ABSTRACT

According to Richard Schechner, all performances are demarcated by a specific treatment of time, stemming from their scheduling and duration. In event time,

the elapsed time of the performance is determined by a sequence of events which must be completed for the performance time to come to an end. Examples commonly given are baseball games, horse races, ritual events where an altered state of being is considered the end point, and scripted performances where the written text determines the start and end point. Political protest sometimes takes this form, as in marches to a particular site, or guerrilla theatre that follows a loose but guiding “script”. Alternatively, performances might make use of set time, wherein a clock governs the duration of the event. Examples of this category are football matches, political debates, and any activity where the elapsed time overrides other objectives. This form can be found in scheduled political rallies, and events such as Winter Soldier that are specifically advertised or permitted for particular spans of time. Clearly most elite political performances take place in set time. Schechner points out that set time induces particular tendencies regarding interpretation, due to the privileging of event duration over content (Schechner 1988, 9). In part, set time can convey a sense of urgency due to the limited amount of time available to convey and debate ideas. This may endow the protagonists of political utterances – the speech makers, question takers and the like – with a greater degree of authority as they are insulated from protracted questioning or extensive outside influence. Furthermore, the structural framework itself demonstrates the supremacy of regulation and tradition. A markedly different approach can be discerned in non-elite political actions, which typically rely on event time to gain and hold the public’s attention. Specifically, more marginal political activities tend to be built around objectives that are unrelated to the amount of time required to achieve them. The content of these actions can range from violent terrorist attacks to pacifist protest, but they are united by their similar approach to performance time, in which content is privileged over duration. The effect here is to emphasize the importance of the actors’ objectives, and to convey a sense of immediacy. As well, actions that follow event time often imply the need for a decision or intervention of some kind by non-participants. This casts onlookers in a more active role, in which they are tacitly asked to make choices about their resultant action or inaction. Lastly, Schechner describes symbolic time. In this category, performers portray time at a different pace to actual lived time. Examples include fantasy play and make believe, as well as theatrical performances that seek to portray a greater span of time than the duration of the play itself. In addition, symbolic time is at work in historical re-enactments and rituals that re-perform historical moments (Schechner 1988, 8). Some of the most creative anti-war events of the post-9/11 era fall into this category, as they deliberately portray alternative histories and chronologies. While symbolic time is less frequently seen in political performances, an increasingly mediatized environment results in broadcast images that can depict actual historic footage among present day actions, altering the current time-space with overlaps from a previous age.