12 Jan 2015 11:00am - 6:00pm King‘s College, Wine Room (NB Different venue*)


A one-day symposium exploring an interdisciplinary concept

This one-day symposium seeks to explore the intellectual histories and contemporary explorations of the concept and idea of the 'scene'. What does it mean to 'cause a scene', or to 'stage a scene'? How does this originally theatrical metaphor inform how we analyse the framing of everyday interaction, or political speech acts? How do ‘scenes’ question our distinctions between how we perform reality on a daily basis and how reality is performed on stages?


Professor Peter W. Marx (Institute  for Theatre and MediaCulture, University of Cologne)
Professor Scott Head (Visiting Professor, Anthropology, UCL/Brazil)
Dr George Oppitz-Trautmann (English Faculty, Cambridge)
Jaspreet Singh Boparai (Classics, Cambridge)
Clare Foster (Classics, Cambridge)
Dr Flora Willson (Music, Cambridge)
Jonas Tinius (Social Anthropology, Cambridge)



Part of the Cambridge Performance Interdisciplinary Performance Network (CIPN) series



Jonas Tinius (Anthropology, Cambridge)


Opening Keynote

Peter W. Marx (Professor of Theatre and Media Culture & Director of theatre collection, Institute of Theatre and Media Culture, University of Cologne, Germany)

The concrete spatial reference of the concept ‘scena’ establishes a relation to the distinction or ‘border’ between fiction and reality. In other words, the concept ‘scena’ marks it as a space of potentiality. With Blumenberg and Jonas, this could be read as a conditio humana. Similarly, the concept ‘scena’ also has a culturally and historically contingent dimension, which refers to different scenae. On the basis of some examples, the form and appearance of such spaces could be discussed.




 Dr George Oppitz-Trautmann (British Academy Postdoctoral Fellow, English Faculty, Cambridge; Research Associate, St. John’s College)

Scene in the Abstract; or, the Necessity of Failure and Accident in the Theatre

Discussions of 'a scene' or 'the scene' habitually tend to work on the assumption that, because the 'scene' is used as a unit of production by theatrical practitioners, it can be used as a unit of interpretation by critics. Working against this assumption, which has been bolstered in particular by psycho-analytical notions of the basic, constitutive, formative, or primal scene, as well as by structuralist and poststructuralist formations of the self-dramatizing subject, this paper suggests that theatre must ultimately remain historically and socially incomprehensible when understood in this way. Material and physical accidents of a particular performance cannot be reconciled to any concept of scene qua scene. Theatre, especially professional theatre, has particular qualities derived from the possibilities afforded to it by particular societies at particular times, and by the traditions on which it calls. These qualities are misrecognized by any act of interpretation that subsumes practice in the theatre under a concept of 'universal' or 'basic' theatricality. Moreover, this paper will explore how failures or prospective failures of tone, technique, voice and property – that is, accidents of a given scene that threaten the coherence or 'success' of the scene as a unit of narrative – are in fact integral to theatre's importance as a medium, lending it the power to intervene against projects of philosophical aesthetics that rely on 'scene' in the abstract. The case for theatre will be made using a wide array of historical examples.


Clare Foster (Classics/English, Cambridge)

‘You have been framed’: skenographia and scaenae frontes

The origins of the ‘scene’ and its rich web of cognates go back to the Greek skēne or Roman scaenae (vocabulary often used metonymically to mean theatre itself). This essay-in-pictures offers a visual etymology of framing itself, from the first illusionistic backdrops of 5th century BC Greek drama with their revolutionary perspectival lines of sight (skēnographia = ‘perspective’) through Roman stolidly built versions with tiers of statues, to trompe l’oeil Roman wall-painting, which frames itself as theatre by first copying the characteristic scaenae frons with its tripartite-divisions of three vertical doorways and horizontal steps and sky, then increasingly abstracting these intersecting lines to create the picture frame. In this demarcated space which was once a doorway steps not an actor, but the episode, the situation, the dramatic moment – the scene (e.g. Medea in the foreground, her children playing in the background). The excerption of collectively well-known ‘episodes’ is a feature of Roman responses to the Greek canon in all art forms, conjuring audiences through implied capacities to recognise. But on Roman walls the symmetry, perspective, and illusionism work together to explicitly position you, the viewer, centre stage. The carefully chosen mythological subjects which depend on tacit knowledge to get the joke, and the ludic self-reference to the art-ifice of its surface, suggest an idea of theatricality and/or art as a ‘game with the audience’ (ludus).


Jaspreet Singh Boparai (Classics, Cambridge)
The 'French scene':  misunderstanding Aristotle and blindly following tradition

A 'scene' in the modern English theatre is generally understood as a dramaturgical unit (in the text of a play as well a performance) conventionally marked by a change of lighting and/or scenery; conventions will have been influenced no less by other media (particularly film and television) than by developing technological capabilities and practical considerations (the use of lighting, for example, rather than the raising and lowering of a curtain).  In traditional English drama from the Renaissance


Coffee/tea Break


Professor Scott Head (Social Anthropology, UCL/Santa Catarina)

Interrupting the 'scene' of the street: Intersections – and collisions – between street performance and street photography

What happens when one figures the street as a ‘scene’? Vincent Crapanzano (2005) elaborated the ‘scene’ as an experientially immanent yet objectively ungraspable counterpart to empirical reality; yet his conception took form largely ‘indoors’, distanced from milieu in question. A comment in one recently-published ‘manual’ of street photography – that good street-photographers should generally avoid taking pictures of “homeless people or street performers” – serves as my initial focus-point for framing divergent conceptions of the ‘scene’ of the street as implicated in ‘street photography’ and ‘street performance’. I then turn to some examples of how the intersection between these practices could be framed differently: here, I address the potential of photography and performance as practices of interruption capable of highlighting, disrupting and refiguring the real and imaginary dimensions of the ‘street’ as a singularly charged experiential realm or ‘scene’.

Chair: Dr Flora Willson (Music, Cambridge)


Jonas Tinius (Anthropology, Cambridge)

Behind the scenes: rehearsing posture and attitude (Haltung)

Just over a hundred years ago, the Coburg Court Theatre laws determined that a new play should not be rehearsed more than three times. As J. W. von Goethe, who was directing the Weimar Court theatre at the turn of the 19th century put it, too frequent rehearsals could lead nonprofessional actors into a ‘cycle of uniform and steadily repeated activity leading to nothing.’ In German public theatres today, we see almost the reverse. Actors rehearse performances according to directors’ aesthetic decisions for as long as 9 months. In this presentation, by recourse to my ethnographic fieldwork, I explore how scenes are rehearsed, studied, and prepared during rehearsals by cultivating the right kind of attitude, posture, and demeanour (Ger. Haltung) required for scenes on stage. In dialogue with Erving Goffman’s The Presentation of Self in Everyday Life, I argue that scenes on and beyond the stage are made through actors’ cultivation of Haltung. 




Summing up discussion (with all participants)

Discussants: Jonas Tinius and Peter W. Marx



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