The essay following the new documentary turn in performing arts: Tracing the essay in contemporary theatre and performance practices.

01 October 2018 → 30 September 2023
Research Foundation - Flanders (FWO)
Research disciplines
  • Humanities
    • Theatre and performance
performing arts
Project description

In the 16th century, Michel de Montaigne developed the essay. This new literary genre was
characterized by the abrogation of judgment, the questioning of authority, the overlap between
fact and fiction, a mixing of styles and a heavy use of quotations. In an age marked by upheaval, he
tried through writing comprehend his superfluous time. To essay means to assay, to weigh but
also to challenge, to test and to attempt. Montaigne thus reflected on religious, social and political
problems in his essays and challenged the fixed ideas of his time. In the following centuries, many authors followed Montaigne’s example and brought the essay to the level of an established
literary genre. The qualities of the essay did not remain unnoticed for other artistic disciplines. In
the 20th century, filmmakers borrowed strategies and methods from the written essay and
adapted them to their practices. The transformation of the written essay to experimental film was
defined as ‘Essay film’. Today we see a similar trend in documentary practices in performing arts.
Many of the strategies, methods and discourses used by documentary-artists are derived from the
essay. Although the essay and its theorization has been extensively studied in literature and film
studies, a similar theoretical framework is lacking in theatre and performance studies. My research
fills this theoretical lacuna by constructing a new theoretical framework for the study of the rise of
the essay in contemporary performing arts.