A. Mediatization of theatre
Inscribing theatre within a theory of media presupposes—rather hastily—that theatre can be compared with artistic and technological formats such as film, television, radio, or video. This involves comparing theatre with what is usually contrasted to it: (mass) media, technical arts,1 the techniques of the culture industry. We would do theatre a disservice by measuring it against media grounded in a technological infrastructure that it has done without; we would also endanger its specificity. On the other hand, theatre practice happily moves into other areas, either by using video, television, or sound recording in the performance, or by responding to the demand for television, film, or video recording, reproduction or archival preservation. Exchanges between theatre and the media are so frequent and so diversified that we should take note of the ensuing network of influences and interferences. There is no point in defining theatre as “pure art,” or in outlining a theory of theatre that does not take into account media practices that border on and often penetrate contemporary work on stage. But can we go so far as to integrate theatre in a theory of media and so compare it to technical arts and practices? Besides, what are media?2 The notion is not well defined. Media might be defined by a sum of technical characteristics (possibilities, potentialities) according to the technology by which the artistic product is produced, transmitted, and received—infinitely reproducible. The notion of media is thus not linked to content or theme, but to the current apparatus and state of technology. Nonetheless, this technology of technical production and reproduction of the work of art implies a certain aesthetic which is useful only when concretized in a particular individual work, aesthetically or ethically judged. Discussing novelistic technique, Sartre said that every technique points to a metaphysics. We could say the same thing of the technology of media: it makes sense only when linked to aesthetic or metaphysical reflection on the passage from quantity (reproduction) to quality (interpretation). Technically describing the properties of media such as radio or television is not enough; we must appreciate the visible dramaturgy as we see it in a given broadcast or as we foresee it for a future production. I would like to invite the reader on this journey, which requires no particular knowledge of computer science.
B. Media in relation to theatre
One could write a chronological history of inventions in the media, showing their connections and technical improvements. It would be possible to situate theatre in relation to these technical stages—before the advent of film and electronic media, and afterwards—in reaction to technological development. This is too difficult a task, so I will show only the opposing tendencies of theatre and media. Theatre tends toward simplification, minimalization, and fundamental reduction to a direct exchange between actor and spectator. Media, on the other hand, tend toward complication and sophistication, thanks to technological development; they are by nature open to maximal multiplication. Inscribed in ideological and cultural practices as well as in technology, and in an active process of information and disinformation, media easily multiply the number of their spectators, becoming accessible to a seemingly everlarger audience. If theatre relationships are to come about, however, the performances cannot tolerate more than a limited number of spectators—or even performances—because theatre repeated too often deteriorates or at least changes. As a result, theatre is “in essence” (i.e., in its optimal mode of reception) an art of limited range.
C. Quantification and massification
The possibility of an indefinitely repeating and diversifying mass-media production affects the audience’s tastes and expectations much more actively than the occasional visit to the theatre. We could thus distinguish between media or arts which have to be sought after and actively constructed—such as theatre or video (insofar as we have to go to the theatre or select a video cassette)—and those media that are immediate, ready-made, and almost compulsory, or which are present almost without being summoned (we switch on the television or radio as unthinkingly as an electric light). This active/passive criterion is nonetheless rather tenuous and does not prejudge the spectator’s activity in the necessary process of reception and interpretation, whether one is deciphering the performance of a classic or following a Western. Media do not in themselves—by way of their technological possibilities—favor activity or passivity. Rather, it is the way in which they structure their messages and utilize them according to a dramaturgy and a strategy that stimulate the spectator’s activity to a greater or lesser extent.
D. Theatre, media, and the spectacular
In what system of the arts, in what classification, in what theory of art or media can we place theatre? Stating that these practices are linked to a theory of performance says little: even if all human activity can be turned into a performance (is spectacularisable) for a spectator, not everything is spectacular in the ordinary sense of the term. We will use the French terms for the various arts:
• Arts du spectacle (Performing arts) is the most general and neutral designation; it authorizes the inclusion of any new practice in which an object is submitted to the gaze of a subject (thus including peepshows, striptease, lectures, discussion, etc.). There are other groupings that do not always allow for a differentiation between theatre and media:
• Arts de représentation (Representational visual arts). This term underlines the representational function of theatre and cinema, as well as that of painting and any activity that produces a representation of the world.
• Arts de la scène (The arts of the stage) are linked to the live, unmediated use of the stage.
• Arts mécanisés (Technically reproduced arts) comprise all techniques of recording and reproduction that produce the same artistic message on every occasion, with the proviso that a reproduced product (such as a symphony or film) loses some of its substance when it is received innumerable times: the experience of vision being in inverse proportion to its repeated presentation and perception.
E. The double game of the media . . . and theatre
At first glance, what differentiates the media from theatre is the double status of their fictionality: a television or radio broadcast sometimes presents itself as real (as in news broadcasts) and sometimes fictional (telling a story). Airwaves are thus used in addressing needs which we normally separate, and spectators must continually work out the status of what they hear or what they see on the screen: Is this fact or fiction? Different media have distinct markers that indicate their fictional status; theatre likewise plays on the two levels of fact and fiction, since its story is continually supported by reality effects and remarks that lend this discourse credibility. Conversely, we could also note that television news has its own story line, its own narrativity, as well as zones of pure fiction and invention.
In order to sketch a theory of media that would grant space to theatre practice, we have to confront a few specific features of several media, comparing them to a minimal[ist] theatre. Establishing a general theory of the media and performing arts depends on the possibility of this confrontation and comparison.
The following table invites us to compare media and theatre on the basis of their relationship to the spectator, their conditions of production and reproduction, their dramaturgy, specificity and fictional status—criteria which have in view the evaluation of technological potential and semiotic use.
Without commenting on every element in the schema, we will return to several key points, such as dramaturgy, specificity, and fictiveness.
A. The dramaturgy of radio
• Character exists only through the voice, and each must be typical and clearly distinguishable from the others. The characters’ voices must be very distinct, chosen according to a system that characterizes the speakers. This casting procedure is a fundamental step in preparing a radio broadcast.
• Time and space are suggested by changes in vocal intensity, distancing effects, echo, and reverberation. A sound frame is created by sound or music that opens and closes the sequence; the place of action is immediately situated, then “removed” at the end of the sequence. This framing device, the position of the microphones, the volume control, and the sequence of characteristic sounds provide spatial-temporal orientation for the listener. The possibility of intensifying or reducing the sound, of having an actor speak closer to or farther away from the microphone, lets us clearly indicate a change of frame or movement within the same frame.
A series of “shifters,” of musical or acoustic leitmotifs between sequences or spaces allows for the identification of speakers and location in time and space. Often, the editing suggests an erasure of different time frames or an interior monologue. Rhythmic patterns, repetitions, and almost musical variations can produce an effect of physical interiority, setting up exchanges between the visible and the audible. The pleasure of this perception rests on the hallucination of the hearer, who hears everything and sees nothing: the enunciation and transmission of the text give the hearer the impression that the action takes place elsewhere.
More than any other medium, radio is the art of metonymy, of convention, of meaningful abstraction. It is left to the author to provide those indispensable points of reference that will allow the listener to grasp the coherence of the narrative and the organization of the fictional world without any particular effort of memory.
B. The dramaturgy of television
Let us leave aside the issue of the live or delayed broadcast of a pre-existing theatre performance: such a procedure is still a form of reporting, and meaning is quoted but also lost (although, in the case of a live broadcast, it keeps some authenticity). Dramaturgy for the TV film (or the play made for TV) rests on a few general principles:
• The image must be framed precisely, composed carefully so as to be easily read, given the small dimensions of the screen. There is therefore a stylization, an abstraction of elements in set and costumes, a systematic treatment of space. The miniaturization of the image leads to an increased importance of the sound track.
• The sound, by virtue of its quality and proximity, ensures the greatest effect of reality. Language carries well on television, better than in cinema, and often better than on stage, since it can be modulated, transmitted “offscreen,” adapted to the situation and the image: the “delocalization” of sound in the image is much less noticeable than on a large screen. Television is often nothing more than visual radio: we listen to it in a way that is both private and distracted, as if to a close and convincing voice whose image is only the confirmation of vocal authenticity.
• The sets are usually noticed only in pieces behind the actors, except when the camera provides a close-up or a panorama, so as to emphasize a detail or establish atmosphere. Up to about 1965, the sets for French shows filmed in studios remained close to theatrical stylization; since then, work on location has provided an environment similar to that of film, and realistic effect has been attained at the expense of clarity and stylization.
• Lighting is rarely as varied or subtle as in the theatre or cinema; it has to accommodate black-and-white televisions by accentuating contrasts and treating luminous areas carefully.
• Editing plays on the effects of heavy punctuation, dramatic breaks, lingering moments. The narrative must be readable, coherent, and quick paced to maintain suspense.
• Acting. The camera focuses on the speakers/actors, usually in medium-long shot [en plan américain], so as to show their psychological and physiological reactions. Too many close-ups in color risk showing skin imperfections. Like the other elements of film and screen, the actor is nothing more than an element integrated into the director’s industrial and signifying apparatus. Hence a certain “disembodiment”: the actors exist only in their fragmentation, their metonymy, and their integration into filmic discourse.
• Plot and theme are certainly variable, but usually refer to social reality, to journalism, to daily life. This kind of narrative lends itself to serials. Inheritor of the trivial literature of the chapbook and melodrama, TV drama sticks to stories along safe lines, with unhappy heroes, unstable destinies. Television drama is consumed the same way as television news, weather, or commercials. News takes on the appearance of a show on a large scale, with blood, death, or marriages as in soap opera. Conversely, TV fiction maintains a basic realism and the feel of daily life; it lends itself best to a naturalistic repertoire and to an aesthetic of realistic effects.
• Mise en scène for television arises out of the preceding elements; it is the vast assembly line on which framing and editing decide on the hierarchy and correlation of all components of the TV film. The more perceptible the coherence, the closer form moves toward identity with content and the more TV dramaturgy proves its specificity, thus moving successfully from theatron to electron.
C. The dramaturgy of video
We notice in video the same double status of fact and fiction as in radio and TV. The medium is used on the one hand to observe, note, and record facts, and on the other to produce fictions, as in cinema or TV. In the creation of music videos, a narrative is based on image sequences which place the singer or illustrate the lyrics with shots that have a vague thematic connection with the words or musical atmosphere. The dramaturgy of such videos is based on a spatio-temporal anchoring of the song and on the attempt to link the enunciator (singer) and his/her utterance (the song), so as to make the image alternatively a visual commentary on the words and an anticipation of what the following words will say.
D. Specificity of radio
• Words. The listener rarely concentrates on listening only to the play. The transistor has multiplied the locations where theatre penetrates. Radio restores an intimate, almost religious quality to the word; it returns us to the Edenesque state of a purely oral literature. Without being completely stuck in one place (as when watching theatre or TV), the radio listener is in something close to a daydream or fantasy. Listening to a radio play, the hearer conducts a sort of interior monologue; his/her body is as though dematerialized as s/he receives the amplified echo of drives and daydreams.
• The fiction. The radio play is linked to a fiction, even if this aspect is not always clearly recognized by the audience (cf. the panic caused by an Orson Welles broadcast in 1938). As opposed to reporting, news, and discussions, radio fiction uses voices impersonating characters and creating an imaginary world. It gradually frees itself from journalism, from linear information, and from the dialogic form and realism in voice and action.
• Studio production. Unlike the stage, the studio is an immaterial space which supports the fabrication of sounds, the montage of voices, or the synchronization of voice, noise, and music. The listener has the illusion that the aural performance is being manufactured and broadcast at the moment of its reception.
• Types of radio plays:
1. live theatre broadcasts: During radio’s early years, plays were often broadcast live from theatres in Paris. The set and stage business were described by a commentator. This practice continues with live broadcasts from the Comédie-Française. Neither theatre nor radio, this kind of program is more a documentary than an original work.
2. dramatized reading from the studio
3. radio play with recognizable character voices, dialogue, and conflict, as in naturalist drama
4. epic radio play: dramatizing a character or a voice
5. interior monologue
6. collage of voices, noises, or music
7. electronic simulation of human voices, using synthesizer and musical work on voice and noises
E. Specificity of television
Defining the specificity of television is as difficult as looking for the essence of theatre. Let us begin with the proposition of Patrick Besenval:
If we look for the real specificity of television, we quickly come to the following definition: “Television is nothing other than the domestic reception of audio-visual messages that appear on the screen at the very moment that they are transmitted.” That is: something that pertains simultaneously to serials and film, as well as actual perception. In other words, television is first of all a program, second “film in one’s own living room,” and last, the feeling of immediate contact with “the world,” culminating in the live broadcast. (Besenval 1978:14)
But, once again, the subject is so vast that we will focus more precisely on the issue of television filming theatre, so as to observe the shock of their conflicting specific qualities.
• The situation of reception. The television occupies a central place in the home; it is the magnetic center and the umbilical cord connected to a “somewhere else” that is difficult to locate. Voluntary or involuntary interruptions of the broadcast are possible, and TV viewers—wooed by a number of other programs—are fundamentally unstable beings, hence the difficulty of fixing them to their seats and interesting them in a performance that is more nervous than the stage version, which lasts three hours or more. The mise en scène of a performance made for TV must never be boring or lose its narrative power.
• The mediations between producers and receivers are infinite, not only technological mediations, but also interference and semiotic transformation of meaning in the different phases of the actors’ work, first in the theatre, then in the studio, then in the framing and editing of the film or video, and finally in adaptation and miniaturization for the small screen.
• The erasure of theatricality. The TV director of a pre-existing theatre performance or of a TV movie can choose either to erase the most visual and stagy aspects of theatricality by looking for “cinematic effects” and naturalizing the acting style and sets, or else to display this theatricality, underlining it with an abstract set and half-sung diction, as if the camera were reporting from the theatre itself.
• Principles of the transposition of theatre to television. In theatre, the spectators themselves sort out the signs of the performance, but in television (as in cinema) a meaningful indication has already been set up through framing, editing, and camera movements. In the transmission of a theatrical mise en scène, this means that the cinematic mise-en-scène has the “last word” on the meaning of the performance. The most compact and complete theatrical object is thus deconstructed and reconstructed in filmic discourse, during filming and editing, and in television discourse (miniaturization, private and deferred reception, and so forth). All this supports the notion of a dramaturgy that is specific to television.
F. Specificity of video
Because of its recency and the diversity in its use, video cannot be reduced to a series of specific features. We would have to specify the definition of the image used in video: 300-450 lines for portable video, 625 for TV. Video can also paradoxically produce the effect of a theatre event: closed circuit video can have an effect of presence and eventfulness; it becomes the theatre of a technical event. Hence the dual relationship to theatre: in theatre, the performance is ephemeral, but the text is permanent; in video, the performance is permanent, but the discourse, meaning, and text are ephemeral.
G. Fictional status of the media
Theatre presents itself as fiction, but this fiction is comprehensible only because perceived reality-effects intervene to authenticate it. Radio and television programming do their best to separate fact from fiction. To do this, they make use of fictional indicators: the anchor’s announcement of the program and its content, the credits, the fact that we already know the journalists, their repeated allusions to the deictic situation of non-fictional communication, the assurance that the journalists are trying to get to the truth, and so on. The use of voice, the foregrounding of aesthetic devices signaling fiction or fact enable us to recognize the fictional status of the broadcast. The fact that the listener or viewer rarely makes a mistake here—even if she or he has tuned in at the middle of a program—proves the effectiveness of this discrimination.
We have established that a unified theory of the performing arts, including theatre and the media, is very problematic. It is as difficult to understand the mechanisms of interference and contamination among various media and between theatre and media.
Leaving aside the fundamental question of the economic factors determining media development (see Busson 1983-85; Mattelart 1979; Flichy 1980), we will concentrate on evaluating the interdependence and interaction of the media. We can distinguish two types of influence:
1. Technological influence(➨). Development in one medium can affect the others by making available new technical possibilities and thus modifying those media. We begin with the hypothesis that there is a technological and aesthetic struggle among the various media, that each evolves and is contaminated by another. As Alain Busson notes, “the new medium offers broader possibilities for programing and broadcasting than hitherto existing media. The cost of production is much less if one relates it to the potential audience, and the means of purchase are simpler and financially more attractive to the consumer” (Busson 1985, 103). The aesthetic consequences of this rearrangement are our concern here: “the dominated medium is not only obliged to redefine its social and economic role with respect to the new medium that dominates it, but it is likewise required to reposition itself aesthetically” (Busson 1985, 103).
2. Aesthetic influence (➙). Technological progress has aesthetic consequences for media, either by modifying their meaning or their potential, or by creating new meaning. New possibilities of diffusion influence the aesthetic quality of the product. This influence can take the form either of a direct confrontation (such as “filming theatre”) or an indirect modification of its laws and potential (the development of film or radio, for example, which affect theatre writing). We will focus above all on this indirect aesthetic influence, on this mutual contamination of the media. Grasping this interaction is not easy, since it is never tangible and cannot be reduced to technological influence (even if it certainly depends on this influence at the start). We will attempt to retrace this aesthetic interaction of the media in the specific way in which artists use the media in their work. Paradoxically, we see both the contamination of the media or the contamination of theatre by the media and a refusal of certain artistic practices to be influenced or to compete, a renewed quest for their own specificity. This leads theatre people such as Brook, Grotowski, and Patte toward a poor theatre that does not allow itself to be “impressed” by the all-powerful media.
So as not to obscure too much a media landscape that is already cluttered, I have limited this discussion to radio, cinema, television, and video. Obviously, not all the theoretically possible combinations of these media, including theatre, are equally relevant, but we will examine them systematically, with respect to both technology and aesthetics.
A. THEATRE ➨ RADIO
Theatre “makes its entrance” into radio with the broadcasting, live or delayed, of a performance conceived for the theatre and taking place in a theatre in front of an audience. The first recordings were made in this way, and today we can still listen to live broadcasts of the Comédie-Française on Sunday afternoons, on the program “France-Culture.” The absence of the visual dimension is more or less compensated for by a description of the stage at the beginning of each act. The “commentator” provides a rather discreet report of the stage business, especially at key moments. Sometimes, the commentator merely reads the stage directions, which have not always been adhered to by the mise en scène. The listener has trouble hearing the audience reaction, laughter, applause, response, but can still get a rough idea of the relation of real audience to performance; the perceived reactions seem more embarrassing than illuminating.
THEATRE ➝ RADIO
At first, theatre imposed its own dramatic structure on radio plays, particularly reproducing the notion of character, action, plot, attempting to structure “radio drama” as a stage play, lacking “only” the mise en scène. The history of the radio play is a series of moves toward greater freedom, a search for its own minimal specificity. The best radio playwrights know how to submit to the demands of the situation of production and reception, so as to differentiate their work radically from theatre. In a letter to his American publisher (27 August 1957), for example, Beckett refused to allow a theatre performance of his radio play All That Fall:
All That Fall is a specifically radio play, or rather radio text, for voices, not bodies. I have already refused to have it “staged” and I cannot think of it in such terms. A straight reading before an audience seems to me barely legitimate, though even on this score I have my doubts. But I am absolutely opposed to any form of adaptation with a view to its conversion into “theatre.” It is no more theatre than Endgame is radio; to “act” it is to kill it. Even the reduced visual dimension it will receive from the simplest and most static of readings will be destructive of whatever quality it may have, which depends on the whole thing’s coming out of the dark. (Modern Drama, 27, 1 , 38)
RADIO ➨ THEATRE
Radio influences theatre’s means of production in the slant of the texts, music, pre-recorded noises “inserted” into the performance. The audience perceives the recording through loudspeakers, just as a radio listener might. The use of portable microphones produces the same effect of delocalizing the sound and of disembodying the performance. This introduction, subtle or not, of a mechanized voice threatens to “denature” theatre, to deprive it of its spontaneous, vulnerable, and unpredictable quality, so that the body is no longer the natural conveyor of the theatre event.
RADIO ➝ THEATRE
Radio dramaturgy exercises a little-known influence on contemporary dramatic production. Dramatic writing today tends toward simplification, ellipsis, epic elements, rapid montage of sequences, collage of diverse materials. Thus radio contributes (just as cinema and television do) to the dematerialization of the stage, to the reduction of the actor to a mere vocal presence, to the banishment of visual signs in favor of the aural dimension of the text. This is the case with Beckett (Happy Days or Not I) or Handke (Through the Villages): in these plays, everything is focused on the projection of the word deprived of the support of visual representation.
B. RADIO ➨ CINEMA
Technological transfer occurs in adding sound to silent film. Even if the technicalities of radio and the film soundtrack are not the same, the result is what counts: the possibility of technically reproducing a fragment of reality, specifically the aural environment, which gives rise to the most powerful reality-effects. Improvements in sound recording techniques (stereo, Dolby, etc.) allow the film audience to experience the illusion of a second reality.
RADIO ➝ CINEMA
The aesthetic and/or ideological influence of radio on film is very difficult to pin down. Consider two apparently contradictory hypotheses: (1) The capacity for documenting reality and informing the radio listener about the external world is surpassed by the documentary film and particularly by television reporting—since cinemas rarely show documentary films any more. Cinema has become the documentary medium par excellence. (2) But, on the other hand, experimental cinema may be tempted to question the imperialism of the image, by reducing the “usual” (rather than “natural”) qualities of the medium: the power of the image. “Divesting” the image of its representational function (avoiding changes in the frame or the shot, expanding and multiplying sound effects) creates a cinema—such as the work of Marguerite Duras, for instance—that reverses “normal” perspective and highlights the constitutive properties of sound and the radio voice in relation to the spectator/listener.
CINEMA ➨ RADIO
Technologically speaking, the influence is negligible, due to the different machinery of transmission in each case.
CINEMA ➝ RADIO
Radio cannot match up to film’s (or television’s) greater capacity for capturing and showing reality; it has to defend itself against its new rival, television, which has cornered the market for family news in the first forty years of its existence. Radio has an inferiority complex because of TV, even to the point of being advertised as “radio in color”; it is quite aware that the consumer prefers soccer on TV and that films take away listeners. Radio does not dare to develop its own specific dramaturgy beyond a pale shadow of theatre or cinema; it is content to announce films shown on TV and to discuss recently released films. It dare not “speak” of soccer or theatre in a different way and tries to compensate for the lack of images with a flood of words and emotions. Such defensive and mimetic attitudes paralyze the search for specific solutions.
C. CINEMA ➨ VIDEO
The format of the video cassette intended for viewing on a TV monitor miniaturizes and individualizes film. This transfer and reduction no longer poses any technical problems, but entail a reduction and decline in the quality of the image.
CINEMA ➝ VIDEO
In the beginning, especially with the use of large TV cameras, video was constrained by the models of TV drama and cinematographic techniques: similar framing, shots, zooms, the same attention paid to narrative coherence. Under the influence of music video, the tendency has been reversed (cf.  b, below).
VIDEO ➨ CINEMA
It is now possible to use portable video equipment that greatly simplifies the filmmaker’s task, speeds up editing, and thus reduces costs. After aping film for a long time, video has become the dominant medium, imposing its own laws on others, thus affecting new cinematic dramaturgy. The results are not great, especially as regards the quality and definition of the image. Nothing can (yet?) replace good old 35mm Eastmancolor™.
VIDEO ➝ CINEMA
Although video is a new and expanding medium, it has already affected the narrative structure of cinema, which has become less linear and more subject to manipulation, deconstruction, and fantasy, as well as to the fascination of video’s capacity for filming brilliant commercial spots. J. J. Beineix, the director of Diva and Betty Blue, was inspired by the techniques of commercial clips. He also claims that clips have greatly influenced the narrative form and content of contemporary cinema: “By definition, the clip is all or nothing, the best or the worst. One thing is certain; we are moving away from the beaten narrative track . . . we are witnessing an explosion of norms and forms, exactly as in painting years ago, when artists turned to abstraction” (L’événement du jeudi, 22-28 November 1984). This kind of representation—in rock videos for example—the visualization of emotion, and of visual tricks, the emphasis on surface impression, all this leads to the dissolution of the narrative, the rejection of causality, of a philosophical, social or psychological background, as if phantasms formed a surface totally detached from reality (cf.  below).
D. VIDEO ➨ TELEVISION / VIDEO ➝ TELEVISION
The increasingly frequent use of video cameras for television is justified in terms of simplifying the process of manipulating, storing, and transforming the image.
In aesthetic terms, this leads to overly rigid or imprecise use of the video camera, producing a TV film that is too choppy and badly controlled.
R. Jacquinet: We often hear that the continuity of fixed video take allows the actors to present themselves much better than in the fragmentation of film shots.
J. C. Averty: Above all, this allows them to enjoy their own way of speaking and to perform at a snail’s pace. We get the slow pace of the performance at the Buttes-Chaumont: walking, then speaking, then walking without speaking, then stopping, then speaking. It’s terrible. (Quoted by Besenval 1978: 126)
TELEVISION ➨ VIDEO / TELEVISION ➝ VIDEO
Constant research on TV equipment has immediate effects on video equipment and vice versa. The osmosis between these two technologies is almost total, but their aesthetic functions are radically different. They both use the same TV image. The relationship between video and television is both natural (with the same equipment) and conflicting. Jean-Paul Fargier, himself a video artist, describes their interaction in this way:
Right now, if I think about the video pieces that strike me as the strongest, the specifically strongest, and the most strongly specific, what almost always comes to mind are the tapes and installations that attack television in one way or another that take television as their target, adversary, rival, alter ego, referent, primary material, exemplary model, negative, scrap, in short as other. An other from which video must separate and distinguish itself, but which it cannot not oppose, simply to be what it must be. It seems that video can only give of its best by directly or indirectly, knowingly or not, violently or diplomatically, spontaneously or in a calculated way attacking its links with television. (“Vidéo: un art de moins,” Art-Press, no. 47 [1981, April]. Quoted by Dany Bloch, L’Art vidéo, L’image 2 / Alin Avila, 1983)
Video gets from television a sense of the ephemeral and the evanescent together, but with the possibility of replaying this ephemerality and thus denying it. Since television has a vast audience, its aesthetic procedures must be comprehensible and more or less transparent. Video, when it is not being used as a simple means of reproducing film or a TV broadcast, addresses an audience of connoisseurs, and experimentation appears to be the rule of the game, hence an abundance of experiments with image, narrative, rhythm, and their relationship to sound. For the moment, video art is in the position of a dominated medium, reduced to experimentation and limited by reason of cost and complexity to a group of aficionados. Even here, socio-economic conditions of production determine artistic specialization and the search for aesthetic specificity: “the unavoidable abandonment of universality leads dominated media to suggest more specific productions, better adapted to their hitherto limited targets—the young (film) and the intellectuals (film, theatre) . . .” (Busson 1985, 103).
E. TELEVISION ➨ THEATRE
Television technology does not seem to have had an impact on theatre production, except negatively: the public—captured in the domestic space and by the irresistible sirens of the TV screen—neglects theatre, because of the effort required to choose a play, buy a ticket, go out, and so on. The television spectator becomes one who looks without speaking, the opposite of theatre spectators who “speak” to the stage by attending to it with eyes and ears, modifying it with their attention. They also “speak” to their neighbors in the audience even without saying anything, because they know that while at the theatre they belong to a group, which is volens nolens in solidarity, in the same boat, and whose members thus cannot but communicate. Jean Baudrillard has shown that the media
are what always prevents response, making all process of exchange impossible (except in the various forms of response simulation, themselves integrated in the transmission process, thus leaving the unilateral nature of the communication intact). . . .
TV, by virtue of its mere presence, is a social control in itself. There is no need to imagine it as a state periscope spying on everyone’s private life—the situation as it stands is more efficient than that: it is the certainty that people are no longer speaking to each other, that they are definitely isolated in the face of a speech without response. (1981 , 170, 172)
TELEVISION ➝ THEATRE
The qualitative competition of television does not affect theatre; it feels itself superior to television and unhindered by the psychological realism so beloved of TV movies. In this sense, the formation (or rather the deformation) of audience taste by television necessarily rebounds on the future audience for theatre, particularly in the demand for realism, verisimilitude, and the desire to be soothed, rather than disturbed, by the performance. On the other hand, we should not forget that an enormous part of theatre production is seen only on television, whether by way of broadcasts such as “Authéâtre ce soir” or by way of cultural series. Television and its “filmic discourse” (that is, its way of filming theatre) have become the normal form of presentation. The repetitive banality of this “filmic discourse” (as in “Au théâtre ce soir,” for example) as well as the depressing banality of boulevard plays soliciting the public with the nth version of the betrayed husband, means that the potential audience is unprepared for the Théâtre du Soleil or the Théâtre National de Chaillot, even though its members may think they are familiar with theatre.
THEATRE ➨ TELEVISION
Despite its relative technological weakness with respect to television, theatre has nonetheless influenced television by offering itself as such to the inflexible and doubly frontal eye of the camera. This was and still is the era of the live or delayed broadcast of theatre and the now almost defunct era of slow and heavy shows filmed live with TV cameras at the Buttes-Chaumont studio.3 Once theatre and cinema had entered the realm of television as they were, they could not but lose their original form and power, contaminating and sterilizing television at the same time and preventing it from finding its own language. Theatre’s clandestine entry into television has been criticized often, as here, for instance, by J. C. Averty:
It is a mistake to use fixed video cameras only to make filmed theatre. That is bound to disappear more and more. I am thinking of what we generally call the dramatic art of the Buttes-Chaumont, that is: a play written, specifically or not, for television, filmed in a set created by four cameras, either live or recorded in long half-hour sequences. In my opinion, this is a fundamental mistake. This is not really theatre; it has all its faults and none of its virtues. Nor is it cinema, because it is very heavy. It is certainly not television, since it merely uses television as a means of reproduction. It consists of hemming in the actors with the set and the microphones. It is the idea of cinema, without the analytic finesse of the cinematic camera whose multiplicity of shots allows for an in-depth investigation of the characters’ psychology. In the case of live broadcasts, on the other hand, we are stuck with medium shots, close-ups, group shots. Moreover the technique is rudimentary, because we have no choice: television cameras are not flexible, at least in the context of live recording. The actors perform badly because they are very tense. Even though they are performing live, they perform less well than in a theatre, without the aura of theatre, and less well than in a film, where a director can guide them from shot to shot and inspire them with energy. Finally, this is in no sense television, because television is something else entirely: playing with electronics. To reproduce reality, to do the job of an usher in the studio has completely ruined the TV drama that has been produced for the last twenty-five years. (Quoted by Besenval 1978, 124)
THEATRE ➝ TELEVISION
The most disastrous consequence of this eruption of theatre on television has been the failure to adapt theatre dramaturgy to that of television film. This refusal to adapt has taken antithetical forms: thus in the dramaturgy of Buttes-Chaumont, the unities of place and time were respected under duress for texts that should have been performed in a variety of places and temporalities; on the other hand, filming on location with portable video cameras, television deliberately attempted to avoid being “theatrical” by multiplying places, objects, points of view, and changes in rhythm, thus completely losing the unity of tone and action necessary for drama (and not only classical drama). In both cases, what was lacking was a reflection on the means of coherently translating from one form of performance to another.
F. THEATRE ➨ VIDEO
Theatre has no technological influence on video. Only video performance art enjoys manipulating machines theatrically, confronting man and machine, reducing the most sophisticated electronic technology to the level of the living actor, whose body always triumphs over the machine, despite appearances.
THEATRE ➝ VIDEO
Video is obviously inspired by cinema and television (from which it tries to differentiate itself), but not really by theatre, unless in the banal sense of filming characters engaged in action.
On the other hand, theatre seems to have become easy prey for video recording. Theatre people seem no longer able to resist media pressure to film their performances, more or less to adapt them and thus produce a video version. Vitez has filmed his four Molière productions; Brook, the advocate of the immediate and ephemeral, prolonged the career of Carmen by recording three different versions for film and television. As La Fontaine might have said: “They would not all die, but all were struck.” Indeed, this desire to control everything electronically affects theatre too, which risks losing its identity, only because it hopes to reach millions of spectators and to preserve the performance for future generations and theatre researchers (a breed threatened with extinction). But theatre people are not duped by this video market: they know that this electronic memorialization displaces and reconstructs what was originally a theatre event. As Vitez’s poem suggests:
The pleasure of theatre is linked to the fact. . . .
. . . to the fact that it does not last.
It is funny to think
of the efforts of notation
the efforts of archives
of videos, in canning plays:
“We must notate, gather up, store.”
(Copfermann and Vitez 1981, 138)
These theatre people also understand that video cannot destroy theatre, but rather reaffirm that its uniqueness, its ephemeral quality, will emerge strengthened by suggestions from video.
VIDEO ➨ THEATRE
The technological influence of video is hardly perceptible in current theatre practice, except for experimental injections of pre-registered video sequences into the theatre performance. Nonetheless, the living, fragile, unpredictable, and thus incorruptible character of theatre can only emerge reinforced. Video performance is first of all a performance, the artist’s concrete activity for an audience, however reduced that audience may be; only afterwards is it a manipulation of video machines.
Theatre is resorting more and more to video recording: for rehearsal, to make the actors aware of their acting style and their image in space; to record a mise en scène in order to remember moves, intonations, rhythm. (This is current practice at the Comédie-Française or the TNP at Chaillot.) (See G below.)
VIDEO ➝ THEATRE
If technological transfer from video to theatre is more or less impossible because of unequal technical development, their mutual aesthetic contamination is remarkable. By using video monitors on stage or in the house, the director inserts visual materials, documentary, film extracts, montage, closed-circuit images of stage or house. The function of this insertion varies considerably: redirecting attention, contradicting the stage and the living actor, treating the stage sculpturally with walls of screens, as Nam-June Paik does, destabilizing the spectators’ perception by obliging them constantly to change the status of fictionality and representation. Sometimes the living actor enters into dialogue with his video image or with other characters present only on video. (This technique was used in Ligeon Ligeonnet’s version of Woyzeck. Josef Svoboda was the first to introduce closed-circuit television into his productions: Prometheus by Carl Orff, 1968, and Intoleranza by Luigi Nono, 1965.)
We may nonetheless doubt the success of this electronic injection into the living tissue of the performance, as does Evelyne Ertel:
The conditions of spectator reception in theatre and television are radically opposed to each other. Sometimes the idea is to transform the theatre spectator into a television viewer, in order to play on this very opposition so that the division produces a fissure, from which emotion or consciousness emerges. But this very division is not produced. The theatre spectator can not be divided s/he remains entirely a theatre spectator, in a community of spectators and actors; s/he is not completely alone, or isolated with the family in a small apartment, two feet away from and completely absorbed by this familiar object that is almost a member of the family. We may multiply the monitors, bring them closer to the audience, but the difficulty remains: the spatio-temporal given of theatre is such that TV monitors can only function as a global sign at the heart of the performance and not as an autonomous medium transmitting its own signals. (Journal du Théâtre National de Chaillot, no. 12 [June 1983])
Evelyne Ertel clearly regards the video image in these examples as an intruder in the theatre performance, an interloper that the spectator finally rejects. Conversely, performance video plays with the simultaneous utilization of the performer’s body and the images s/he produces or manipulates. What comes first is the artist’s performance and the corps-à-corps that s/he engages in with the medium of video. In the work of Nam-June Paik and Charlotte Moorman, video becomes a partner, making possible an active meditation on the interaction between the human being and the recording machine (cf. Bloch 1983, 24-30):
In T.V. Bra, Nam-June Paik studies the direct links established between the body of the young woman [Charlotte Moorman] and the technical equipment: two small monitors attached to her bra. In T.V. Cello, he has a complex apparatus consisting of several monitors piled on top of one another. . . . According to Nam-June Paik, Charlotte is in control since she generates images that she can direct while playing her cello. . . . Charlotte is not within the video apparatus; the apparatus is within her. (Bloch 1983, 116)
G. THEATRE ➨ CINEMA
No influence, since theatre lacks the technological infrastructure necessary for the cinema.
THEATRE ➝ CINEMA
Theatre’s dramaturgical influence on early cinema was enormous during the last years of the last century: the weak development of cinematic technique and the habits of stage writing affected the very “theatrical”—i.e., frontal, static, and redundant acting style in the first films by Mélies, that “creator of the cinematic spectacle” and, through Mélies, of a cinema that is still under the influence of theatre performance (acting, segmentation of the action, frontal rather than disorienting camera angles, recourse to playwrights for scripts).
In reaction to this embarrassing filiation, cinema quickly found its own specificity, set against a rather partial and limited image of theatre: it insisted on multiplying shots, perspectives, and locations so as to bind the viewer to the editing rhythm, to play counterpoint on the sound and image, on the movements of objects and the camera. Only recently have we abandoned those vast cosmogonies in which theatre and cinema were opposed according to criteria that were “specific” and metaphysical rather than historical and material. We no longer try to define them once and for all but we are interested in the exchange of procedures that characterizes their incestuous relationship and in the relativity of notions of “theatricality” or “filmicity” (as the neologism might go). Eric Rohmer remarked jokingly: “The worst insult used to be calling a film ‘theatrical.’ Today, the worst is that it is ‘cinematic’.” (Cahiers Renaud/Barrault, no. 96, 1977, 11).
CINEMA ➨ THEATRE
The technological impact of cinema on theatre becomes obvious as soon as one tries to film theatre. There are certainly innumerable ways of capturing theatre on celluloid or videotape, but we will examine two major cases: (1) Filming theatrical performances that existed prior to and independent of requirements for shooting. (2) Instead of the pre-existing performance, filming something specifically prepared for the camera, but with some of the properties of a theatre event.
1. FILMING A PERFORMANCE
We could legitimately claim that, once we bring cameras into the auditorium, however discreetly, the acting is disturbed and changed; therefore we cannot film theatre without destroying it. The argument cannot be dismissed, but we can allow for a minimal degree of disturbance while a performance is being filmed live.
(a) This is the case with 1789 by the Théâtre du Soleil, which was filmed over twelve performances, and which has the advantage of showing the audience, the wings, the performance in the making, and not a hypothetical, typical, or perfect performance. Mnouchkine’s film captures the theatrical relationship, shows the space, multiplies the points of view on an already fragmentary scenography, restores the simultaneity of the narratives. (See, for example “Taking the Bastille” in 1789.)
(b) This is quite different in the case of Le Bal, filmed by Ettore Scola and based on the performance of the Campagnol company, “coordinated” by Jean-Claude Penchenat. Here we have an adaptation for the cinema—not a film of an actual performance—with more or less the same actors and made in Cinecittà studios. The actors’ performances, inspired by the original mise-en-scène, but tailored to the new space, are directed at the camera and edited as in a normal film. In this sense, the film belongs in the second category; prior to the shooting, it did not exist—at least not in this form and place—as a live performance directed at an audience in a theatre.
(c) Carmen, filmed by Peter Brook and based on his opera at the Bouffes du Nord, is close to the second case. The essential difference is that Brook directs both the opera and the film, and that he shot the film at the Bouffes du Nord, transformed into a closed studio without an audience. This is not the only difference. The stage set involved a sand-covered arena bounded by the orchestra pit in back, the back wall, the side walls and the audience very close to the singers. The shots of the film point to several sub-locations and focus on the singer or the two singers at the center of the drama, underlining the psychological details of their behavior.
2. FILMING FRAGMENTS OF THEATRE
In this case, theatre no longer exists prior to being captured on film (as in 1789), nor is it adapted to the technical demands of filming. The film rearranges the dramatic text, makes an extremely partial choice of fragments. In Falstaff by Orson Welles, the only remaining theatrical element is Shakespeare’s text, which has been cut, edited, and rearranged to make it say almost anything Welles required. The theatrical dimension is concentrated in certain scenes, as when Falstaff and Hal parody the conversation between the king and his son in the manner of psychodrama. For the rest, the filmic discourse owes absolutely nothing to any theatre performance of Shakespeare. The rapid editing, based on the contrasts of faces and places and on a segmentation of the text, gives the film its dynamic montage.
CINEMA ➝ THEATRE
Since the twenties, cinema has been used on stage to illustrate the action or provide the spectator with documentation (Piscator, Brecht). Its function has been to disturb traditional perception, to provide background or ironic comment on the stage action. Today, directors such as Richard Demarcy (in Disparitions or Parcours) and Henri Gruvman (in Gru-Gru) play with this disturbance of theatrical perception, making the actor react to an animated image.
The dramaturgical influence of cinema on theatre language has been much more profound and lasting. The introduction of epic elements or the montage of the plot in Brecht, the manipulation of time or space have become tried and tested techniques in dramatic writing. As in the cinema, mise en scène can frame an actor or a group, focus on or de-emphasize a point on stage, effect a close-up or a “traveling shot” on an actor. Eisenstein, man of the theatre as well as of the cinema, described mise-en-scène in theatre as a process of montage:
Mise-en-scène in which characters move from foreground to background and back again offers the equivalent of montage. We could call this latent montage. (From Theatre to Cinema, Film Form 15)
Finally, there is another more subtle area in which theatre has been infected by cinema. . . . From the end of the Thirties and under the influence of Central European and especially Russian directors, theatre decided to be as full of signs as an egg. . . .We [Patrice Chereau and I] imitated the cinema, investing the same amount of work in each play as one might in a film, or in a work not destined to be ephemeral. The real difference between theatre and cinema is that theatre is made to be destroyed by the rising tide, whereas cinema is made to be preserved and reproduced. (Vitez 1980, 64-65)
H. TELEVISION ➨ RADIO
No technological influence.
TELEVISION ➝ RADIO
Radio necessarily occupies an inferior position with respect to television, since the latter can for the most part perform the tasks assigned to radio (reporting, news, broadcasting shows, etc.) with the added presence of the image that authenticates the message in the eyes of the audience. As a result, radio feels obliged to compete with television, multiplying its news and broadcasting sources, sticking to real events to inform the audience immediately, by continually repeating the same news (France-Inter in the morning, National Public Radio), by allowing for listeners’ questions, and so forth. The “realistic” character of the TV image appears to impose itself in the style of radio dramaturgy: radio plays stick too often to verist notions of character and story, with real places and conventional chronology.
RADIO ➨ TELEVISION
Radio research has not yet been fully utilized for the TV apparatus, which is still a rather rudimentary music box.
RADIO ➝ TELEVISION
Television programs reproduce the same major categories as radio—news, fiction, variety, commercials—cut up into timed and relatively immovable segments. As for TV drama, the producers seem unable or unwilling to experiment as much as some radio playwrights. The reasons for this are many: TV drama looks in vain for its own way; it remains within the narrative domain of theatre or cinema. Television addresses—or, driven by the ratings, claims to address—a larger audience than radio, which it dares not displease by too much formal experimentation.
I. TELEVISION ➨ CINEMA
For reasons of economy or efficiency, video cameras are sometimes used for filming.
TELEVISION ➝ CINEMA
According to the experts, the influence of television on cinema is enormous and devastating. Alain Busson describes the transfer in terms of a transfer of the economically weakest consumers:
An examination of customer structures shows that the economically weakest social groups have most changed their habits. Empty cinemas in the suburbs are connected with a more general refusal of collective consumption and a return to individual domestic activities, of which television is the fullest symbol. (Busson 1985, 103)
When we remember that 68.8 percent of the French watch television every day, 49.6 percent go to the cinema at least once a year, and only 10.3 percent go to the theatre (Busson 1985, 105), we can see that television dominates the other media, economically and aesthetically ravaging the theatre. Even the once dominant cinema is modified by this power relation. As the Malécot Report (January 1977) notes: “It is because the French have never seen so many films [as they are seeing now] that cinema is in such bad shape” (quoted by Busson 1985, 104).
We have come to the point where films are made with the financial support of television, with a view to future use on the small screen. The result for filmmaking is a tendency to use television-specific thematics, cutting, editing, and acting technique. This distortion is further aggravated when films made in this way are used for television: the image loses definition, the miniaturization makes it difficult to decipher the image. Cinema and television are thus both the worse for it.
CINEMA ➨ TELEVISION
Television has become the principal channel for showing films, with some channels (Canal + or HBO) specializing in this kind of program.
CINEMA ➝ TELEVISION
Despite the current tendency to produce films which will be distributed on video cassette and on television, TV drama is still made like miniature film: with the same cutting, the same excessive use of exterior shots and location changes, the same kind of shot and narrative rhythm:
This “nostalgia for the cinema” [which J. C. Averty detects in his colleagues (1975, 128)] flatters the dominant public taste and limits what can pass for the technological specificity of television (video in the studio with tricks, insertions, reshaping of the image) to an experimental game without a future.
J. RADIO ➝ VIDEO ➝ RADIO
This last case is the most surprising. It deserves special attention from the mass-media industry. The music video serves two masters: the record industry (radio) and the video market. The music video is in no way a referential illustration of the song or the music; it does not interpret or imitate anything.
Detached in this way from any textual reference (as theatre was “once upon a time”), from any interpretation (such as mise-en-scène), and from any classic cinematic narrative (such as television), the music video tries to match the rhythm of music (particularly rock) with a visual rhythm. Rock, which loves to play “big bad wolf,” adapts perfectly to surprise shots and fantastic scenes. Given that a rock song generally does not tell a story, it does not tie down the visual accompaniment of the video. The video must not bore the spectator with a fixed decor, but must rather offer a series of shocking visual ideas, of marvelous events activated by friendly tricks, to make the singers and musicians little imps that are simultaneously the producers of the music and its first listener/dancers, engaged in the marvelous fiction of the video. As a product for immediate consumption and disposal, the music video can at least be praised for forcing us to reconsider the relations among the media and leading to a new practice of visual representation.
In this overview of technological and aesthetic interference between theatre and the media, we have shown, even if in a rather mechanical way, that theatre cannot be “protected” from any media and that the “work of art in the era of technical reproduction” (Benjamin 1936) cannot escape socio-economic-technological domination, which determines its aesthetic dimension. Technological and aesthetic contamination is inevitable, whether as effective interaction of media techniques or as the frantic desire to maintain the specificity or poverty of theatre (Grotowski). The time has passed for artistic protectionism, and the time has arrived for experiments with different possibilities. The most marked influence of the media has been to found all aesthetic reflection on the notion of technological progress and mass diffusion; this reflection can thus be materially linked to production, diffusion, and reception. Reflections of this kind on these practices of performance and visual representation cannot allow themselves to be overawed by the technical complexity of the media or the socio-economic phenomena of the culture industry but should rather examine, from the perspective of an aesthetic of form, the processes of semiotic transformation from one form to another, the emergence of meaning in these contaminations, and the dynamism of practices of performance and representation in the media of our time.4
1. Translator’s note: Following Pavis’s allusion to Benjamin here (and throughout this chapter), I translate arts mécanisés as “technical” rather than “mechanical arts,” to highlight, as does Benjamin’s “technishe Reproduktion” and Pavis’s argument, if not his adherence to the French (mis)translation.
2. Translator’s note: In order to maintain Pavis’s implied distinction between the singular nouns médium and média (unavailable in English), I have used the English plural wherever possible.
3. Translator’s note: This is the French TV studio where the first TV plays were broadcast.
4. Author’s note: Grateful thanks to Mary and Hector McLean for their help with the first draft of this article.
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