Mnemonic recording of the theatre

If by performance we mean the “poetics of remembrance”, since it is there that the playwright’s and the actor’s memory as well as the spectators memory and social memory  creatively meet, then the theatre can be called the “art of memory” ( Samuel 1994), reflection and repetitive appearance of the past in the present and, therefore, the timely presence or the timeless past, through which cultural memory (as a collective product) is enclaved inside the individual memory (as a subjective creation) of the viewer with a holistic reference ( Schudson 1989 : 105- 112). Subsequently, the theatre becomes a privileged field of repetition, memory and mnemonic reconstruction of the texts and their performed visualisation ( Malkin 2002),  a timely cultural phaenomenon comprising and deriving meaning from the individual memory of the viewer, as well as the collective memory of the audience, with which it exists in a constant dialogue ( Jardine 2005 ). It is both a metaphorical and literal space where a “trial of memory” occurs, on the instance of the stage act of texts and “writings” of the past, which despite the fact that they took place elsewhere / at another time they make an appearance here/now ( Patsalidis  210:57 ).

The recognition of this role played by the mnemonic function, approached and interpreted in a variety of ways, starts with the Aristotelian recognition of “mimesis”, whereas something similar is also true for Stanislavski (from a different viewpoint) in relation to the actor, who cannot be transformed from “physical” to “acting” stage person without their “emotional” or “affective” memory (Stanislavski). This constitutes “many kept traces of past experiences” which have been left on the central nervous system of the individual-actor, in such a way that the nerves involved in a given experience become more sensitive when a similar stimulus appears in the present (Moore 21984). This “affective memory” not only keeps the trace of a previous experience, but is combined with feeling and experiential occasions of the present, in a way that through the individualised experiential past, the powers that will help the actor realise their role emerges (ibid 59-61).

Nor can Brecht’s distancing do away with the function of memory in the way the stage spectacle is perceived. Both the actor on the stage and the spectator in the stalls, evading identification, never cease to recall to memory the awareness of reality, which is repeated theatrically, transcribing in a different manner but with the same result the past time of the play into the present time of the performance, thus mnemonically inscribing the past onto the present. 

According to the above, the theatrical performance is a unique occurrence, happening just once, limited in time and artistically meteorising between an elusive current assessment and a constantly decreasing mnemonic recording, which makes the expression of any judgement on the part of the viewing subject rather relative and precarious. This is because during the performance, in front of the viewer, a stage reality takes place which is naturally impossible to be perceived and decoded identically by all those present, due to the various subjective and objective, measurable and immeasurable factors, one of which, the memory with its different forms and dimensions, is a very important one.

The ceaseless change and evolution of pictures and symbols, which come out on stage as holistic theatrical speech, results in emerging feelings and stimulates the viewers’ conscience, thus finally being recorded as “memory”. In its own turn it becomes a starting point and a prerequisite for even more mnemonic processes, which, when stratigraphically added, project the past of the story in the present of the theatrical expression (performance), whereas equally problematic is any effort to later reflect upon the memories caused by the particular performance in the viewer’s conscience every time, as he is trying to recall to memory the impressions of a spectacle they attended in the past in a critical and distanced manner.

It can thus be concluded that the perception of the viewer (and the audience at large) have of the theatre (of one particular performance or generally) constitutes but the sum of different (possibly) but similar ingredients, which as a whole derive (directly or indirectly) from the concept of memory. This is exactly the question at hand: highlighting the mechanisms of mnemonic recording of the stage spectacle, awareness of the visible and elusive elements affecting the viewer’s conscience and how the performance data get inscribed on the viewer’s conscience via the psychic-intellectual and biological functions.

Concept and properties of memory

Memory, as a way of retaining information of the past, refers to a set of physical functions, thanks to which the human being is able to energise impressions, pictures  and events which, despite the fact that they took place long ago, are represented as if occurring in the present ( Schacter 2001). From this point of view the study of memory is related to psychiclogy, neurophysiology, biology, medicine as well as sociology, history and generally civilisation ( Ηutton 1993). Memory is always inscribed in the present, being some kind of restoration or recreation of the past, according to individual and collective needs and expectations of the present ( Nora 1992). The concepts and the contents,  as well as the aspects of approach, starting from individual memory, moving on to collective memory ( Halbwachs 1964), and ending up to  emphasising at times on its private or public, its conscious or unconscious, its intentional or accidental ( Olick Robbins 1998: 111-112, Casey  ²2000 ).

However, memory is not history. Though history exposes the differences, the distances and the confrontations, memory, on the other hand, seeks the similarities and the duration in time. It remembers what from the past remains alive in the community to which it belongs and does not go beyond the limits of the community.  

How does memory work? What is the relationship between the memory and the actual occurrence itself? ( Schacter 2000). How does the subject formulate categories and stereotypes, according to which criteria and for what reasons, especially where the theatre is concerned? 

What remains on the viewer’s memory after the performance?

• words and phrases with a particular conceptual gravity and value content?

• facial expressions, actors’ movements and gestures of a characteristic force and artistic perfection?

• elements of the visual settings, the music or the other secondary codes of the stage act?

• occurrences irrelevant to the aesthetic result of the performance, connected to the place and time of the performance?

The mechanisms and level of memory functions will be analysed below. 

Factors stimulating memory

  • The place/ The perception

It is one of the first parameters determining the viewer’s memory ( Carlson 2003). The kind of building (neoclassical, modern, industrial) and the stage (Italian, Elizabethan, circular, polymorphic), its relationship to the stalls and its other features ( foyer, facilities) its history ( archaeological, classical, contemporary) form a special contact between the viewer and the stage spectacle often determining the final impression acquired.

Even the viewer’s position and their relationship to the others, which develops a particularly interactive relationship between the certain audience (as a group) and the actors on stage, the kind of theatrical stage and the various communication capabilities derived from it, the place of the theatrical building within the urban network or outside of it in the periphery, in the suburbs, in the outskirts or the provinces, the type of building (open or covered) constitute some of the conditions determining the outcome of the perception with sociological and not aesthetic criteria. At the same time accessibility and watching conditions, the various spatial data defining the place as well as sociologically measurable factors affecting the viewer’s communication with the particular spectacle greatly influence the mnemonic recording and form the impression inscribed on the conscience. 

It should not be ignored either that history plays a role and a theatrical space may have a particular gravity because of its past, for instance, Brecht’s Berliner Ensemble in Berlin or Karolos  Koun’s  Art Theatre   in Athens. The viewer’s participation in a performance taking place there, is highly likely to be kept in memory not so much because of its aesthetic/artistic result, but because of the personal, experiential presence in the particular place.

Mechanisms of manipulating and influencing public opinion, such as theatrical criticism, mass media, start system, should be added, as objective conditions, but also psychic-intellectual and other subjective factors, such as expectations, tastes, social psychology, collective memory, attitudes, which as a whole direct the viewer’s communication with the spectacle and indirectly influence the mnemonic recording of the relevant impressions.

Indicatively, it can be mentioned that getting to a Greek archaeological site (Epidaurus, Dodoni, Herrod Atticus Oden in Athens) and attending a performance (usually of ancient Greek drama), acts as a catalyst in the impression formed and the memory that remains not only because of the best and most essential capabilities of aesthetically acting out the stage spectacle, but also the objective data of the viewer’s communication with it. Perception changes considerably if occurring from above to below (as in a Greco-Roman amphitheatre) or if occurring frontally (as in the case of the Italian stage). Equally different communication outcomes occur amongst the audience (as in circular stages), or when the relationship between stage and stalls changes during the performance, making the contact between actors and audience quite interactive and participatory ( as in the case of the polymorphic stage).

The general conditions of getting to the particular theatrical place and participation in the spectacle presented, under a wider sociological aspect, also play an important role in instilling memories in the viewer. The way the tickets are acquired, getting to the theatre hall, various accidental unimportant factors, place-time conditions and generally all objective and subjective reasons, which, regardless of the aesthetic outcome of the performance, formed the broader frame of reference and  made sense of it, constitute the particular structural ingredients making up the viewer’s memory.

  • The play/ dramaturgy

The subject matter of the play, the values and the messages derived from it, the relationships and the circumstances experienced by the heroes, the characters presented, all influence the viewer’s conscience and catalytically affect their memory, intensifying of weakening oblivion brought about by time distance from the place and time of the acting persons on the one hand and the objective time on the other. The most interesting involvement of memory appears in the case of “classical” texts, because they are the “most lasting repository of peoples’ cultural memories (Patsalidis 2010 :68). This way  heroes and characters such as Oedipus, Antigone, Macbeth and Othello, given the intensity of the circumstances they experience and the broadth of properties they express, are difficult to forget and be swept away by the various relevant impressions the viewer  totally acquires from their rich theatrical experience. In parallel, the visualised symbols and the objects inscribed in the in the text structures, the descriptions and instruction for place and time, as expressed by the playwright’s instructions, such as the skull Hamlet is holding in his hand  (Perkins- Wilder 2010) or the hump and dysmorphy of King Richard III

in the homonymous Shakespearean plays,  the rock in Caucasus where Prometheus is chained in Aeschylus’ play   Prometheus Bond and the circle engraved by judge Azdac in the Brecht’s  The Caucasian chalk  circle acquire a special significance for the function of memory, being exceptionally visualised symbols of circumstances and concepts inseparably connected to the play where they appear, thus enabling their mnemonic recording as signifiers and through them the easier recall of the play as signified.

Beyond this mnemonic function of the textual elements, stage instructions play a more important role, as indicators of communication between present and past and mechanisms of access and understanding what has irrevocably happened, but mimetically reoccurring via its stage formation. Because the theatrical performance is an indirect system of visualising the past, a dimension of  reviving what once occurred  and its mnemonic recording, the focus being the viewer ( Maklin ²2002: 2-3). During the performance, the playwright’s speech inscribed in the text consciously or not, at times as a memory and at other times as oblivion, causes redemption of the conscience, sometimes supressing and other times reforming, while other times silencing and hiding things from the past, in a way that a renegotiation takes place, or even a resignification of the circumstances and experiences referred to in it.  Playwrights with a different voice and means, everyone from their own point of view, aesthetics and ideology, submit their own proposals for an approach and renegotiation of the past by the present, through the development of a particular way of managing the collective memory created for it.

Consequently, the way Shakespeare,  Pirandello, Ο’ Neill,  Brecht, Voltaire or Pinter write is different not just because the aesthetics and subject matter of their plays is different, but also because their mnemonic recording of the past is completely different from one another’s. The case of plays whose subject matter or heroes have been used by different playwrights with different aesthetics and at different times are really representative, as the creators of one historic period attempt to intervene creatively in the memory of the past,  adjusting it or  describing it  according to their own expectations. Such cases often occur in the History of World Theatre production, such as Cleopatra by G.B Giraldi, V.Alfieri and V. Sardou, Danton by C.Petrescou , and R. Rollan, Death of Danton by G. Büchner , Galileo by L. Nemeth  and B.Brecht and so on. In those, both the viewer and the scholar can easily observe the different handling of the subject matter and the staging of History, which up to a point combines the personal aspect of each writer as well as what is given in the common cultural memory they possess.

It can be equally claimed that this is true for the receivers of the spectacle in the theatrical room themselves, since the final picture remains in memory and the opinion to be formed about the certain performance is composed of the individual and collective expectations and stereotypes at work in the certain society and era, in combination with the playwright’s vision and the type of play, the aesthetics and ideology it expresses through the stage formulation of the drama, the contextually inscribed by the writer memory of time in relation to the trauma and experiences, the expectations and interests of the viewer as a person and as a member of a social group, revives and returns to the forefront in new versions. Imaginary or real, fictional or realistic representations or the past historic or symbolic place and time, topics, motives, images and circumstances make their presence apparent through similar or different texts, contexts and intertextual references, in different kinds or writing, aesthetic viewpoints and ideologies, which tie up the past at a determined present place and (that of the theatrical performance) and expect the viewer to attribute meaning and value to it (Schroeder 1989).

The viewer, during the stage spectate, inscribes in the void of their personal objective time the illusionary time of the performance and remaining trapped in an illusionary world, is surrounded by mnemonic illustrations of the past, transferred in the form of mnemonic circumstances of the present. In this particular visualisation of time, every viewer, individually, as well as the audience as collective conscience, communicates with the past and perceives it in a subjective way, depending on both intrinsic (psychic-intellectual) and extrinsic (social, artistic) factors. 

The performance/ The stage codes

This category includes the dominant performing elements which constitute the basic stage codes of the performance and imprint the behaviour and the circumstances, the confrontations and the characters of the heroes in an audio-visual manner. The primary parameter is acting and the partial communication systems into which the morphological/expressive, phonetic/phonologic and kinetic/kinetological code of the actor can be analysed. The intentional and conscious alteration of the physiognomic characteristics with grimaces and muscular tensions of the face, as well as the distorted articulation, changes in the tone and pronunciation, the intensity of speech and word stress, but even the way in which the actor moves on stage and places themselves in its space, makes use of their physical capabilities and manipulates the various parts of the body constitute exceptionally impressive performing points, easily imprinted in the viewer’s memory. Because it is the actor who inscribes with their own body the memory of the theatrical past in the stage experience of the current performance, bridging the gap between what has already occurred and what the  spectator watches to be performed in front of him.  Hence, it can be concluded that every role (especially every great classical role) is “haunted” with the memories of the past (Carlson 2003: 52-95), that is, the great  performers that acted the roles on stage (Hamlet by L. Olivier, Macbeth by O. Welles, Oedipus by Aem. Veakis, Mother Courage and Her Children  by Helene Weigel and so on). Any new performance or those roles has to compete to those inherited from the past and it in itself aims at becoming a new addition to the gallery of the viewer’s memory.

Thus, it is not so much the meaning of the actor’s utterances at the particular performance, which the viewer has mnemonically recorded, as it is the certain way  the role was performed by the certain actor. This is the reason why actors sometimes resort to a “manière”, that is a standardisation of their acting, accentuating the superficial elements which are more familiar and easy to project onto the viewers, who, impressed by the directness and expressiveness of these elements that make the actor recognisable, demand the actor to constantly project them. In this manner the acting art gets degraded, but its mnemonic recording is empowered, transforming the limited time attributes of the certain performance into a timelessly recognisable and memorable value.

However, apart from the acting, there are more elements of the performance which function as “mnemonic guides” and contribute to the survival of the impression  caused by the viwer’s  participation in the particular stage act. One such element is the direction, which aims at conveying better or differently from previous cases the stage act of a theatrical text.

This means that every direction comes into competition with the memory of the past, that of previous performances of the same play and has the ambition to take its place and suppress its memory into oblivion. In its own turn, though, this process presupposes the mnemonic recording of the past both on the part of the director and that of the viewer.  The former because in trying to present their own “viewpoint” they have to consider those of the past, which they are trying to erase from the viewer’s memory, and the latter because remembering the last one, directly or indirectly refers to the previous ones as a starting point for any criticism or comparison attempted. Thus, the gradually added mnemonic recordings of previous performances constitute the directing and performing history of the particular play, necessary for the general study of the History of the Theatre.

One more code is the three-dimensional visual decoration and the settings as well as the two-dimensional pictorial illustration of space in stage design, the actors’ costumes and accessories, the music, lighting and various audio-visual effects employed in the particular spectacle. They in turn comprise firm mnemonic points of reference, easily recalled from oblivion, get restructured and reassessed, not only for the final assessment of the previous performance, but even for the assessment of a current one, to which the memory functions make comparisons. This way the theatrical past interferes with the present and memory as a basic point of reference giving meaning, consciously or subconsciously interferes in the formulation of any judgement in relevance to the current function of theatrical communication. Indicatively, some performances becomes emblematic on account of the great acting, the impressive directing or the visual framework, which have separately or combined been engraved in the memory of the audience, which easily recalls them when asked to from within the multitude of similar theatrical experiences of the fast. Such examples include P. Brook’s Mahabharata, Ar. Mnouchkine’s L’Indiade, G. Strehler’s The Tempest and D. Rontiris’s Electra.  

These dynamics of this stage image of high audio-visual content which captures the viewing conscience can also act as the basic mnemonic material easily recalled to the conscious level, proving the superiority of the performance over the textual element of the theatre.

Types of theatrical memory


As clinical studies have shown, the neural network of the brain is responsible for the development of the memory. The information entering the brain, pass along the neural network and via electric activity get transmitted from one neuron to the other, transferring the information in the form of microwaves. Memory consists of  the sum of changes and alterations that take place and remain after any previously occurring activity or experience ( Schacter 1996 ). The links that exist between neurons change constantly accumulating knowledge depending on age and particular features of the brain structure of each individual, which is unique and causes a different response to similar external stimuli and experiences.                                                                                                                    

The advantages and structure of the links between neurons, their flexibility and constant movement determine the power of the stored memory based on some characteristic systems and components (Cacioppo – Bernstain 2005). Amongst them perceptual encoding of information can be mentioned, which determines which of this information will turn into memories,  as they are connected to the place and time where and when they occurrence took place. Next is the correlative function, which assesses and defines, organises and stores information, in relation to previous, responding to the stimulus perceived by the brain capability, whereas, finally, a decision is made, which makes use of the already stored information and supervises its classification and development.

All these procedures and subsystems of memory are organised in such a way that they function automatically and in combination, resulting in the mnemonic recording of an experience or a stimulus, which arises depending on the various psychic-intellectual functions, the role of which has systematically been studied by contemporary neuro-science (Cacioppo 2002 ).

It has thus been observed that emotion and excitement have a strong effect on the formulation of memory as well as emotional identification and focus of attention.  Certain words or phrases with contents referring to the viewing conscience become more significant and undergo more systematic elaboration than others which remain neutral, resulting in staying longer as a memory in the viewer’s conscience.  The role is played by “mood”, that is, the tendency of the subject to acquire information of similar emotional content as their own experiential condition. An equally important parameter for the way memory functions is how conscience observes the “already known”. Because, according to the mechanisms of the mnemonic systems mentioned above, the decision for making use of and classifying information is based to a certain extent on the existing or not certainty as to whether the information the brain receives is really new or not, whether there is or not a similar representation resembling the new.  In such a case, the mnemonic recording occurs automatically and remains strong, whereas in a different case it has to overcome a number of obstacles, and even if it does, there are not certainties about its longevity.

All these general observations and findings regarding the way the brain works, the way external stimuli are perceived and stored in memory can be multidimensional traced in the theatre, where the above mentioned parameters particularly occur, the theatre being a complex artistic event and social phenomenon.  

The emotional identification with the actor, which greatly causes the experiential methexis in the stage act, as well as the psychic contact, the person-viewer’s “mood” to receive information of such content that can be identical or similar to their own illusionary condition, can perfectly serve as a drive towards the making and development of memory.

The same occurs when attention if focused or when there is emotional excitement, both of which are features of the bidirectional communication taking place during the performance between stage and stalls causing the experiential involvement of the audience with the stage act. The actors’ utterances, phrases and concepts with the intensive value content which energises the audience’s conscience in combination with the challenging audio-visual stimuli causing the secondary codes of the performance (settings, decoration, costumes)  can sufficiently stimulate those brain workings leading to creating and storing memory in both the micro and macro level.

  2. Emotional

It correlates to psychic and emotional conditions (“passion”, “mercy”, “fear” and “catharsis”) which occurred in the viewer’s conscience by the play and the performance. In correspondence to this type of memory of the actor ( Moore 21984), the same is developed in the audience.

The actor on stage, in order to build the role, relies not only in the contextual features of the character they play (as described by the playwright), but mainly on their own psychic-physiology, their own experiences and memories of the past, which they recall onto the present, in order to be assisted in a faithful performance of the role.

But the viewer’s memory functions in almost the same way. The recording and assessment of the spectacle taking place in the present, is based on the recollection of similar or relevant subjective or objective, real or artistic, social or theatrical experiences of the past.  In this manner, what happened in the past and was mnemonically recorded becomes in its own turn a “meaning vehicle”, in order for the current spectacle to be received and perceived. In this meaning, the viewer’s memory is but a constant reminiscence, transforming the past into a present which reforms the opinion we have about time, since the present is but an elusive but existing recollection of the past (Schudson 1989 : 105-112).

Feelings, emotions, circumstances, experiences and generally all derived from the communication of the audience with the stage spectacle remain intensely inscribed in memory and will become points of reference and meaning-giving for any possible similar future experience, which will acquire meaning not in itself, but consciously or not in relation to those of the past.

Subsequently, the intensity of dramatic scenes and the perfection of acting, the aesthetic delight in the performance and the powerful communicability between stage and stalls can almost never be measured objectively, since every time, directly or indirectly they comprise a whole of psychic-emotional as well as spiritual, even physical factors, which constitute the concept of perception and in their own turn form the final opinion of the viewer about the performance.

All these are caused by the mnemonic recall of the past and its activation in the present, which in a similar manner is transformed into a new mnemonic experience which is added to the existing ones and so on. It can be thus concluded that the present of the theatrical performance is but an intervention of the past into the present time and an interpretation of “today” based on “yesterday” ( Samuel 1994)

3. Physical/ Experiential

The Platonic distinction between “body” and “soul” and the Cartesian distinction between “res cogitans´” and “res extenza”, giving prominence to the spiritual dimension, downgrade the physical experience an the senses as a source of knowledge. Questioning and criticising these views on a philosophical level overturned the traditionally held impression about the origin and the mechanisms that establish memory. M. Merlau Ponty in his Phenomenology of Perception (2002), supports the idea that perception and rationalisation of our environment does not occur only spiritually but also physically. Starting from there, current thinkers  talk about embodiment procedures and psychic-somatic training, which establish a new reality, extremeley interesting for the theatre and the actor, which they call “aesthetic bodymind” (Zanilli 2008).

This concept has been put to very good use in actors’ education since the times of Stanislavski and Copeau, who supported the procedure of bodily awareness, derived from training, resulting in the acquisition of self-awareness and ability for expression via the somatisation of energy (Fischer-Lichte 2008: 98), which in its turn leads to the extreme of Grotowski’s “via negativa” ( Grotowski 1968:16).

In this meaning, the body remembers ( Casey  ²2000: 146-180). Experiences and past occurrences are mnemonically inscribed not only through psychic-spiritual stimuli, but also purely bodily data which are recalled mnemonically through the body (Kott 1992). This way the viewer can remember a performance or theatrical event, not only because of the effect it had on their conscience as an artistic outcome, but also as experienced occurrence the body itself lived during the particular performance, or  in connection to it, but regardless its aesthetic result.

Any extraordinary occurrence, a trauma, any incidence experienced by the body, anything felt physically, directly or indirectly connected to the stage spectacle, may all stimulate memory. Comparing this particular bodily memory to any other of psychic-spiritual origin, it can be easily concluded that the former is less reliable in its details, more impressionistic and less convincing in its interpretation, therefore, of less importance than other types of memory. Despite all this, it is of great significance because “the body is capable of perceiving and acquiring more types of information , not only verbal but also audio-visual and ensure the variety, flexibility and vigour of cultural heritage as well as the ability to adjust to different conditions and social environments” ( Sari 2008:316). Exactly as the musician, the instrument soloist “remembers” physically the way certain scores can be played in such a way that their own fingers on the violin, the piano or the guitar “guide” the interpretation even before the musician themselves consciously does so, or the well-trained actor “gets into” the role completely and without any mental elaboration, so the viewer remembers experientially the scenic outcome of a previous performance from the direct physical experiences they had from it, without any other type of mnemonic elaboration.


Memory was first mentioned in this context by Hugo Von Hufmannsthal in 1902 ( Schieder 1978:2), whereas the founders of this idea are M.Halbwachs ( Halbwachs 1992) and M.Bloch ( Bloch 1974 [1939] ). It all started in the 1970’s , when  “ a new history from below” comes afore, in contrast to the academic research of sources and archives. This “other History” relies massively on oral sources and indirect mnemonic records, centred around the idea of giving the right of speech to those who had previously been deprived and did not leave written traces. In the past decades this tendency has been generalised on account of globalisation and multi-culturalism, the fall of communism and policies of eliminating discrimination, which have made it imperative for the collective memory of vast groups of populations to be studied in an effort to delete or retain a collective image of the past.

As a result of the various problems raised, depending on the aspect the phenomenon of this particular mnemonic depiction of the past is  approached from, a polymorphy in the definition of the signifiers and signified ( Fentress- Wickham 1992, Burke 1989 :97-113). According to many scholars the term “collective memory” is promoted, whereas other prefer the term “social memory”.  Others talk about “cultural memory” as an “image of the past” connected to cultural achievements and enriched with cultural contents (Olick- Robbin 1998:105-112). As such,  “collective” and “social” means the way in which the subject’s individual thought is structured and gets incorporated in the community, since “only within the society can the human being conquer their memory, recognise it and define it” ( Halbwachs 1992:38). It can also mean “what is retained from the past in the framework of group experiences” or “what groups create through their past, which might as well be in contrast to the historic, emotional or intellectual memory” ( Le Goff:1998:140). Thus, the collectiveness of memory does not only exist within the recorded historic facts of the past (texts, archives), but mainly in “the speech, the pictures, the gestures, the rites and celebration” ( idem: 139).

The psychiclogical Freudian aspect, according which memory comprises exclusively individual, psychic factors, becomes marginalised and prominence is given to the notion that memory acquires meaning only within the social environment to which the individual belongs ( Halbwachs 1992:38). Even if memories are considered really personal, relating only to one’s own “self”, they do have a social dimension, since they are derived from experiences that might have been lived individually, but, still, in wider collective and numerous groups to which the individual belonged or still belongs (family, school/student community, political organisation, sports association and so on) ( Noiriel 2005:300).

Focusing these general remarks about the role of “collective” or “cultural” memory on the theatre, the mechanisms of perceiving the theatrical performance can be observed as these function in certain times, in relation to the  expectations of the audience the spectacle is addressed at, in the formed aesthetics criteria and the ideological factors which determine cultural creations. Sociologically measurable parameters should be taken into consideration, such as the role of theatrical criticism and the general mediatory factors through which communication takes place between the audience and the performance. It can thus be concluded that collective memory is not a product of psychic-spiritual, but rather social procedures. By studying and understanding them their final mnemonic recording by the individual conscience of every member of the audience separately can be reasoned

What the viewer remembers, or may remember, does not only originate in their personal but to a great extent their collective cultural experience. As it has been analysed by J. Lotman (1992:103), the written speech culture, such as the contemporary one,  is dominated by the so-called “classical knowledge”. It has a familiar and commonly accepted language, its subject matter and characters rely on predetermined stereotypical values, which in their turn constitute a form of “contemporary mythology”. The individual memory of those belonging to this culture (readers, audience) relies upon and is determined to a great extent by the collective, since the subject “remembers what they already know”, what is more familiar and accessible. (Saro 2008:311). This memory is not the product of personal free choice, but an almost a priori determined condition, as it exists within the certain cultural social environment.

In a society an a culture of this type, the simplified universal knowledge, whether it is derived from philosophy and history, or relying collectively on common stereotypical values (homeland, honour, family, freedom, democracy and so on), constitutes a fertile background upon which the viewer’s theatrical memory can be easily and comfortably built. The same is true for the visualised, symbolic text of the stage performance made up of partial structural components-codes, which represent  widely accepted and recognisable values of aesthetic and artistic content, to which theatre people tend to attribute generalised contents, so that they can be universally recognised and be welcomed by the audience. Because, as it can be concluded from both social and cognitive psychiclogy, the human being has a tendency to unify similarities and uniformities, rather than interpret each form separately relying on its own pure concept. This way stereotypes are formed as a collective being and not as individual conscience, assisting in the perception and the interpretation of the world.  Most theatre people (playwrights, directors) often make use of familiar historic and mythological themes and elements, they employ techniques of dramaturgy and direction that will help them manipulate in the best possible way the distance between stage and stalls. This is why they reclaim stereotypes and elements commonly accepted by the entire audience, so that their work becomes more intelligible and accessible for the audience, thus more easily recalled to memory.   

This is what happened during the Renaissance with the  classical Greco-Roman theatre of antiquity, whereas, mutatis mutandis, the same happens today with the contemporary postmodern theatre, which adopts the classical plays of the past, using intertextual mnemonic material, so that it can go ahead with the deconstruction of  the past and the construction of the new mythology of the future ( Carlson 2003: 18-26, Maklin ²2002) .

These stereotypes (in the theatre or elsewhere) and mythology have a lot in common: firstly they constitute an interpretation of the “unfamiliar”, the “different”, either in personal/ethnic-racial or intellectual dimension. This archetypical meaning of stereotypes makes them flexible and adjustable to any possible deconstruction. Therefore, whenever people face controversial issues or have insufficient information or even face the need to be convinced of something, they resort to them for more security ( Saro 2008:309-311). As a result the thinking subject acquired a sense of reassurance and comfort, as the world becomes more compatible to a collective integrated controlled system, which the subject perceives and controls in its entirety ( Baker 1985: 134-164, Connerton 1989).

For exactly the same reason the novel, the pioneering, the incompatible to the already known from the past, is usually difficult to accept, because the existing view/knowledge about it has not yet been formulated. On account of this, the thinking subject traces, recognises and memorises the already known, which gets established in memory, whereas what is “experimental” every time easily get suppressed to oblivion. For the same reason the concept of the “stereotypical” usually takes on a negative connotation, as it is considered a tool for the simplification of any mental elaboration. Despite this, stereotypes do have some advantages, as it is with their assistance that the individual is able to perceive, analyse, encode and memorise new information fast and effectively. In parallel, they function on a collective level, determining indirectly the collective identity thus guaranteeing the homogeneity and reciprocity of the group members, offering them a sense of security and reassurance, both on individual and collective level ( Rapport- Overing 2000:346).

In the theatre the dramatic text and the actors constitute the basic source of formulating and maintaining the stereotypes. Both directors and actors are members of a community where similar stereotypical ideas/images circulate as regards aesthetic/artistic creation and social/ historical reality. In this manner, the performance presented presupposes and predetermines the perceiving capabilities of the audience, so that the already accepted stereotypes can be deconstructed.

 In this way, the theatrical performance can be “a rite of remembrance and reproduction of the past, an act of collecting and welding its pieces together, which can also be used in an attempt to interpret the past, form the viewer’s conscience and design a cultural identity” (  Burke 2003:48 ). This identity includes all the aesthetic and artistic experiences which have been recorded in the group’s collective memory and directly or indirectly affect the picture each viewer separately shapes regarding the theatrical past. Because the  mechanisms that establish stereotypes and common viewpoints like those mentioned above are at work especially in the theatre, which as a complex type of art and social phenomenon of an interactive nature, influences consciously or not the opinion the certain viewer can express.  

There are indicative cases of directors, performances and plays, which became landmarks of the past and emblematic points of reference meaning giving to the present. Chekov’s Seagull staged by Art Theatre in Moscow in 1897 directed by Stanislawski and Oedipus Rex in Munich in 1905 directed by M. Reinhardt for world theatre, Oedipus Rex by the Greek Theatre Company directed by F. Politis in 1919 and Birds by Karolos Koun in 1959  are such cases of cultural memory for later audiences.

The phenomenon equally works the other way round, that is, not establishing memory but supressing to oblivion certain playwrights or plays, performances or their contributors.  This intentionally imposed collective silence gradually erases from the memory of future generations cultural data belonging to a previous generation and becomes apparent at times of ideological guilt and collective trauma of the past, which the present is trying to eliminate or silence. A really indicative period for the Greek theatre is the period of the civil war and its consequences on the society and culture of post-war Greece. Playwrights such as Alexis Damianos and Notis Pergialis, Giorgos Sevastikoglou and Vasilis Andreopoulos with plays such as “Harvest will be in summer” and “Antigone at the time of occupation”, “Death of the King’s Commissioner” and “Riders with no horses”, exactly on account of their subject matter and ideology  not only did they get no recognition but they were completely ousted from the modern Greek theatre repertory because their collective memory was consciously suppressed and they were deliberately led to oblivion.

As it can be concluded from the above mentioned analysis, the role of theatrical memory is a determining factor for the formation of the viewer’s opinion of the play itself, an actor or a specific performance even of theatre at large. This memory comprises more factors, which may be at play visibly or elusively, consciously or subconsciously, not allowing for any definite judgement as to the kind, origin, degree of participation and magnitude of the impact it might have on the formation of the viewer’s opinion.  

The answer to any question regarding the origin and function or theatrical memory is not one and unique but a resultant of more factors directly or indirectly relating to the question at hand.

Initially, the environment, the stereotypes and the senses are factors forming an interpreting model of the performance. These do not remain constant, but change according to the subject’s experiences. Next, pictures and impressions built up on the conscience by the stage presence of the characters, their behaviour and utterances consciously or not play a role in the mnemonic recording. What is more, the aspect from which the viewer approaches the spectacle depends not only on their psychic-intellectual capabilities, but also on the  specifications and expectations of perception particular to the certain viewer,  in combination to the objective, spatial and communication capabilities at work in the particular performance. Finally, what should not be omitted are the factors relating to collective cultural memory of the community the individual belongs to, which directly or indirectly formulate the function of mnemonic recording of the theatrical past, as well as other factors related to the corporality and experiential features of memory.

It can be thus be concluded that the psychiclogical is combined to the sociological, the neurophysiological and the purely biological and the subjective to the objective, in a very sensitive balance of factors, which as a whole determine the viewer’s memory.  

*This research has been co-financed by the European Union (European Social Fund – ESF) and Greek national funds through the Operational Program “Education and Lifelong Learning” of the National Strategic Reference Framework (NSRF) – Research Funding Program: THALIS -UOA- «The Theatre as educational good and artistic expression in education and society»