Gavin Whitehead, “She Looks as if She’s Seen a Ghost”
Tue. Dec. 17, 2019, 220 York Street room 002 (note the change in location)
The final decade of the eighteenth century saw the ghoulish ascent of Gothic drama, the immense popularity of which largely owed to its show-stopping ghost scenes. These scenes revolve around two major players: the ghost itself as well as the witness, that unhappy figure who encounters said specter. Both feed the ghost scene’s sheer aesthetic power.
That said, not all Gothic dramatists craft scenes of this sort with the same set of priorities. Where some show greater interest in the horrifying power of a ghost on stage, paying little attention to the figure of the witness, others prefer to explore that character’s emotional and physical experience of encountering the spirit world. A compilation of excerpts from a dissertation chapter, this talk concentrates on two plays: The Castle Spectre (1797) by Matthew Lewis (1775-11818) and Orra (1812) by Joanna Baillie (1762-1851). While Lewis privileges ghost over witness, Baillie adopts the opposite approach.
Lewis’s ghost scene generated controversy. According to contemporary reviews of The Castle Spectre, female spectators became so frightened they fell into “hysterics.” This response raised questions about the dubious aesthetics and ethics of a playwright who seemingly sought to induce such violent reactions. Clearly inspired by The Castle Spectre, Baillie nevertheless critiques Lewis’s hollow sensationalism. When Baillie confronts the titular heroine of Orra with what she believes to be a ghost, Baillie does not do so to scare spectators out of their wits. Embarking on a morally instructive, medico-scientific experiment of sorts, she instead holds up for scrutiny the passion of fear in its most potent form, asking the audience to contemplate its devastating effects on the human mind and to sympathize with the harm it causes Orra.
Gavin Whitehead is a scholar, educator, theater artist, and translator who earned his MFA in Dramaturgy and Dramatic Criticism from Yale School of Drama in 2017. A former Fulbright scholar, Gavin spent a year in Berlin studying theater after completing his undergraduate education. He holds degrees in German and Comparative Literature from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, where he graduated with Highest Honors in 2012.
Kathryn Lofton, “Gospel Minstrelsy in Popular Music: The Case of Bob Dylan”
Tue. Dec. 10, 2019, 2-3pm. 220 York Street, room 100.
Kathryn Lofton is professor of religious studies, American studies, history, and divinity at Yale University. A historian of religions, she is the author of two books, Oprah: The Gospel of an Icon (2011) and Consuming Religion (2017), and one co-edited (with Laurie Maffly-Kipp) collection, Women’s Work. An Anthology of African-American Women’s Historical Writings (2010).
”The Temptations of Goodness: Brecht’s Enlightenment“
Joseph Roach, Dec. 3, 2019. 220 York Street, room 100
What happened to drama in the supposed “broad spectrum” of performance studies? What happened to history?
Addressing these urgent questions to all the participants in PSWG, “Brecht’s Enlightenment” refers first to the playwright’s fascination with eighteenth-century dramatists (including John Gay, George Farquhar, Denis Diderot, and Gotthold Ephraim Lessing, “the world’s first officially appointed dramaturg”) and second to the underappreciated role of their theater in his formulation of the key concepts of estrangement and social gesture. In The Caucasian Chalk Circle Brecht deploys these techniques to challenge his audiences to face the sacrificial struggle toward a truly enlightened social contract, against all the odds and despite all the costs: “Terrible is the temptation to do good,” as “The Singer,” Brecht’s narrator, puts it, speaking to us today even more heart-piercingly now than at the play’s premiere seventy years ago.
Joseph Roach, founder of the Performance Studies Working Group in 2003, is Sterling Professor of Theater and Professor of English, Emeritus, at Yale University.
The Promise of Common Creation in Improv Comedy and Contact Improv
Katherine Profeta, Nov. 12 2019 2- 3 pm. 220 York Street, Room 100.
My new research explores two forms of improvisational performer training and performance, and Improv Comedy and Contact Improvisation, which emerged in the USA in the second half of the 20th century. Both live on today, partially assimilated into institutional training structures, but still sometimes serving as alternatives to more formal pathways of study and creative production. Thinking across dance and theater can better illuminate each practice, for instance clarifying how they arose from a shared cultural moment, during which the ideals of improvisation and collective creation swept across many disciplines. I assign much credit for that larger moment to Africanist approaches to musical improvisation, and particularly the popular awareness of 1940s bebop which grew in the 50s and 60s. I also find common roots in progressive theories of education, which date back to the 19th century but similarly expanded in popularity as the 20th century went on. Both Contact Improvisation and Improv Comedy boast an exciting rhetoric of inclusion, according to which the creative act is decentralized, and performances are generated as the common property of all bodies present. Yet these techniques must also reckon with a less pleasant reality that the rhetoric of inclusion cannot obscure: open improvisation within a collective does not always counter patterns of socially ingrained bias, and in fact can amplify them instead.
Katherine Profeta is a NYC dramaturg who has worked with choreographer/visual artist Ralph Lemon since 1997. Other collaborators over the years, both recent and long-past, include Alexandra Beller, Nora Chipaumire, Karin Coonrod, Annie Dorsen, Julie Taymor, David Thomson, Ni’Ja Whitson, and Theater for a New Audience. She is also a founding member and frequent choreographer with the New York City theater company Elevator Repair Service, lending her hand to the majority of its productions since 1991. Profeta holds an MFA and DFA in dramaturgy from the Yale School of Drama, where she is currently a Professor in the Practice of Dramaturgy and Dramatic Criticism. Previously she taught in the theater departments of Barnard and Queens College, CUNY. Her first book, Dramaturgy in Motion, came out in 2015 from University of Wisconsin Press. Other writing has been seen in Performing Arts Journal, Theater magazine, Movement Research Performance Journal, TCG’s Production Notebooks, and MoMA’s Modern Dance series. She was proud to be a dramaturg last year with the Urban Bush Women Choreographic Center Initiative.
Postdramatic Stress: Performance in the Aftermath of War
Elise Morrison, Nov. 5, 2019 2-3pm. 220 York Street, Room 100.
Post-dramatic performance in the aftermath of war describes performances whose practitioners and audiences have prior knowledge of the war(s) that have come before, are versed in the dramaturgies and narratives employed in the preparation and enactment of war, and have chosen deliberately to step beyond those habitual expressive structures into imaginative and embodied new vocabularies of peace. Centered on research conducted on a recent trip to Hiroshima and Okinawa, two communities that experienced such severe devastation in WWII that civic life has been defined by the aftermath for the 75 years since, Morrison discusses examples of artist-activists who submit martial interfaces and received narratives of war to “post-dramatic stress,” utilizing interactivity and participatory world making within the space of a performance as a means of facilitating “performative ethics” and “moral imagination” for local and international communities.
Elise Morrison is an Assistant Professor of Theater and Performance Studies at Yale, where she teaches courses such as Feminist Theater, Theater History, Embodied Communication, and Digital Media in Performance. Her book, Discipline and Desire: Surveillance Technologies in Performance was published by University of Michigan Press in 2016. In 2015 Morrison edited a special issue on “Surveillance Technologies in Performance” for the International Journal of Performance Arts and Digital Media (Routledge, 11.2) and has published on this topic in the International Journal of Performance Art and Digital Media (IJPADM), Theater Magazine, and TDR. She is an associate editor for IJPADM and a consortium editor for TDR.
FPS: First-Person Spectator
Steve Luber, Oct. 22, 2019 2-3pm. 220 York Street, Room 100.
Much has been made of the cross-pollination between video games and performance, including categories of analysis such as interactivity in performance, narrative and spectatorial dynamism. Given the cultural and economic juggernaut that gaming has become internationally, it is no surprise that theatre and performance begin to not only examine, but take on gaming phenomena. I will focus on repurposing the effects of remediation as older forms remediate newer forms remediate older forms.
Steve Luber is Associate Director of the Ammerman Center for Arts and Technology at Connecticut College. His current book project is entitled Last Gasp: The Ends of Multimedia Performance.
A Specific Anarchy: The Cockettes, Genderfuck, and the Beginning of the 1970s
Charles O’Malley, Oct. 15, 2019 2-3pm. 220 York Street, Room 100.
This talk comes from Charles O’Malley’s current project, a critical history of the genderfuck performance collective the Cockettes, a group of mostly queer artists working in San Francisco from 1969-1972. Situated between the rise of the New Left and the opening of the queer liberation movement, the Cockettes worked to blur the line between performance and the everyday, all while constantly needling at definitions of gender and asking which walls needed to come down. Drawn from interviews and performance detritus left by members of the group, this talk analyzes the use of “genderfuck” as a tool and considers the group’s legacy.
Charles O’Malley is a doctoral candidate at the Yale School of Drama; his dissertation focuses on queer radicalism in 1970s San Francisco. At Yale, he co-convenes the Performance Studies Working Group and is the Artistic Fellow at Yale Repertory Theatre. His writing has appeared in the New Republic, Lambda Literary, Indiewire, and in the journal QED. He has taught at Yale College and Connecticut College.