A comparative study of the spatial semiotics of theatre and contemporary Church of
PhD Thesis: Abstract
The principle outcome of this research project is the methodology developed to make
meaningful comparison between the spatial semiotics of theatre and liturgy. As part
of this process, Edmund Husserl’s phenomenological quest for ‘God without God’ is
invoked as the foundation for an analysis of liturgical space as it is perceived
in performance, rather than as conceived of in the minds of theologians.
Having established the common, performative, nature of theatrical and liturgical
events (through reference to performance anthropologists including Richard Schechner),
a methodology is devised which enables a detailed account to be made of the fluctuating
phenomena generated by the spatial dynamics of performance (drawing on the work of
Patrice Pavis). Whilst the architectural nature of space is considered as an element
contributing to the overall perception of space, it is not the principle subject
of analysis; space is considered as a fluctuating and negotiated construction, rather
than a material constant. The semiological analysis is achieved through the application
of Greimassian semiotics to a narrative of space which is defined through a process
of syntagmatic analysis and annotation (the work of Gerard Lukken is particularly
significant in the adaptation of Greimas’s work).
Although the initial intention was to subject the spatial element of entire performance
events to analysis, the level of detail required means that a more restricted study
has been undertaken in which only the initial moments of the event (from the gathering
process to the first entrance of the principle performer (theatrical or liturgical))
have been considered. Accordingly, case studies have been chosen to represent significant
variations in the way which the (phenomenologically significant) establishment of
embodied presence is established in performance.
Through the comparison of theatre and liturgical case studies, distinctions are drawn,
and fundamental parallels identified, in the manner in which space in performance
separates the participants into different functional groupings and either emphasises
that separation, or mitigates against it.