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What Is Performance Art? How Does It Differ from Theater?

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Essay title: What Is Performance Art? How Does It Differ from Theater?

What is Performance Art? How does it differ from Theater?

The term "Performance Art" started in the United States in the 60's. It was originally used to describe any live artistic event, which included poets, filmmakers, musicians, dancers, etc. Even though the descriptive word came about in the 1960's, there were earlier precedents for performance art. The live performances of the Dadaist meshed poetry and visual arts. The German Bauhaus, founded in 1919, included theater workshops that explored the relationship between space, sound and light. Direct influence also came about later in the 50's on through the 60's with the Beatniks and the happenings that took place in the Lower East Village in NYC. Earlier movements such as the Italian Futurists were also very involved in paving the way for what was to come in the 70's.

By 1970 the term, performance art was used globally and specifically defined as live art, not theater. Even though theater and performance art often times share the same stage, in practice they are very different. Performance art is not a form of representational art, rather a moment of acquiring multiple characters and creating a fusion between one and the next, but never allowing the true self to ever fully disappear. A performer of performance art is usually oneself either telling a story, a feeling, an opinion, whether it be through video, movement, music, television, poetry, sculpture, spoken dialogue or any mix of these. An actor usually is personifying someone else under very specific conditions. Performance art leaves more leeway for improvisational efforts to factor whether it is text based or strictly movement. The script is a security paper reassuring a certain aspect of structure, but does not hold an absolute strict compromise. No two performances are ever really alike. A script for an actor is a bible; it tells how and when an action will happen. All cues, lines and characterization get memorized and obsessively rehearsed so that every time performed an almost identical performance is released. Rehearsals for performance artists are much more conceptual and often times will include researching, gathering props and costumes and having discussions with collaborators in their rehearsal time. Maybe this is so due to the little or no technical training that a performance artist receives.

Performance art is often times very emotional and topical, frequently dealing with current political issues, past issues, radical feelings as well as very personal matters. It can be occupied as a quick method of expression. Issues that are often dealt with are race, class, feminism, war, etc. On the other hand theater deals with dramatic art, where everything is intensified not only by the acting itself, but also with lights, makeup, set designs and actors. Most actors in drama theater are not authors; meanwhile a performance artist is almost always the author, allowing much more freedom of action.

There are many existing factors that differ in theater and performance art. Generally, in theater training is a necessity, virtuosity and skills are highly regarded, where as a performance artist's stage presence as well as the charisma, innovativeness and the topicality are valued. The audience comes to witness the uniqueness of the performance artist, not his/her technical skills. Normally during a performance event a beginning and an end is not a requirement nor does it have to exist at all. On the other hand, even in the most experimental theater -that are not text-based groups- have a beginning, a dramatic peak, and an end. Also theater groups tend to have a more structured and hierarchical work ethic, in which each person has a specific task on a specific level of the triangle; the main actors, the supporting actor, and the technical team. For a performance artist the tasks vary depending on the performance, whether it is a solo in which case, the performer assumes all roles or a piece in which others collaborate. Performance art is in constant flux in this sense.

Performance art has many aspects and viewpoints as to what it encapsulates

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