chapter  3
9 Pages

Olfactory performances

BySally Banes

The smells of Western culture were attenuated throughout much of the twentieth century; modern sanitation reduced “bad” odors in daily life, while changing values diminished the rich use of scents for special occasions, such as religious rituals and theatrical events (see Classen et al. 1994). The beginnings of Western theatre in ancient Greek festivals like the Eleusinian mysteries (in modern times considered the prototype of the modern Gesamtkunstwerk) were suffused with intense aromas of all kinds: including fruit, floral, grain, and animal offerings; blood and burning animal flesh; wine, honey, and oil libations; and the burning of incense and other materials in sacred fires (see Burkert 1985). In our times, the use of incense in Catholic churches constitutes a diminished survival of the ritual use of smell in religious performances. Scented theatre programs and perfume fountains were only two of the nineteenthcentury olfactory devices in Western theatres (see Haill 1987), but during most of the twentieth century, the “fourth wall” conventions of realism generally divided the spectator from the mainstream stage and permitted only sight and sound to cross its divide.2