Friday, June 6, 2008

NY Times Book Review: "What to Watch"

Some interesting philosophical quotes that relate to the conversation of the "histrionic instinct" (see previous posts; here and here).

With scholarly assurance and meticulous care, he builds the case that "theatre is the art by which human beings make human actions worth watching." (Incidentally, this is precisely what that word "theatre" means: a place to behold.) From the time we are small, according to Woodruff, we have an innate need to be watched, to know that we are witnessed; equally, we have a need to watch, to drink in the actions and presence of those around us. When these two conditions are met, we grow.

His other main approach is to remind us that "we are all in this together." With rare exceptions, human experience is lived in community. Theatre, by definition (and Woodruff's own definition is careful to exclude solitary forms of watching), is a communal enterprise, both for those who mount a performance and for those who take it in. When it is done well, when it accomplishes its purpose of making human action truly worth watching, we come to care about the characters. This is a good and worthy practice, Woodruff tells us, because it "is not just a matter of theatre; we are better members of the human community if we know how to see other people as carable-about."

From What to Watch," New York Times Book Review, by Leah Hager Cohen.

Review of The Necessity of Theatre: The Art of Waching and Being Watched, by Paul Woodruff.


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