Peter Lichtenfels

Peter Lichtenfels

Interweaving Performance Cultures

Fellow 2011/12, 2013/14, 2017/18

Peter Lichtenfels is Professor of Theatre and Dramatic Art at the University of California, Davis. For many years he worked as a theatre director in the UK and, more recently, in the USA, Canada, Japan and China. As Artistic Director of Traverse Theatre, Edinburgh, he specialized in developing new dramatic writing, and as Executive Director at the Leicester Haymarket he set up one of the UK’s leading international theatres. His most recent academic works include Shakespeare and Realism: On the Politics of Style (co-editor Josy Miller) and Sentient Performativities of Embodiment: Thinking Alongside the Human (with co-editors L. Hunter and E. Krimmer).

Research Project

Attending to the strangeness of familiar objects

My larger research project at the Institute has been a comparative study of the productions of Tadeusz Kantor and Ōta Shōgo. In this final fellowship period, I will focus on my production of Ōta’s Elements with a professional company in May 2017. The rehearsal period lasted for almost a year and allowed me to explore one particular area of the director-actor-audience relationship that had emerged during my 2014 production of Ōta’s Plastic Rose: the question of how we follow something that happens into our daily self. 

In my directing career, I have learned to listen to what happens when an actor follows an impulse or a response, and to give them the space and time to walk toward it, to probe what it does. I also think that such encounters, playing out in various kinds of theatre, is what audiences engage with, and when they do they, too, learn to follow those stimuli in their lives that they recognise as significant yet do not fully understand. 

In theatre, these moments often occur when animals or objects that do not fit into our daily lives suddenly appear within them. Ōta’s Elements, perhaps because I was working with actors from many different traditions and countries, made us attend more intensely to these strange yet oddly familiar events. Spades, footballs and dogs randomly drop from the sky, and the actors open themselves up to these occurrences without knowing why they are happening. For me, their individual responses deeply connect to what they do not understand about themselves – and yet the characters played by the actors keep going for no apparent reason. They affect the audience and draw them into this exploration of the unknown with all its tensions, dangers and changes. 

This time at the Institute I will be focusing on my work with the actors during my recent production of Ōta’s Elements, and attempting to talk about these unexpected moments, how we created the rhythms and spaces to encourage them, and how we sustained the energy for audiences throughout the run of the production.

Recommended Publications

  • Brian Massumi, What Animals Teach Us About Politics. Duke University Press, 2014.
  • Maaike Bleeker, Visuality in the Theatre. Palgrave, 2008.
  • Ric Knowles, How Theatre Means. Palgrave, 2014.
  • Bert States, Great Reckonings in Little Rooms. University of California Press, 1987.
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