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 positive but I questioned whether framing was evident throughout the piece. To recognize the consistency, I had to ensure that I understand the definition of framing. I turned to the works of Erving Goffman (1922-1982), to whom this concept is attributed to.
Frame Analysis 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 Goffman’s concept on framing. “the frame indicates the nature and purpose of a behaviour and hence how it is interpreted”
The author gives his opinions very decidedly, i.e. he claims that framing aids individuals’ understanding of culture. Therefore frame analysis is individual sctructure of society through conceptual frames “construct a general statement regarding the structure or form of experiences individuals have at any moment of their social life”.
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 amalgation of indigenous performance forms within the framework of the Western notion of theatre’ (?) The book’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. 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 had to compare multiple formal elements as part of my presentation.
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. 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 as a reader to try and read the book open-mindedly. The honest perspective aided my analysis to become more liberal and understanding of my audience – activity thing. who may not be aware of these frames. This made Oddey’s source essential 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.


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