Typically, the relationships between theatre and film are encountered--both pedagogically and theoretically--in terms of authorial influence or aesthetic comparisons. In the first method, an instructor builds a syllabus for a "Theatre and Film" course by illustrating, for example, how Bergman was influenced by Strindberg. In the second method, the aesthetic norms of the theatre (fixed spectatorial distance and stage-bound locations) are compared to those of the cinema (editing and location shooting) to determine which art form is better suited (or "superior") to which material.
My work proposes a broader view of the theatre-film interface, one that relies on intertextuality as its interpretive method. I believe it is valuable-both pedagogically and theoretically-to ask broad questions about the aesthetic, narrative, and ideological exchanges between the history of theatre and contemporary film and television. For example, this paper will study how the "Chinese Restaurant" episode of the sitcom, Seinfeld, intertextually reworks Samuel Beckett's modernist play, Waiting for Godot. In each text, characters encounter an existential plight as they are forced to wait interminably, and thus confront their powerlessness at the hands of larger social forces. As a pedagogical matter, this connection encourages the students to see academic culture in the guise of having to read Beckett's play for my course, not as foreign and alienating, but instead as continuous with their understanding of leisure activities like watching sitcoms. As a theoretical matter, this intertextual connection allows important ideological matters to come into bold relie...
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...ng it in light of Godot, we can appreciate something much more fundamental, that Seinfeld is every bit as humanitarian as Godot because it shows how our human frailties militate against our desire to end all human contact with others. Any critic who out-of-hand dismisses the sit-com as trash should for this reason alone be thoroughly distrusted, because the desperate communitarian cultural function of the sitcom has been completed ignored. I suggest that there are reasons we watch sitcoms that are not all reducible to the notion that we are stupid, cultural dupes. Seinfeld, as well as Waiting for Godot, offers us insights into what makes us human. At some basic level, this is a compelling explanation for why we care to watch television as much as it is for why we go to live theatre.
Beckett, Samuel. Waiting for Godot. New York: Grove P, 1954.
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