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Performance Theory

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The Performance Theory of understanding an oral tradition brings in several aspects of decoding an oral performance. It brings about the concept of keys to performance and classifies each performance as a part of the meaning of the poem. Performance theory also takes a closer look at the non-literal meaning of the words spoken, as well as seeing the performance as an "event". Bauman is credited for founding Performance Theory. (Foley 2002)

"Performance is part of the meaning. How to Read an Oral Poem

Keys to performanceEdit

Each oral tradition has its own keys to performance, and each performance utilizes specific keys. Some traditions have many keys, while others will have less. It is important that an oral tradition has keys, rather than if its keys match an other tradition. The keys to performance, when invoked, alert the audience that they are observing a performance of a specific oral tradition. The six most universal keys are:

  1. Special codes (dialects, attire)
  2. Figurative language (similes, etc.)
  3. Parallelism (structurally independent verses, but work together)
  4. Special formulas (recurring phrases, grammar)
  5. Appeal to tradition (keeping the story the same, despite the changing world)
  6. Disclaimers of performance (introductory music and calls)

Most keys are recognized only by those who are experienced in observing or performing the oral tradition. Some functions of "regular" poetry act as keys for oral poetry. It is most important to remember that the keys act as rules for the performer to follow, and if the performance either breaks or ignores too many of the keys, the performance will not count as a viable example of that tradition.


  Twbtg2's Project on Native American Trickster Stories edit

Navigation: Twbtg2 - Abstract - Table of Contents - All Articles - Suggested Routes - Sources
Elements: Trickster story type - Coyote - List and maps of Native American tribes
Stories: The Coyote & The Prairie Dog - Coyote and Junco - Coyote and Turtle Story - Coyote Races Buffalo - Coyote Steals a Drink - Don't Be Too Curious - Rabbit's Short Tail
Approaches: Ethnopoetics - Performance Theory - Immanent Art - All
Sources: American Indian Trickster Tales - Calvin Grinnell Interview - A Coyote Reader - Coyote Stories - Finding the Center - How to Read an Oral Poem - Inconstant Companions - Tales of the North American Indians - The Telling of the World - All

The Beginners Route

EthnopoeticsPerformance TheoryImmanent ArtHow to Read an Oral PoemMore Routes

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