After training as a Dramatherapist, Richard Schechner’s book ‘Performance Studies – An Introduction’  and Performance Studies generally, was very useful to help me understand how the ideas of the arts therapies and dramatherapy could be applied in a variety of non-clinical settings, including in outdoor and experiential learning.

Performance as an idea and as an experience, particularly as understood through the lens of Performance Studies connects many areas together. It connects sporting achievement, artistic practice, personal and social behaviour, cultural and religious ritual and learning through experience as a child and as an adult. 

As a practice and academic discipline performance studies is very useful in settings in which phenomena and behaviour’s are emergent and changing at the personal and interpersonal level. This is a consistent theme with the arts as a mode of research or investigation.

In his book Schechner talks about Performance Studies having four main elements

  • Behaviour as an object of study
  • Artistic practice both for performers and for audiences
  • Participant observation as a mode of research of self and others
  • Social practices as a form of performance

In short this means Performance Studies can interpret anything as performance and Schechner says this can be very valuable in some ways but in other ways this approach can become too disparate. It’s broad scope means that we could examine climbing Everest, doing a ‘Go Ape’ ropes course, performing Shakespeare, making art and experiencing religious rituals from within one discipline. Thus familiar experiences and phenomena including experiential and adventure learning can be interpreted using some quite unfamiliar and interesting models. It also means, as Schechner points out, that some interpretations can be polemical, for example the suggestion that 911 attack was performance. Also if we can interpret anything and everything ‘as’ performance it can feel a bit like snake oil, a magical but ultimately meaningless descriptor of everything.

A YouTube introduction to his performance studies and book, by Schechner himself, is included on this site a sub page of ‘Performance’. Or you can find it here. This introduces major themes in his book. This has 23 episodes. 

For experiential and adventure educators not all of the themes explored are useful. Things like Brechtian theatre or the performance quadrilogue, are not directly relevant. But some offer very interesting interpretations of phenomena familiar to experiential and adventure learning and as such could evoke new or diverse perspectives on familiar ideas. These are

  • Performance Studies as a mode of researching and understanding the world.
  • Performance as experiential learning.
  • Ritual and liminal space.
  • Play including Maya-lila and deep play.
  • Performativity and the making of meaning.
  • Global and intercultural performance including tourism and globalisation.

These themes are collected with the relevant video and a brief description on the ‘For Facilitators’ page. I intend to develop these themes further with reference to practice and theory relevant to facilitators of experiential, outdoor and adventure learning.

These themes can also be explored by downloading the pdf of Schechner’s book below.

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