20. May 2020

Book Review: The Five Continents of Theatre. Facts and Legends about the Material Culture of the Actor

by Annelis Kuhlmann, Aarhus University (Denmark). Published in the Nordic Theatre Studies Vol. 31, No. 2. 2019, 135–137.

Professor Emeritus, Nicola Savarese and theatre director, Eugenio Barba have written and compiled a large historiographical theatre collection of data with focus on the material culture of the actor based on facts and legends. The book is weighty, both metaphorically and materially. The Five Continents of Theatre (2019) was first published in Italian, (2017), then in Romanian (2018), now in English (2019), and in 2020 the book will appear in Spanish (Artezblai, Madrid) as well as in French (Seconde Époque, Paris). The preface to the book is by Associate Professor Tatiana Chemi, Aalborg University (Denmark), who also is co-editor of the series Arts, Creativities, and Learning Environments in Global Perspectives at Brill. She identifies the book as belonging to the genre of an actor’s grimoire, in Latin originally meaning obscure information, but here refers to the ‘magic’ in the message, in the imaginary and creative witchcraft, which at a certain level of the profession, in a sense supports the actor’s craft. Previously, Barba and Savarese edited The Secret Art of the Performer (2005), which similarly, has been translated into many languages and reprinted in English several times. The artistic and scholarly research in their new book is also a collaborative practice which has its own genuine trajectory of results.

Their approach is paradoxical. It is archival, meaning that the book makes us rethink the big questions about temporality in theatre: what remains of and what presupposes the ephemeral art of the actor, which traditionally has been understood as an act of disappearance? At the same time, the book also underscores the preciousness of what can be retold and transformed from the actor’s craft, its legends and their relationship to scientific narratives. This multidisciplinary way of thinking highlights the importance of drawing attention to the different sorts of contexts that surround the actor, and to which the actor responds.

Read the full review