Ancient philosophers perceived life as a play and every moment as its particular scene. According to Schechner’s perception, a “continuum” of human actions makes a performance (Schechner 2). Thus, Halloween celebration as a part of American tradition is a performance that represents the peculiarities of American life, culture, and spirit. Evaluating a typical Halloween event, one can consider the celebration through the lens of performance and understand what it has in common with play, ritual and what role performs in today’s society.
I had a chance to participate in Halloween celebration organized by my best friend Hui. She decided to gather our classmates, Chinese boys and girls and have a good time together. As it was a private party for friends, we did not have to pay for it. Everyone wore typical Halloween costumes: I was a witch, and my classmates chose to be ghosts, vampires, maids, minions, cowboys, police officers, and others. As it always happened before, everyone was extremely excited by everything that was going to happen. We felt happy, a bit worried about our costumes, but still glad of coming to one place to celebrate. Costumes were not the only kind of visual imagery present at a party. Hui’s house had a typical Halloween decorations: a spider that spins a web, carved pumpkins with candles inside, a red light, which made the room a bit gloomy and scary. It created an atmosphere of some vampire castle. Music was a bit unusual for a vampire house because my friend picked up some night club tracks and they made our celebration resemble a regular party. However, we all liked it as we could talk and dance without living the house. This Halloween party was a bit different from the ones I attended in the past. This time we came up with different ways to entertain ourselves: we danced, played cards, or tasted different drinks and it was far from what I used to have as a child. It was not the same now – it seemed to be more mature.
This celebration draws upon popular, “foreign”, and spiritual culture. First of all, it is typical for Americans to celebrate Halloween, so it is a popular culture attribute. Secondly, the party contained the traits of “foreign” culture for us as we are ethnic Chinese, and Halloween is not so common in Chinese society as in American. Finally, the celebration represented a spiritual culture as it was All Saints’ Day, which bears significant importance for religious people, and we felt the peculiar Halloween mood.
As this holiday presupposes remembering of dead, our celebration had some images of life and death. We did not have any graves or tombs, but we did have dark corners, spider’s web, people covered in blood (it was make up, of course), or walking dead that are associated with death for me. Life was represented by the constant movement as Hui’s house resembled a hive. In addition to that, we laughed a lot, and laughter can serve as an image of life.
Evaluating this Halloween party with regard to what Richard Schechner thinks of different events and actions people have, I can definitely say it is a performance as it embraced “being” and “doing”, which means to perform (Schechner 28). I do not think this celebration was a “framed performance” only. It went far beyond theatrical frames where the participants were supposed to see the meaning in everything that happened. We were more like actors, not spectators, so this play was a part of our life. In some terms, it could be “framed”, but I think it can be looked at as if it were the performance really. It was more like “social performances” that refer “to actions performed outside of the theatre that have a definite impact on a particular audience” (as quoted in Schechner 12). It was a play that impacted both actors (the participants of celebration) and spectators (in this case, it supported American tradition and prolonged its existence).
This Halloween party is engaging in play since our transformations to vampires, witches, and other characters were temporary. Since we acted the way we wanted, it was more like play than ritual. According to Schechner (89), play is more permissive. We pretended to be someone else than we really were, sometimes acted like actors on stage in front of the audience, and behaved as if we were children. We formed the rules of this celebration and everyone accepted them, which is the characteristics of play (Schechner 92). We managed to experience something risky, tabooed in ordinary life, creating a unique reality and behaving as if it was real. Still, the celebration is partially a ritual too. Schechner (52) states: “Rituals are collective memories encoded into actions.” We acted on the basis of memories that the American society had gathered for many years – gathered together, dressed and decorated the house appropriately. This happens to everyone who celebrates Halloween, so it can be regarded as a ritual. Since we gathered together to celebrate, communicated and played, I can admit this celebration created a little community of our classmates, and if to consider everyone who has celebrated Halloween, I can assume that we all formed a Halloween community.
The evaluation of Halloween celebration through the lens of performance enables one to see why it is needed and what role it plays in our society. This performance is a part of American culture, which represents a long tradition of getting together and doing something particular. It is not just the act of wearing scary costumes or the ritual that makes people do so, but something that ultimately joins us into a single community, nation. It is a big performance where everyone can be a member of a big friendly family in the imagined reality of Halloween world.