The Austin Chronicle

Law and Other Performing Arts

By Robert Faires, March 1, 2002, Arts

The hottest arts venue in town this week? The UT Law School.

Believe it or not, that's where you'll find such internationally renowned cultural figures as playwright Arnold Wesker, author and stage director Jonathan Miller, pianist Joshua Rifkin, musicologist Richard Taruskin, Beethoven expert Lewis Lockwood, artistic directors Bonnie Oda Homsey (American Repertory Dance Company) and Carla Maxwell (Jose Limon Dance Company), New York Times music critic Anthony Tomassini, and jazz pianist Phil Markowitz, along with local arts luminaries Peter Bay, Oscar Brockett, Shawn Sides, Michael Bloom, Ann Ciccolella, Joe McClain, and Kirk Lynn. They're converging there for a symposium on law and the performing arts.

It's a pairing with more in common than you might think, as UT Law Professor Sanford Levinson, one of the masterminds behind the symposium, will tell you. After all, the attorney who must persuade the jury of a person's guilt or innocence is nothing if not a performer -- a fact that's been exploited in dramas from Antigone to Law and Order. Plus, laws begin as text, just like music and drama, and the text must be interpreted in its journey from idea to action. The interpretation of laws by judges bears striking similarities to the interpretation of scripts and scores by directors, scholars, and critics, even to the point where texts may be "adapted" if a contemporary audience deems the original work offensive. Beyond that, there are legal issues relating to performing arts, from intellectual property and copyright issues to distribution of work through the media, such as the Internet.

These ideas and more are the basis for "From Text to Performance: Law and Other Performing Arts," the symposium jointly sponsored by UT's Law School and College of Fine Arts, with the cooperation of the Harry Ransom Humanities Research Center. From February 28 to March 9, the artists noted above will join prominent legal figures, from UT Law School Dean William Powers to Yale professor Jack Balkin, Texas Supreme Court Chief Justice Tom Phillips to New York Times Supreme Court correspondent Linda Greenhouse, to discuss in panels and lectures how authoritative texts are created, how they survive beyond the lives of their creators and through changing times, what it means when older texts are deemed offensive by contemporary audiences, what the roles of critics are and how much attention should be paid to them. Along with the chat, the symposium will also feature performances: concerts by pianist Russell Sherman and fortepianist Malcolm Bilson, and UT Opera Theatre's production of Carl Orff's Antigonae.

The ancient tale of Antigone, who defies the law in order to bury her brother, is one of two dramatic texts central to the symposium, the other being the story of Shylock and his pound of flesh, The Merchant of Venice. Jonathan Miller, UT Opera Theatre director Robert DeSimone, Richard Taruskin, Dean Powers, and UT philosophy professor Paul Woodruff will discuss jurisprudential issues presented by the struggle between Antigone and Creon, as well as issues involving translation and interpretation of the original Greek text. Miller will also join law professor Richard Weisberg and English professors James Ayres, Alan Friedman, and James Loehlin to discuss "Shakespeare and the Law." And a workshop with artists from the Rude Mechanicals, Zachary Scott Theatre Center, UT Department of Theatre & Dance, Shakespeare at Windedale, and the Law & Lit Players will show the courtroom scene in The Merchant of Venice played several different ways.

There's much more -- Arnold Wesker speaking on interpretation, Miller on "The Afterlife of Plays," Taruskin on offensive music -- but as the symposium spans 10 days, too much to list here. A full schedule may be found at, where you can also register for symposium events, most of which are free. Do sign up, though, as seating is limited. For additional information, call symposium coordinator Suzanne Hassler at 232-1100.

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