Monday, August 16, 2010

2010.08.38

Version at BMCR home site
Anna N. Mavroleon, Η έρευνα στο θέατρο: Ζητήματα μεθοδολογίας. Athens: I. Sideris, 2010. Pp. 338. ISBN 9789600805147. €20.00 (pb).
Reviewed by Gonda Van Steen, University of Florida

Anna Mavroleon, who currently teaches at the University of the Peloponnese, must be congratulated for perceiving the acute need for a methodological manual in theater studies and, most of all, for addressing that need so admirably. Her comprehensive book opens up all research avenues to Greek theater of the nineteenth century through the present day, covering both modern Greek theater history and dramaturgy and the modern Greek revival productions of ancient tragedy and comedy. The book is grounded in Mavroleon's extensive teaching experience and shares all the strengths of that experience: clarity, precision, and efficacy.

Greek universities created departments of Theater Studies (Theatrologia) in the 1990s. These departments have drawn many hundreds of undergraduate students and have seen a spike in publishing activity by young postgraduates and other researchers. Until the appearance of Mavroleon's book, however, a tool to guide these many students through the techniques of finding the records of important (but always ephemeral) theater productions, of reading the reviews of plays critically, of writing about theater and dramaturgy in a scholarly manner, etc. had been missing. Student mentoring was mostly a matter of goodwill on the part of individual faculty members but was not necessarily seen as an intrinsic part of the educational process.

In a field that is rife with thinly annotated publications and self-aggrandizing photobooks or lefkomata honoring Greek "stars," stage directors, and companies, Mavroleon took the interests of the many Greek students and researchers of theater to heart and has provided a 338-page methodological study that answers questions as diverse as those related to the detailed components of theater productions or to the whereabouts (and accessibility) of specific collections of sources and archives. However, this long-overdue study in the methodology of theater-related research will benefit not only students of Greek theater but also the many neohellenists active in Greece or those who regularly visit the country to conduct research in libraries and special collections. Mavroleon's extensive and up-to-date catalogue of, for instance, websites of libraries, research foundations and institutions, theater companies, and much more (pp. 222-296) is required reading material for anyone who has, until now, patiently waded through many library (card) catalogues, who has found the doors to archives closed for several years with only a week's notice, or who has had to learn by word of mouth which collections had been moved to new, "temporarily" inaccessible locations.

After a clear introduction (pp. 13-25) in which Mavroleon explains the need for her own study against the backdrop of, for one, the founding of the Greek departments of Theater Studies, the author delves into a comprehensive and well-organized chapter titled "Methodological Issues Related to the Research and Cataloguing of 'Theater Life'" (pp. 27-156). Here she covers the making (and the makers) of theater productions, the "necessary data regarding a production's identity," dating problems, the (precarious) information to be derived from playbills, posters, newspaper articles, oral testimonies, directors' notebooks, photographs, and videotapes (if available), the study of theater companies and theater spaces, the issues raised by repeat performances of plays and changes in the line-up of their cast (based on the aptly chosen example of Koun's landmark production of Aristophanes' Birds, pp. 61-64), the genres of the epitheorisi or revue, opera, and operetta, questions of authorship, translation, and adaptation, problems of sources, and much more.

Chapter 2 (pp. 157-221) covers the techniques of the craft of scholarly writing about the theater. It treats the typical research challenges of selecting a pertinent topic, striving for clarity, structure, and accuracy, as well as problems that are specific to theater-related research, such as the availability and accessibility of rare (and often incomplete) archival materials or private collections. The chapter then focuses on the usefulness of students exercising scholarly writing, by way of writing Master's and Ph.D. theses, for instance, and lays out the objectives of each commonly practiced form. Mavroleon provides clear examples of accepted techniques or styles in annotating and compiling references and she pays close attention also to issues of polytonic or monotonic citation, of quotations of passages in verse, and of the contested problem of transliteration. She ends the chapter with a discussion on how to compose appendices, indices, and a structured bibliography and adds helpful guidelines on how to write and organize a scholarly study.

Mavroleon's third and final chapter offers the (above mentioned) catalogue of pertinent websites of libraries, archives, theater companies, universities, drama schools and theater workshops, online journals and networks, etc., complete with email and mailing addresses as well as telephone and fax numbers. The majority of the entries present a brief history of the institution in question as well as the strengths of its collections. Mavroleon's book ends with a detailed index (pp. 297-320) and a carefully selected bibliography (pp. 321-338).

In addition to providing a treasure trove of information, Mavroleon's study is attractively presented and well illustrated. More importantly, though, the author has done everything possible to break the Athenocentric framework of Greek theater studies: domestic examples range from Patras to Chios, and from Kavala to Crete. International listings range from Didaskalia: Ancient Theatre Today (Berkeley) to the Archive of Performances of Greek and Roman Drama (APGRD, Oxford), and from the new Library of Alexandria to the Bolshoi Ballet Academy. Mavroleon's book is an appealing invitation to students and an essential tool for them to commit to systematic research on the underexplored dramaturgy of Greek cities and towns beyond Athens and Thessaloniki and of the Greek diaspora communities. The resulting studies will undoubtedly modify and enrich the map of Greek and Balkan theatrical activity of the late eighteenth through the early twenty-first century.

No doubt, it remains a challenge to work on modern Greek performance theory and practice, because an up-to-date sample of such a study presumes rich sources (and unrestricted access), including videotapes or DVDs of past productions. To obtain a substantial or representative range of Greek sources, the researcher still has to excavate the archives of the modern Greek performance practice. But Mavroleon's book shows how this can be done most effectively, without anyone of us having to reinvent the wheel. A first of its kind, her methodological study is a welcome contribution that belongs in the library of every neohellenist.

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