Puchner, Walter, Folk Theatre Studies Ι-II

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– Πούχνερ, Βάλτερ, Θεατρολογική Λαογραφία Α΄: Τα Δρώμενα της Ελλάδας και της Βαλκανικής. Από το μαγικοθρησκευτικό έθιμο στη λαϊκή διασκέδαση (Αθήνα: Αρμός, 2016), 482 σ. [Puchner, Walter, Folk Theatre Studies Ι: The Dromena of Greece and the Balkans. From Magical-Religious Custom to Popular Entertainment (Athens: Armos, 2016) pp. 482] ISBN:  9789605279714

 – Πούχνερ Βάλτερ, Θεατρολογική Λαογραφία Β΄: Το Παραδοσιακό Λαϊκό Θέατρο στην Ελλάδα και τη Βαλκανική. Οι πρώτες μορφές του θεάτρου (Αθήνα: Αρμός, 2017), 406 σ. [Puchner, Walter, Folk Theatre Studies ΙΙ: Traditional Folk Theatre in Greece and the Balkans. The First Forms of Theatre (Athens: Armos, 2017), pp. 406.]ISBN: 9789606150098

 

 Eleni PAPALEXIOU

University of the Peloponnese

 

Walter Puchner is a distinguished and award-winning emeritus professor of Theatre Studies at the University of Athens, as well as a corresponding member of the Austrian Academy of Sciences. He has published (in Greek, German and English) more than three hundred scholarly studies on Greek and Balkan theatre, comparative folklore, Byzantine and Modern Greek Studies, theatre and drama theory. This book review concerns his two-volume work, with the general title Folk Theatre Studies, published in Greek by Armos publications. These are the last two volumes of a multi-volume series on folk studies edited by the author. This project is the fruit of long-term efforts and extensive field research, not only in Greece but also in other Balkan and Eastern Mediterranean countries.

The starting point of this research is in the early 1970s, when the then-young researcher worked on his doctoral thesis at the University of Vienna, studying Modern Greek traditional shadow theatre. Since then, his scientific trajectory has been marked by a series of landmarks, reflected in a great number of monographs and studies. Of key importance is his voluminous work in German, entitled Brauchtumserscheinungen im griechischen Jahreslauf und ihre Beziehungen zum Volkstheater. Theaterwissenschaftlich-volkskundliche Querschnittstudien zur südbalkan-mediterranen Volkskultur [Custom phenomena in the Greek calendar and their relations with folk theatre. Theatre and Folklore Studies on the Folk Culture of the Southern Balkans and the Mediterranean Area] (Vienna: Österreichisches Museum für Volkskunde, 1977). The above-mentioned research work demonstrates Walter Puchner’s tireless efforts to deal with a wide, fluid and barely studied field, which stretches across the undefinable boundary between ritual performance and performing arts. The ‘gray’, shadowy zone of the para-theatrical but intensively performative phenomena of the dromena and folk theatre is illuminated and analysed in the two volumes, which, respectively, navigate through two fields, folklore and performing arts studies, introducing a new discipline, folk theatre studies.

In the first volume, The Dromena of Greece and the Balkans. From the Magical-Religious Tradition to Folk Entertainment, thanks to a thorough study of unpublished sources and folklore archives, 1,668 cases of dromena in mainland Greece and the wider sphere of Balkan and Asia Minor Hellenism are examined. These happenings developed on the transitional fringes between traditional events of religious and ritualistic content and folk entertainment activities in Balkan rural communities. The objects of study include phenomena such as rituals of awakening, symbolic-magic objects, contesting, mimetic and ecstatic acts (including the primitive phallic acts that formed the matrix of ancient Greek comedy), metamorphosis through the use of masks and disguise, carnival celebrations, zoomorphism, and imitative, parodic and dialogic acts. The culminating chapter prepares the reader for the second volume, which approaches the passage from dromenon to drama from a theoretical viewpoint.

In the second volume, Traditional Folk Theatre in Greece and the Balkans. The First Forms of Theatre, the research remains in the field of performativity, but now it leaves behind the para-theatrical primitive forms and dromena, and enters into folk theatre itself. The area of ​​Southeastern Europe and the Eastern Mediterranean is ideally suited for this research, as it is particularly rich in different forms of performativity. According to Walter Puchner, this richness and variety arises from the inherent theatricality of traditional culture, as well as a Mediterranean idiosyncrasy.

As an adept theoretician of theatre and drama, Walter Puchner employs the terminology of the modern scientific field of the performing arts in order to analyse, in six extensive book chapters, the major landmarks in the history of traditional folk theatre: (a) traditional puppet theatre (with dolls, with puppets on strings, or with two-dimensional figures) in the Balkans and Greece in a comparative approach; (b) the history of Karaghiozis/Karagöz in the Balkan peninsula to study the assimilation of Ottoman shadow theatre into local societies (e.g. Romania, Maghreb, Greece); (c) folk adaptations of the learned drama of Venetian-occupied Crete during the Renaissance and Baroque eras, which fluctuate between high literature and carnival dromenon, written transmission and oral tradition;  (d) the Zakynthian ‘Homily’ folk theatre, its origins from the Commedia dell’Arte, the popular tradition and the literary Ionian theatre, and its peculiarities; (e) aspects of religious theatre in the Balkans, with mass participation and religious propaganda; and (f) amateur performances in the Balkan countryside, including both traditional theatre and innovative forms. This book completes Puchner’s magnum opus, his 14- volume folklore series published by Armos.

Written in flowing and comprehensible language, these two volumes can be read with interest by the specialized reader as well as by the wider public. The books contain editions of several of the works they analyse, and offer abundant bibliographic and archival sources and references, as well as a wealth of informative explanations. It is a most welcome editorial endeavour by the outstanding publishing house Armos, which has been active for many years in the domain of the humanities and the arts.

This two-volume work, with the general title Folk Theatre Studies, although focusing on the area of ​​Southeastern Europe and the Eastern Mediterranean, is not geographically and thematically limited. It is a valuable contribution to theatrical folklore, especially in its theoretical dimension, with application to corresponding phenomena of other regions. Both the Greek and the wider European theatre studies community owes much to the pioneering researcher Walter Puchner, who has opened up unknown chapters in the phenomenon of the theatre, and has revealed many of its obscure and forgotten aspects. Recently (2017) his book Greek Theatre between Antiquity and Independence. A History of Reinvention from the Third Century BC to 1830 was published by Cambridge University Press. It is the only monograph on the early, little-known years of Modern Greek theatre published in English and therefore accessible to the wider, non-Greek-speaking public.

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