and of hope for a collectively better future? Drawing
on the work of J.L. Austin and Victor Turner, this talk explores how live
performance produces a place where people share experiences of meaning making
and can imagine a better world. The affective and ideological "doings" we see
and feel demonstrated in utopian performatives critically rehearse a civic
engagement that articulates the positive rather than the insurmountable
obstacles to human potential.


Dr. Dolan was the head of the Theatre Department at City University of New York Graduate Center when I was working on my dissertation, and I have always found her to be an insightful and generous human being with a boundless appreciation for a variety of theatre. I have nothing significant to add to the description above at this point, except to indicate my own hope that I may have found someone with a viewpoint I can share.

If I'm not mistaken, one of my fellow bloggers (was it George?) had been reading Dolan's book. Can you provide us with an information?

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