On Tuesday, April 22from 1pm to 2pm, we will convene at 220 York Street in Room 202 for a group conversation about the state of the field of performance studies as it pertains to our work. We will discuss interdisciplinarity, pedagogy, ideology, institutionalization, professionalization, and other issues in the contemporary academy and broader cultural sphere.
Some questions to kick off discussion will include:
What is the state of performance studies as an interdisciplinary field?
In a “disciplinary” institution such as Yale, how does this “interdisciplinary” group serve your work as a teacher and scholar? How might the group better serve the “interdisciplinary” at Yale and beyond?
What are pedagogical strategies that seem to work particularly well when teaching interdisciplinary courses? (do you define disciplinary borders? are there interdisciplinary methodologies that you have established?)
What challenges arise when marketing scholarly work as interdisciplinary (particularly in the realms of publishing and job market)? What strategies help to meet these challenges?
Come prepared for a lively discussion as we send off the 2013-2014 season of PSWG. As always, a light lunch will be served.
The PSWG’s penultimate session of the academic year will be hosted in the Yale School of Art and bring together scholars of performance with practitioners of performance art.
MFA Kenya Robinson will perform live.
MFA graduate and performance artist Tamar Ettun and Lecturer in Theatre Studies, Emily Coates will be in conversation.
Scholars and artists from all disciplinary backgrounds are invited to meet together and contribute to the formation of a shared dialogue on performance art at Yale. We hope it will be the first of many such conversations.
Of Drammatology: Form and Content in Performative Exchange
In Of Grammatology, Derrida analyzes the relationship between speaking and writing, and the order of their appearance: did speaking appear before writing, or vice versa? The notion that speaking appeared before writing, for Derrida, comes from a certain ethnocentric attitude of Western philosophy according to which illiterate tribes are of somewhat inferior intelligence compared with literate Westerners. The question of the order of appearance also creates a certain pressure to establish the point of origins, to define the difference between speaking and writing and to place the concept of writing in an ontological framework. Looking at graphic writing, Derrida suggests that instead of writing being a representation of oral language, oral language “already belongs to writing” (55). In this sense, “‘the natural,’ ‘original,’ etc. language had never existed, never been intact and untouched by writing, [. . .] it had itself always been a writing” (57). This would suggest that the thought is already a symbolic thought, a graphic image, which does not exist outside of language (“il n’y a pas de hors-texte”). This is, Derrida believes, an essential question of literature, as it redefines speech as a form of archi-writing.
If speech is a form of archi-writing, would that mean that performance is a form of archi-drama? The problem with that definition of the dramatic text is that the field trapped itself in the Derridean aporia of Lehmann’s concept of the post-dramatic. Is the postmodern theatre then fundamentally a theatre of ontological aporia? Performance Studies scholars, like Richard Schechner, for example, argue that performance appeared before text; that performance is that “primitive” pre-dramatic impulse, a visceral response of the body to the world (embodied experience). Simultaneously, Hans-Thies Lehmann asserts that our postmodern theatre is predominantly post-dramatic, post-textual. What are the implications of that dialogue about the point of origins between text and performance in performative exchange? Is this dichotomy between text and performance (Performance Studies’ own deconstructive “elemental opposition”) fundamentally anachronistic? Did Performance Studies misread Derrida’s foundational thesis?
The clearest thesis I was able to draw from my work with The Wooster Group and The Royal Shakespeare Company on their joint production of Troilus and Cressida this past summer was that “play”, as conceptualized by the performance theories of Richard Schechner, is critical to the work of The Wooster Group. “Play” (specifically game play) serves three critical functions for The Wooster Group’s director Liz LeCompte.
1. It gives rise to the raw material in the creation of a piece.
2. It provides a clear means for communicating with actors.
3. It enables the creation of a “new naturalism” with an awareness of the theatrical spectacle within the performances themselves.
In London, this game play became murkier (“deeper” and “darker” as Schechner might describe it) as The Wooster Group played Indian with the RSC. In my talk I will explore the various levels of play in The Wooster Group’s production of Troilus and Cressida and the implications of these forms of play.
This paper looks at the impact of institutions such as the UNESCO “Intangible Cultural Heritage” designation on art forms, national rivalries evoked when forms are shared across national boundaries, and issues of cultural documentation, preservation, and development with examples drawn from Southeast Asia and beyond.
Kathy Foley is professor of theatre at the University of California, Santa Cruz. She has also taught at the University of Hawaii, Yonsei University, and Chulalongkorn University. She is author of the Southeast Asia section of The Cambridge guide to World Theatre and editor of Asian Theatre Journal, and her articles have appeared inTDR, Modern Drama, Asian Theatre Journal, Puppetry International, among others. She trained in mask and puppetry in the Sundanese region of Indonesia, and was the first non-Indonesian invited to perform in the prestigious all-Indonesia National Wayang Festival. As an actress her performance of Shattering the Silence: Blavatsky, Besant, Ruukmini Devi toured the U.S. and England in 2005. She performs frequently in the US and Indonesia and has curated exhibitions of puppets of South and Southeast Asia and masks of Southeast Asia for many institutions. She worked on typology and cosmology with recent fieldwork in Vietnam, Cambodia, Thailand, Burma, Malaysia, and Indonesia. Plays include Farewell to Manzanar (with Jeannie and Jim Houston), Baba (with Belle Yang, and Fox Hunts and Freedom Fighters. At Yale, she will work on a manuscript on Islamic mysticism, music, and mask dance, and puppetry in West Java; the fellowship will also result in performances of wayang(Indonesian traditional theatre).
Since it was first presented in 2007, The Wooster Group’s Hamlet has motivated scholars to rethink conceptual binaries commonly employed in theater and performance studies such as the original and the copy, the live and the mediated, the archive and the repertoire. My presentation examines the The Wooster Group’s playful, self-reflexive recreation of the filmed 1964 Broadway production starring Richard Burton through another such binary: human performers and material objects. I attempt to theorize the role material objects play in a reenacted performance’s claim to historical and canonical authenticity by focusing on how The Wooster Group meticulously emulates not only the actors’ performances but also the stage as it is documented in the film, which remains as a constant presence on screen in stark contrast to the actors that are frequently edited out of the image.
In the early nineteenth century, German architects used a brief enthusiasm for technical research on theater acoustics as an occasion to consider the experiential aesthetics of bourgeois collectivity. When the designer Carl Ferdinand Langhans rejected as sonically problematic the classic French model of the elliptical theater — with the performer stationed at one focus and the royal box at the other — he effectively overturned the assumption that each performance had one “correct” instance of perception, defined as whatever reached the privileged sensorium of the enlightened despot. His challenge to the old optical model and his new theorization of building sound as an immersive medium paved the way for aesthetic theories of empathy later in the century.
My paper is propelled by a series of interrelated questions concerning the uses of Camp—and its relationship to queer community formation—in the work of Jack Smith and Charles Ludlam, both of whom have been lauded by various admirers as the “father” of (contemporary) queer theatre. If Smith’s influence is so strongly felt in the work of artists as diverse as John Waters, Robert Wilson, John Vaccaro, and Andy Warhol, then why has his name largely dropped out of popular consciousness? If Camp is a performance style marked by “excess” and aimed at producing queer social visibility, then why and how does Smith use it to stage his own disappearance? If Smith is a notoriously antipathetic (and antipersonal) performer, then how does Ludlam’s performance style, which owes much to Smith, become indistinguishable from his affability and personableness in the reception surrounding his performances? How do Smith and Ludlam negotiate their relationships to the “objects of refuse” that litter their stages and their scripts, and how do those relationships alter the affective resonances of their performances? How does the relationship Smith and Ludlam establish with their audiences affect our understanding of their relationship to their communities? By framing my analysis in terms of the way Smith and Ludlam have been variously received by their successors, it is ultimately my goal to complicate our understanding of queer performance as a genealogy.
Elizabeth Wiet is a doctoral candidate in English working at the nexus of performance studies, queer theory, and affect theory.
John Cooper, a phd candidate in the Art History department, co-convenor of the PSWG and Graduate Research Assistant at the Yale Center for British Art, will workshop a part of his dissertation Imperial Balls: the Arts of Sex, War and Dancing in India, England and the Caribbean, 1800-1850.
This session will present a body of colonial images drawn from India, England and the Caribbean which show dancers dancing from the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries. These medium-sized graphic works on paper broadly represent: nautch dancing in India, ballet in England and social dancing in the Caribbean. Being the remains of both art works and performances, what particular status do they have in the history of art and empire? How might the disciplines of Art History and Performance Studies collaborate to produce readings of such interdisciplinary documents?
The starting point for addressing an answer to these questions will be the practice of ‘adornment’ which lies nested and as yet unclaimed in the etymology of the word ‘performance’. Close visual analysis of key images in the history of art, dance and empire will investigate how context adorns the dancing figure with the complexity and contradictions of colonial history.