American Students Performing the Foreignness of Human Culture in Foreign Drama


Les Essif


Through the example of the author’s “re-creative” approach to the French-language staging of Jean Giraudoux’s Tiger at the Gates with his American students of French, this essay discusses the need for this type of cross-cultural performance practice to recognize and to emphasize the world’s foreignness: the uncertain and contradictory nature of both culture in general (culture’s resistance to itself) and of theatrical art (theatricality) in particular. Informed by cultural theory (Said, Glissant, Baudrillard) and by theories and concepts of theater anthropology (Pavis, Barba, Turner, Schechner, Nolan, Reinelt), the essay addresses the relevance of the American “unculture” in which the performance was produced, and it concludes with a discussion of theatre and culture in a postmodern world of “communitas” (Victor Turner). The primary objective of the foreign-language performance project was not so much to familiarize the student actors with the foreign language and national culture, but more profoundly, to rehearse the foreignness of the text by enacting a “Frenchified” version of a wholly uncertain human story.

Comparative Drama is carried by JSTOR and Project MUSE.