General semantics is concerned with the ways in which language and symbols function as representations of our outer environment and our innermost feelings and thoughts. These representations function as maps of our external and internal realities. They help us to understand what we perceive and experience, they guide us in evaluating and navigating our world, and they give us tools for thought and action.
Different representations or maps may be more or less accurate or more or less useful in helping us to achieve certain ends. But different representations or maps may also help us to learn about different aspects of our reality, providing us with different perspectives, and abstracting out of external events different parts of the greater whole. What scientific modes of representation tell us about the world, for example, is quite different from what literary modes reveal, but each one provides us with knowledge that the other cannot.
The theatre is one of our oldest forms of literary expression, one that has an extraordinary influence on our use of language and symbol, from the Attic playwrights of ancient Greece and the introduction of the proscenium arch, and the unparalleled creative production of William Shakespeare in Elizabethan England, to the avant-garde experimentation of Bertolt Brecht in 20th century Germany, and Lin-Manuel Miranda's combination of hip hop and history in the Broadway hit Hamilton.
It follows that it is worth considering questions such as, what is unique to theatre as a mode of representation? What are its advantages and limitations, its problems and potentials? What are the relationships between dramatic performance and language and symbol, spoken and written word, play and script? Importantly, what role can theatre play in helping us to understand our world, in education, in social and political commentary?
Given that programs for the New York Society for General Semantics are held in the historic Players Club, founded by Edwin Booth, the greatest dramatic actor of the 19th century, as a social club "for the promotion of social intercourse between the representative members of the dramatic profession and the kindred professions of literature, painting, sculpture and music, and the patrons of the arts," a panel discussion on theatre was especially appropriate.
The participants on this program were:Robin Beth Levenson, Assistant Professor of Communication Studies at LaGuardia Community College, CUNY, and author of Acting Chekhov in Translation: 4 Plays, 100 Ways (Peter Lang) Publishers, Inc., published in 2018. A graduate of the Media Ecology Doctoral Program at New York University, with an MFA from the University of California at Riverside, her articles have been published in journals such as Dialogues in Social Justice and Communications from the International Brecht Society. Her research explorations include how language influences thought and behavior, and the nature of performance.
Emily Lyon, a Brooklyn-based theatre director and dramaturg who recently created a theatrical piece, How We Hear, inspired by Neil Postman's Amusing Ourselves to Death. Her other directing work includes The Summoning (Best Direction, Best Production: sheNYC), Sword & the Stone/The Tempest tour (Hudson Valley Shakespeare Festival), The Secret in the Wings (Hedgepig Ensemble), Women of Williams County (Best Ensemble: Manhattan International Theatre Festival), Interior: Panic (FringeNYC), Max Frisch’s The Arsonists (DCTV Firehouse), Some of the Side Effects (Best Premiere: UnitedSolo), and As You Like It (Geva Theatre Directing Fellow).
S. Brian Jones, Director of Operations for The Players, recently completed his masters in the Masters of Applied Theater program at CUNY School of Professional Studies. He has served as a Teacher in Residence and Arts Administrator with schools, regional theatre companies and social service agencies, conducted credential training workshops for teachers with Delaware Institute for Arts in Education, served as an advocate for Arts Education within the educational and government systems, and worked at Foundation Theatre, Freedom Theatre, Delaware Theatre Company, Christina Cultural Arts Center, New Castle County Parks and Recreation, La Jolla Playhouse, Horton Grand Theater, Ensemble Arts Theatre, Creative Management Group, Dorwell Productions, Vista Del Mar Child and Family Services, the 1199 Child Care Corporation, The Artist Playground Theater and Inside Broadway. Most recently, he worked as the Education Programs Manager for the award winning Off-Broadway Company, Epic Theatre Ensemble.
M*** S******* is a New York based actor, director and writer. As a performer, he has appeared on Broadway in the 39 Steps and off Broadway in Small World at 59east59, Checkers at the Vineyard Theatre, Tryst at the Irish Repertory Theatre, As Bees In Honey Drown at the Lucille Lortel Theatre. His directorial work has been seen at The Alley Theatre, the Fulton Opera House, Virginia Stage, the Westport Country Playhouse, Arkansas Repertory Theatre, George Street Playhouse and many others. His play, The Dingdong: or How The French Kiss, an adaptation of Feydau’s Le Dindon, premiered Off Broadway and has played around the country. His adaptation of A Christmas Carol, which he will also direct, premieres this December at Florida Repertory Theatre. Mark is a graduate of Brown University and received his MA in Communication and Media Studies from Fordham University, where he teaches film courses. *Name withheld by request.The discussion was moderated by Lance Strate, Professor of Communication and Media Studies at Fordham University, President of the New York Society for General Semantics, member of the Board of Trustees of the Institute of General Semantics.
It was a lively and dramatic discussion!