I (respectfully) poached the title of this blog from Elinor Fuchs’ The Death of Character: Perspectives on Theater after Modernism, which is one of those books that I’ve returned to again and again for inspiration and provocation since I first read it at the beginning of my PhD studies. Fuchs, now professor at Yale, was a theatre critic for the Village Voice in the late 1970s and early ’80s when non-representational, fragmentary, meta-theatrical, multi-media practices was starting to appear in downtown New York theatre. Fuchs describes the experience of seeing these innovative productions as profoundly destabilising, but also thrilling: ‘… as if my basic ontological security had suddenly become a false memory or the latest disposable product. I had fallen into the mental swoon of postmodernism’ (1).
What I love about this statement — and her book — is the excitement and the challenge that Fuchs captures of trying to write about rapidly-evolving theatre practices, of being in the middle of a new artistic scene and working in her writing to find the best words to describe, explore, and analyse the work she’s seeing. That sense of immersion in a theatrical landscape, and of working alongside theatre artists to shape critical vocabularies for emerging and existing practices, are for me the best possible conditions for rewarding critical practice.
I’m not suggesting that postmodern theatre will be the exclusive subject of this blog (though I’m sure I’ll write about it); rather, what’s compelling to me is this notion of thinking and feeling at the same time while seeing theatre (and writing about it afterwards), so that’s what I want to set up as a governing principle of what I write here.