Theatrical performances not only communicate preexisting ideas but also define political reality as it is experienced by participants. Theatrical events thus constitute a critical process of integration and conflict in a wide range of societies and have particularly significant effects on the maintenance and transformation of premodern centralized polities. The study of performances allows archaeologists to explore the interrelations between political, social, and cultural factors and provides an approach to action and meaning different from the one that views the material record as text. The analysis of plazas in Classic Maya society (AD 250-900) suggests that the performances of rulers depicted on stone monuments involved a large audience and that securing theatrical spaces for mass spectacles was a primary concern in the design of Maya cities. Such events gave physical reality to a Maya community and counteracted the centrifugal tendency of nonelite populations.
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