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Street performance and public ritual in Exeter, 1830s to 1930s: crucial moments and theoretical sketches

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From a study of street performance and public ritual events and practices in Exeter between 1830 and 1930, certain patterns of development and disruption emerge. (Comparable patterns are, no doubt, replicated in urban contexts nationwide.) We find contestation of the right to perform and display (both between authority and public and within authority itself), the pursuit and then abandonment of the popular audiences of local public ritual and performance, a transition from the public mummery of authority to an internalized self-discipline, in a contrary movement the privatization of certain practices and the bureaucratization of others, the ‘rescue’ of seriousness from the popular theatre, the development of a political openness simultaneously anti-popular and anti-participatory, the evolving relationship of ‘armed’ display and actual force, the increase in control of ‘narrative’ on the streets, the contradictory movement towards verisimilitude and its consequent unrepresentativeness, and the modulation of the performance of ‘being a public’ from an active to a passive mode. The argument here is that, in Exeter, these patterns of development, weaving and woven together, have combined to generate a local culture that is remarkably, though not uniquely, translucent and insubstantial - given the city’s status as a ‘historic’ one.

Keywords: Exeter 1830–1930; authority and self-discipline; control of narrative; popular theatre; public ritual; street display

Document Type: Research Article

DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.1386/stap.24.2.95/0

Affiliations: Dartington College of Arts

Publication date: July 1, 2004

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  • Studies in Theatre and Performance is a peer-reviewed journal which fosters a progressive forum to explore the nuances of theatre practice. The journal provides a critical scope to include other related disciplines in its scrutiny of the stage, exploring the interplay between performance, audience and dramatic practice.
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