On the 13th October I watched a production of ‘How to Win Against History’ by Seiriol Davies, at the Derby Theatre. The musical about the 5th Marquess of Anglesey who risked being a cross-dresser in a world where it was socially unacceptable is not only a ridiculous comedy, but also a performance that offered my group a diverse range of frameworks to choose from for our analysis. I was particularly interested in framing, as the performance offered a multitude of layers that I wanted to explore on a deeper level.
For this essay, I will criticize and reflect on the sources I used to develop my knowledge and understanding of the framework and its importance in relation to the performance. I will mainly focus on the works of Erving Goffman, Alison Oddey, Christopher B. Balme and Dassia N. Posner.
The group’s initial response to the performance was optimistic and constructive in terms of analysis but I questioned whether framing was evident throughout the piece. To recognize the consistency, I had to ensure that I have understood the definition of framing. I turned to the works of Erving Goffman (1922-1982), to whom this concept is attributed to.
Frame Analysis (1974) offers a deep insight into works of Gregory Bateson – a man who observed the behaviour of otters as well as the subject of play. This is the foundation of author’s concept on framing.
Goffman gives his opinions very decidedly, very soon in the text he claims that framing aids individuals’ understanding of culture and therefore frame analysis is individual structure of society through conceptual frames. There is a lot that the reader must consume to understand this reading and not question it, especially if disinterested.
Erving Goffman may have been the groundwork of this notion, but his sociological approach made it harder for theatrical readers to relate, therefore I had to expand my research to ensure I approach performance analysis correctly. Someone who discusses the concept of framing in a theatrical context is Christopher B. Balme.
Christopher B. Balme’s (1957) Decolonizing the Stage – Theatrical Syncretis and Post-Colonial Drama assesses numerous formal strategies that ‘involve the combination and amalgamation of indigenous performance forms within the framework of the Western notion of theatre’ (Balme, 1957: p1). The source’s structure is reminiscent of Gilbert and Tompkins’, divided into chapters on theatrical syncretism’s formal attributes such as: “Ritual Frames and Liminal Dramaturgy,” “Language and the Post-Colonial Stage,” “Orality as Performance,” “Visualizing the Body,” “Dance and Body Language,” and “Spaces and Spectators.”
The biggest drawback with this source was Balme’s semiotic methodology. Although a specific chapter is devoted to framing, the author’s approach simply made the writing appear prejudiced. The strong emphasis on cultural forms in different geopolitical contexts didn’t help the matter – in turn, it confused me due to lack of knowledge. Undoubtedly, this is a reliable academic source, but the subject of framing wasn’t adequately prominent to support my analysis. The source would prove to be more useful if I individually had to compare multiple formal elements as part of my presentation. For future reference, I would briefly research the cultural or historical contexts relevant to the book prior to reading the source to avoid any misperception.
Re-framing the Theatrical – Interdisciplinary Landscapes for Performance (2007) offers a vast description of the prominent roles in theatre, with the spectator at the core. Until this point, I was still unaware of the consistency of framing throughout the performance. The author inductively makes the subjectivity of framing clear to the reader “I am inside the frame, experiencing the duality of the imagery of the artwork’s being and the environment of everyday life” (Oddey, 2007: p1) as well as explaining that her viewpoints throughout the source are subjective to her opinion. This was important for me as I have read a monotonous number of sources, where the authors are unaware of their prejudice.
Her focus seems to be offering the reader an open ideology rather than a strict viewpoint. This encouraged me to try and read the book open-mindedly. The honest perspective aided my analysis to become more liberal and thoughtful of my audience to whom I will present my analysis to (who may not be aware of the concepts discussed above) – as some members may not be aware of the framework, I introduced an activity that would not only engage them to converse with the group but practically develop their understanding of the framework. This source expanded my understanding that framing is evident always, including before and after the performance. This made Oddey’s book an essential source for my progression of understanding performance analysis.
Posner’s article Baring the Frame: Meyerhold’s reaction of Gozzi’s Love of Three Oranges provides a range of conceptual tools for critically analysing a performance. The article explores ‘how a conscious relationship between actor and character in concert with framing devices that delineate levels of fiction can emphasize an experience peculiar to the theatre’ (Posner, 2015: p.363) With an evident awareness of the works of Gozzi and Meyerhold, as a reader I was filled with confidence and trust in terms of this source. The comparison of the two was thorough, clear and equal – there were no symptoms of bias towards any of the dramatists discussed. Nevertheless, the prominent focus was Meyerhold’s response to Gozzi’s specific work, and although there were strong elements of framing that exceeded my understanding, I was drawn into other topics by this article – ones that aren’t wholly relevant to the task I’ve been set. However, this is partially my responsibility as the title of the article indicated the focus. To improve, I would take more advantage of the introductions of sources to indicate that the content is suitable and relevant for my research.
Finally, while the sources above have been useful for an analysis of framing, not all have been thoroughly relevant and have had their downfalls as well as upheavals! Regardless, I was able to confidently speak about my analytical framework as well as compare it to the other ones discussed where necessary. If the task was to be repeated, I would take some focus away from the definition of the term and focus more on it’s application to the fabulous musical. Further sources were used, but the constraints of the essay do not allow me to go into further detail. I point you to my bibliography for additional research.