Key Concepts in Drama and Performance

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Key Concepts in Drama and Performance
Pickering, Kenneth
©2005 New York
Palgrave Macmillan

Key Concepts in Drama and Performance is essentially a reference guide to major theatre terms, practitioners, ideas, styles and movements. It leans heavily on modern theatre and is conveniently and logically divided into the following sections:

  • textual concepts
  • performance concepts
  • production concepts
  • staging concepts
  • critical concepts

What is particularly impressive about this book, is Pickering’s ability to define and explain an important theatre concept in an academic, yet completely understandable style. This alone makes this text a useful guide for senior Drama/Theatre teachers and their students. It is a practical handbook, but from a theoretical perspective, just as applicable to a student of theatre as it is to a practising theatre artist.

key concepts

Theatre practice is enriched by our knowledge and understanding of various key concepts integral to our craft. This text clearly explains movements and styles such as expressionism, poor theatre, agit/prop, epic theatre, Commedia dell’Arte, forum theatre, naturalism, physical theatre, documentary drama, constructivism, theatre of cruelty and more. The origins of these movements and examples of famous plays and performances typical of their characteristics, are explained for the reader.

Other essential play-making concepts are also discussed, such as the well made play, soliloquy, alienation, fourth wall, mimesis, subtext, play within a play, flashback, exposition, episode, dramatic irony etc.

For those interested in acquiring this text for senior students of Drama or Theatre, there will of course be reference to the odd term students will not be readily familiar with. Pickering’s book engages the interest of the reader with his academic knowledge of theatre, but in a comfortable style. If you were to use any aspect of this text with senior students, they would probably need to be relatively high-flyers who already enjoy the theoretical aspects of theatre, thirsty for greater knowledge in this field. University students will have no trouble understanding this text.

This extract from the entry on Brecht’s concept of ‘alienation’ will offer you an indication:

An acting style is determined by the purpose of the drama, and Brecht had a clear didactic purpose. In Marxist terms he aimed to recreate on stage a ‘dialectic’: a society comprising a number of forces that collide and struggle against one another, and his object was to make the audience adopt an attitude of enquiry and criticism (p.69)

There are many more concepts not listed in this review, as this text probably has over 100 entries in its 260 pages. Each entry is of reasonable length (making it much more than simply a dictionary of theatre terms) followed by a brief list of ‘further reading’ texts for the reader to follow up, if desired.

If you’re theatre practitioner needing some additional theoretical understanding of aspects of your craft, a new Drama/Theatre teacher wishing to fast track your knowledge or an experienced one needing an injection of inspiration of rejuvenation, or perhaps a university Drama student keen to get ahead of the rest with your own personal bible reference of major theatre ideas, theories and models of practice, then Key Concepts in Theatre and Performance comes highly recommended.

Author Kenneth Pickering is currently Chief Examiner for Drama and Speech subjects at Trinity Guildhall, London. Key Concepts in Drama and Performance is not readily available in Australia, but can be ordered via Amazon US or Amazon UK.

11 Responses

  1. Seyi says:

    As a theatre artist, highlight the concept of theatre in three different perspectives

  2. Henry says:

    What are some concepts that Brecht used that highlight his style or work?

  3. idris mk says:

    That is good even thought i did not get it the way i like.
    But thank you.

  4. juian thanks says:

    thank you so much for the notes. being a first yr at UZ they were of much help

  5. PstJosiah John Jossy says:

    Drama has been one of my favourite in which the article was good enough and makes to shapen my understanding about Drama.


    The article has indeed simplified my understanding of drama and its concepts, though it’s precise.

  7. aimee says:

    I am a drama student at level one ncea and this has helped me as drama is my favourite subject and it will help me become a better students 🙂


  8. Anna says:

    o wow. i went with a group of my friends to australia for a month! [a foriegn exchange thing during my summer].
    thank you for some of your notes!

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