The Chorus in Contemporary Plays

Project description

The chorus returned to the stage in the wake of the »performative turn« that took hold of the theater in the 1960s. As a theatrical instrument with para-ritualistic qualities, its purpose seems to be to generate presence. Its polyphonic mode of speaking and the rhythm of its voices and movements create a connection with the audience and accentuate the here and now of a performance. These features of live performance tend, however, to fade into the background in written texts. The chorus’s polyphony and its corporeal presence cannot be directly conveyed in scripts. Instead, these things can only be alluded to. But if we take plays and theatrical writings to be more than merely the basis of stage productions, if we instead grant them their own value as literary works, then the figure of the chorus we find in them assumes a function beyond just enhancing live performances.

The dissertation project thus analyzes the various functions and modes of the chorus in German theatrical texts from the 1970s to the present. The line of questioning begins with situating the chorus in the interstice that was already its home in Greek tragedy: neither completely part of the diegesis, nor wholly part of the audience’s world, the chorus’s position allows it to mediate between spaces. However, this space between worlds also attests to the chorus’s own demonic nature. As a ritualized collective, the chorus establishes a community based on the authority of shared myths – and yet it also unmasks myth as precisely that, a fabrication, for the chorus speaks from a place that is older than myth, from where it is possible to rupture the metaphysical understanding of the world that myth represents. The chorus, it will be argued, speaks from the place of the platonic khôra. The project supports this thesis with analyses of works by artists and authors such as Heiner Müller, Elfriede Jelinek, Botho Strauß, Tankred Dorst, Ewald Palmetshofer, and René Pollesch. Their use of the chorus helps stage the actions of protagonists and promote the progression of the plot, but more importantly, it also enables the return of the tragic to the theater.

Dissertation project 2013–2017 (with funding from the Stiftung Bildung und Wissenschaft 2013–2015)
Associate Researcher(s): Maria Kuberg