The Performance Hypothesis Practicing Emotions in Protected Frames
The Performance Hypothesis If man is a sapient animal, a toolmaking animal, a self-making animal, a symbol-using animal, he is, no less, a performing animal, Homo performans, not in the sense, perhaps that a circus animal may be a performing animal, but in the sense that a man is a self- performing animal—his performances are, in a way, refl exive, in performing he reveals himself to himself. This can be in two ways: the actor may come to know himself better through acting or enactment; or one set of human beings may come to know themselves better through observing and/or participating in performances generated and presented by another set of human beings. I was once singing in a production of Puccini's La Bohème. In the fourth act, the heroine, Mimi, dies of consumption. The last notes of the opera are delivered by her lover, the tenor Rudolfo, who bends over her lifeless body and sobs while singing her name four times on a high G. The effect is universally the same for the all audiences. Almost as if a button were pushed, the scene triggers an autonomic response. Grown men and women weep openly. There is rarely a dry eye in the house. During one rehearsal for this production, our director had a problem with the soprano portraying Mimi. 'My dear,' he said, 'you cannot cry when Rudolfo sings your name. You are already dead.' 'I know!' she wailed, 'but I can't help it. It's SO SAD!'1 It is events like this that point up the unique ability of performance to affect the cognitive and emotional2 state of its audience. Determining the reasons why it does so is much more diffi cult. Human beings in every culture are so extraordinarily engaged with performance. Not only do they enjoy it immensely, they also expend
Published in 2007.