Stagings of the Sign: Semiotics and Spanish Experimental Theatre

Pasero-O'Malley, Anthony, Spanish - Graduate School of Arts and Sciences, University of Virginia
Anderson, Andrew, Department of Spanish, Italian & Portuguese, University of Virginia

This dissertation offers a different – and in may respects new – look at both the dramatic textual components and the conditions of production and performance of plays by Federico García Lorca, Luis Riaza, and Mar Gómez Glez through the critical prism of semiotics. Taken contextually, the works examined here – El público, El desván de los machos y el sótano de las hembras, and 39 Defaults – can be viewed as responding to prevalent social and aesthetic preoccupations of the time in which they were written and, as such, reflect three unique historical periods of modern Spanish theatre history. In order to achieve a wide rendering of the totality of the theatrical experience, my work draws on a variety of framing techniques such as the architecture and venue of performance, the role of publicity and interviews, and the influence on reception by way of reviews and critiques. To this I add the supplementary visual archival materials in the form of performance photographs and video as a means of stitching together an adequate panorama of the theatrical landscape in which these plays were staged, as well as offering a deeper understanding of directorial choices and public reception.
Chapter one develops the applicability of the theoretical framework of semiotics to the examination of the signs comprising both the dramatic text as well as the theatrical performance. Taking as a point of departure the generic distinctiveness of theatre, this chapter traces the evolution of the conceptual notion of the sign and its relation to theatre and performance through the writings of figures such as Ferdinand de Saussure, Charles Sanders Peirce, Tadeusz Kowzan, Elaine Aston and George Savona, Marco de Marinis, and Una Chaudhuri. In the second chapter I offer a brief overview of experimentalism in the Spanish theatre scene from the late nineteenth-century to the present day. This chapter is further subdivided into three distinct sections corresponding to the specific time periods of the principal playwrights studied here, beginning with the late 1800s to 1936 (the year of the outbreak of the Spanish Civil War), moving on to the late dictatorship and the decade immediately following the death of the dictator Francisco Franco, and concluding with contemporary Spanish theatre in the twenty-first century. Chapter three analyzes García Lorca’s El público and Lluís Pasqual’s 1987 premiere in the Teatro María Guerrero (Madrid). A survey of the material conditions and textual history of the script serves as an initial basis from which to examine the range of signs present in the play while likewise furnishing an exploration regarding directorial decisions and how these might affect audience interpretation. Framing techniques and materials further furnish a holistic insight as to the nature of the premiere. The fourth chapter turns to El desván and examines the inscription of metatheatre, transvestism, and performative role reversal as mechanisms deployed by the character of Don to exert hegemonic control over the ruled subjects of Pti Prans and Leidi. I then move to a contextual analysis of the nature and decline of Francoist censorship, and the premiere of Riaza’s play at the Festival de Sitges in 1973. Since there is relatively little preserved documentation of the premiere, I draw on subsequent productions by the Aula de Teatro de la Universidad de Valladolid and Ditirambo Teatro Estudio as points of comparison. I argue that such a comparative approach redounds to the advantage of my discussion of Riaza’s play, as these three productions allow us to trace a development of the material conditions and political factors that played out in 1970s Spain. Finally, my fifth chapter examines the ruptures of linguistic signification in the one-act 39 Defaults in conjunction with the heteroglossic nature of the dramatic text through the playwright’s incorporation of multiple languages, registers, and set-phrases. I additionally highlight the transnational, microtheatrical, and site-specific nature of Gómez Glez’s play as principally derived from its staging in New York’s Casa Mezcal by the Fifth Wall Theater company. This dissertation elucidates the ways in which theatre semiotics permits a privileged look at the theatrical sign systems encoded within the dramatic script, while an analysis of the premieres and performances of these plays showcases the complex processes of negotiation underlying the passage from page to stage.

PHD (Doctor of Philosophy)
Semiotics, Spanish Experimental Theatre, Theatre and Performance Studies
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