April 5, 2016: Sarah Piazza

Irreverent Calypsos in Derek Walcott’s The Joker of Seville

people-1-2In his 1972 cultural manifesto The Trinidad Carnival:  Mandate for a National Theatre, playwright, actor, and theater historian Errol Hill states, “the carnival illustrates vividly that speech, song, dance, and music should be inseparable components in the Trinidad and Tobago theatre” (Hill 116).  Nobel prize-winning playwright and poet Derek Walcott, a native of Saint Lucía who has dedicated his artistic career to theater in Trinidad, professes a much more ambivalent attitude toward incorporating carnival and folk arts into theater.  In his essay “What the Twilight Says,” Walcott accuses the state of debasing and commercializing Trinidad’s music, dance, and carnival rituals.

Nevertheless, in his musical The Joker of Seville, first performed by the Trinidad Theatre Workshop in 1974, Walcott includes an abundance of calypso—a Trinidadian song genre.  The Joker constitutes a creative rewriting of Tirso de Molina’s Spanish Golden Age classic, El burlador de Sevilla, first performed circa 1640.  Walcott’s inclusion of song distinguishes his Caribbean transformation from de Molina’s original, which only incorporates several songs sung off-stage to communicate moral messages.  Indeed, when the Royal Shakespeare Company commissioned Walcott to write and direct an adaptation of de Molina’s famous play in 1973, Walcott stipulated that he would write and produce a play for Caribbean actors and audience members.   An important part of Walcott’s Trinidadian setting is calypso song.

More than simply adding a touch of local color, the calypsos, I argue, comprise an important mode of expression within the dramatic action of The Joker of Seville.  The songs’ lyrics showcase Walcott’s creation of a distinctly Trinidadian dramatic language that constantly mixes cultural registers and weaves West Indian phrases and syntax into so-called standard diction.  In The Joker of Seville, song, and specifically the calypso, enables characters—including the most disenfranchised—to deliver social critique, express censored desires, and threaten hierarchies.  In short, the calypsos challenge vestiges of colonialism rooted in societal norms, especially those governing sexuality.  The sung interludes, separated by speech only through italics and a parenthetical direction–(sings), create dramatic spaces in which irreverence and ambiguity flourish.  The way that Walcott integrates song throughout both acts of The Joker of Seville supports Errol Hill’s advocacy of organically including music, song, and dance in Trinidadian theater.

Sarah Piazza, a PhD candidate in Comparative Literature at Yale, is excited to have handed in her thesis:  Performing the Novel and Reading the Romantic Song:  Popular Music and Metafiction in Tres tristes tigresSirena selena vestida de penaLa importancia de llamarse Daniel SantosLe cahier de romances, and Cien botellas en una pared.  In it, she analyzes how references to popular musical genres heighten the novels’ metaliterary abilities to reflect on creative processes, including musical performance and writing.  While her thesis focuses on contemporary novels from the Hispanic Caribbean, she is broadly interested in Latin American literature that creates connections between art forms.  Work related to her thesis has appeared in Latin American Theatre Review and in the forthcoming issues of Retorno and MESTER.  She is currently a teaching assistant for Professor Joe Roach in his undergraduate course, Survey of Theater Studies.  Her PSWG presentation grows out of the performance project that she is working on with her creative Theater Studies students!

March 29, 2016: Anne Erbe

Playing in the Ruins: En Garde Arts and the Millennial American City

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In the last decade of the 20th century—as American culture careened between feelings of decline and triumphalism, of one world lost and another yet to be played out—ruins gained a renewed prominence as cultural, aesthetic, and economic objects of interest. Focusing on the seminal work of En Garde Arts, this presentation examines the ruin as both a cultural figure and a material site of urban performance at the end of the millennium. Operating in New York from 1985 to 1999, En Garde sought out locations in which physical, imaginary, and economic space converged to create the theater event, producing works by artists such as Charles Mee, Reza Abdoh, and Mac Wellman in and among the city’s abandoned monuments of the 19th and 20th century. The fictional narratives of collapse and/or reinvention within these works are trailed by historical narratives of the sites they occupy—from the aspirations of initial construction to the forces that occasioned their fall into dereliction—provoking audiences to consider how liminal urban space could and ought to be used in the future. Operating in an increasingly tight real estate market, En Garde’s productions also took part in more material acts of reclamation, displacement, and renewal, claiming “unproductive” places, albeit temporarily, and transforming them into sites of circulation, exchange, and consumption. In these ways, I will argue, En Garde’s theater of ruins participated in debates on how urban space is used, by whom, and for whose benefit, demonstrating ways in which performance can shape the landscape in which it is situated, both in opposition to and support of the status quo.

Anne Erbe is a lecturer and creative producer in Yale School of Drama’s playwriting program. She is a former Co-Producing Artistic Director of The Foundry Theatre, where she currently sits on the Board of Directors and the Artist/Activist council. As a production dramaturg, she has worked with Lear deBessonet (Good Person of Szechwan), Aya Ogawa (Ludic Proxy), Charlotte Brathwaite (Sun Ra Visitation Series), and Maureen Towey (Black Mountain Songs), among others. Her essays have appeared in Theater magazine, where she was an Associate Editor.

March 8, 2016: Brian Herrera

Bad Auditions: Reality TV’s Spectacular Precarity

The scenario of the “bad audition” has long been essential to many a showbiz story, providing a thrilling plot point while burnishing the arc of stardom’s exhilarating curve. Yet something’s happened to the “bad audition” lately. As the previously hidden machinery of hiring and firing has been retooled as a entertainment commodity, the “bad audition” has become a core convention within what is perhaps the ascendant US television genre of the twenty-first century: reality TV. Surveying a popular culture landscape littered with failed and forgotten American Idols, Apprentices, and Top Chefs, this talk posits that “starmaking” has become but an alibi for reality TV’s arguably more urgent and contemporary reward: the affective spectacularization of unemployment for scores of aspiring workers. This talk demonstrates how the “bad audition” — as dramatic scenario and narrative conceit — activates an idea, widely rehearsed since the middle of the twentieth century, that the auditioning performer is not a skilled craftsperson seeking employment but is instead a spectacularly failed affective subject, ever and always in debt to the industry responsible for (not) employing them. Charting how the dramatic utility of the audition scenario shifted in the 1970s (especially subsequent the blockbuster success of the musical A Chorus Line), the talk details how the “bad audition” emerged as a productive, even privileged, device through which to enact narratives about the before-and-after precarity of those yet seeking the increasingly impossible dream of employment.

Brian Eugenio Herrera is Assistant Professor of Theater at Princeton University. His work, both academic and artistic, examines the history of gender, sexuality and race within and through U.S. popular performance. He is the author of The Latina/o Theatre Commons 2013 National Convening: A Narrative Report (HowlRound, 2015) and his first book Latin Numbers: Playing Latino in Twentieth-Century U.S. Popular Performance (Michigan, 2015) was recently awarded the George Jean Nathan Prize for Dramatic Criticism. He is presently at work on two new book projects: Starring Miss Virginia Calhoun and Casting – A History, a historical study of the material practices of casting in US popular performance.

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March 1, 2016: Eleanor Skimin

ulay-and-marina-1The Artist is Sitting—Marina Abramovic’s sedentary performance works and the ghosts of bourgeois domestic drama

This presentation is part of a larger project that explores the sedentary figure as a critical problematic in theatre history since the Enlightenment. The project takes up three of the modern theatre’s signature sedentary figures – the performer, the spectator and the dramaturg – and situates them in the broader political context of two preeminent spaces designed for the seated activities of the bourgeoisie: the home and office. The talk itself will focus on my research on the sedentary performer and the history of the bourgeois sitting room by responding to a series of works by performance artist Marina Abramovic that have staged bodies sitting face-to-face. In perhaps the most famous of these, The Artist is Present, Abramovic sat opposite visitors to the Museum of Modern Art in New York during the museum’s opening hours from March to May in 2010. I examine these works in relation to the convention of the intimate sedentary face-to-face encounter of the domestic dramas of late 19th century bourgeois realism and ask: what connections might be drawn by placing a tête-à-tête between Nora and Torvald of Ibsen’s A Doll’s House alongside the spectacle of Marina Abramovic sitting tête-à-tête? By setting these seemingly disparate sedentary scenes in relation to each other I attempt apply pressure to received accounts of the history of performance art which have posited it as a practice developed in counterpoint to theatre. Instead I consider ways of thinking about performance art as the inheritor of the bourgeois realist theatre’s powerfully persuasive legacies and conventions.

Eleanor Skimin is a dramaturg and is currently pursuing a PhD in Theatre and Performance Studies at Brown University. Prior to commencing the PhD she was Humanities Manager at the Brooklyn Academy of Music (BAM) from 2006 until 2008. Dramaturg credits at Classic Stage Company (CSC) in New York City include Brian Kulick’s Hamlet; Nature Theater of Oklahoma’s Three Sisters and Kasimir and Karoline; Kristjian Thorgeirsson’s The Blind; and Kate Whoriskey’s Camille at the Bard Summerscape Festival. She was literary manager at the New Theatre in Dublin, Ireland. Eleanor has a law degree and is a graduate of the MFA program in Dramaturgy at Columbia University. She has taught at Brown University, the University of New South Wales and at the National Institute of Dramatic Art in Sydney where she has created courses on dramaturgy for directors and writers. Eleanor is currently an interdisciplinary graduate fellow at the Pembroke Center for Teaching and Research on Women at Brown and is assistant editor at differences: A Journal of Feminist Cultural Studies. In the summer of 2016 she will be undertaking a playwriting residency at the Ingmar Bergman estate on Fårö island, Sweden.

February 23, 2016: Matthew Ferrari

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Replay Culture: The Mediated Afterlives of Combat Sports

This paper considers one aspect of the afterlives of action media –the re-play, re-mediation and re-narration of combat sports, and in particular cage fighting (or MMA) in the form of ultra slow-motion highlight videos. The UFC’s Phantom Cam highlights are one example of an afterlife of cultural objects, in the sense of Walter Benjamin’s historiographical concept. In her essay, “Why Media Aesthetics,” Miriam Hansen argues for the importance of interrogating the interrelations between industrial technology and aesthetics. I consider the phantom cam as just such an industrial technology. These highlight videos are not merely an extension of, but also a re-iterating and a transforming of a prior historical event. I propose that the plentitude of the image (and in this sense, quite literally, more information) compels an impulse of refinement, in the sense of a technological act of removing unwanted substances from something. Furthermore, anticipation of media afterlives arguably propels the adoption of new technologies informing the making of the initial object. I also consider the performative dimensions of associated fan replay cultures, one that offers up new possibilities for understanding desire, fantasy, and commodity fetish involved in these genres. These evolving technologies of visualization, pushing spectator ecologies towards greater intensification and customization, affirm Steven Heath’s point that “narrative never exhausts the image.”  While these are re-narrations, they are also moving away from narrative, further removed from the original event –as rationalized by commentators, by liveness of duration, and by generic expectations. Drawing from Benjamin, then, I argue that these replays might be best understood as a cultural objects whose afterlife is motivated by an attempt to remove rationalizing consciousness, to bring already anaesthetized viewers closer to the shock they seek.

Matthew Ferrari earned his doctorate in the Department of Communication at The University of Massachusetts, Amherst in 2014. He earned a B.A. in Art History and Visual Culture from Bates College, and an M.A. in Film studies from Ohio University. Matthew’s work has appeared in the edited collections Storytelling in World Cinemas (Columbia University), Reality Television: Oddities of Culture (Lexington), Fighting: Intellectualizing Combat Sports (Common Ground), in the journal Environmental Communication, and in the online media studies forums Flow and In Media Res. He is currently a lecturer in the Department of Communication at UMass.

February 16, 2016: DINA ROGINSKY

Performance in Israel: Ideology and Sociology

Immediately following the announcement of the United Nations Partition Plan for Palestine in November 1947, which laid the basis for the declaration of the State of Israel, thousands of Jewish people in Palestine, men and women, young and old, spontaneously burst into dance in the streets, singing and dancing in circles, linking hands over shoulders. This collective emotional outburst physically and symbolically signaled the birth of the new nation. It also drew upon an Israeli dance movement that had been developing among young Zionist settlers in Palestine. Since then Israeli dances have represented an important though little-researched component of the Israeli nation-building project.

In this talk I explore the social history and the current reach of the Israeli folk dance movement as a cultural manifestation of Zionist ideology in motion. I will start my discussion in the early thirties of the 20th century, which marks the beginning of this movement in Palestine, and will continue the analysis until the present day, both in Israel and abroad, as the dances have expanded beyond the geo-national borders of Israel.

Dina Roginsky is a senior lector of Modern Hebrew language and culture in the Department of Near Eastern Languages and Civilizations at Yale University. Her research interests focus on the intersection between the sociology of culture, history, politics, and performance. Her doctoral dissertation, Performing Israeliness, analyzes the one-hundred-year social and ideological history of the Israeli folk dance movement. Roginsky is a co-editor of the book Dance Discourse in Israel (2009), which explores the field of Israeli dance research, and the book Sara Levi-Tanai: A Life of Creation (2015) which acknowledges the multifaceted contribution of an extraordinary Yemenite woman artist who operated in pre-state Israel. Roginsky is currently working on her third book titled: Conflict in Dance: Jewish-Arab Relations in Israeli Dance.

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February 9, 2016: T.L. Cowan

Transmedial Drag: Cabaret Methods, Digital Platforms and Technologies of Fabulous

Jess Dobkin, How Many Performance Artists Does It Take to Change a Light Bulb? (2015). Photo by David Hawe.
Jess Dobkin, How Many Performance Artists Does It Take to Change a Light Bulb? (2015). Photo by David Hawe.

For over a century, cabaret—or the often satirical, adult-oriented variety show— has been of central importance to trans- feminist and queer subcultural social, political and aesthetic formations in cities and towns around the world. This presentation considers the long-standing cabaret method as one that has necessarily thematized ‘presence’ and ‘the live’ as essential characteristics of these events, while simultaneously drawing attention to the mediated qualities of that presence and liveness. Through their perpetual disappearance, many cabarets are never documented, or retain only fleeting ephemeral traces of their existence. And because cabarets tend to happen quite regularly, just as one would fade away, a new one would come into existence. The cabaret cycle of presence and disappearance has, at times, been interrupted by rare video and photo documentation, often accompanied by anecdotal evidence. With the emergence of consumer mobile photo and video technologies, online social media, digital archiving and other forms of ‘new media,’ it might seem that cabaret socialities, politics and aesthetics are dramatically shifting, and that the new possibilities for digital presence through transmedia reproduction might eclipse an earlier devotion to ‘liveness.’ This presentation focuses on this old/new tension and argues that cabaret methods continue to shape translocal trans- feminist and queer subcultures, and that cabaret’s transmedial history provides necessary community experience for the political and ethical dilemmas posed by digital culture.

T.L. Cowan is the 2015-2016 Bicentennial Lecturer of Canadian Studies in the MacMillan Center for International and Area Studies and Digital Humanities Fellow at Yale University. T.L. is visiting from The New School, where she is Chair of Experimental Pedagogies in the School of Media Studies and Lecturer of Culture & Media at Eugene Lang College. T.L. is also co-facilitator of the Feminist Technology Network. T.L.’s recent publications include articles in ephemera: theory and politics in organization (2014), Transgender Studies Quarterly (2014), Women’s Studies Quarterly (2014), and Ada: Gender, New Media, and Technology (2014), as well as chapters in Queer Dramaturges: International Perspectives on Where Performance Leads Queer (Palgrave 2015) and MOOCs and Open Education Around the World (Routledge 2015). T.L.’s first book, entitled Poetry’s Bastard: The Illegitimate Genealogies, Cultures and Politics of Text-Based Performance in Canada is under contract with Wilfrid Laurier UP. She is currently completing two additional books: a monograph entitled Sliding Scale: Transfeminist and Queer Cabaret Methods – Mexico City, Montreal, New York City, and a co-authored book, with Jasmine Rault, entitled Checking In: Transfeminist and Queer Labour in Networked Economies.

February 2, 2016: Miriam Felton-Dansky

Towards an Audience Vocabulary: General Idea’s Viral Performance

General Idea, "Going Thru the Motions," 1975.
General Idea, “Going Thru the Motions,” 1975.

Decades before YouTube, Twitter, and Vine, decades before the Internet inaugurated the phenomenon of fleeting, digitally-enabled popularity—back in the early 1970s—three underground artists declared themselves viral. A.A. Bronson, Jorge Zontal, and Felix Partz, of the Toronto-based collective General Idea, employed this charged concept to describe their modes of creation and dissemination in visual, performance, and conceptual artistic practice. Virus was a form of art, a means of making art, and above all, a description of the relationship between General Idea’s art and its audiences. Virus meant political subversion, cultural infiltration, and subtly radical satire.

It also meant audience participation. In this talk, I trace the central role of live performance in the group’s pathbreaking viral vision. At the heart of General Idea’s work between 1969 and 1978 was a series of elaborate, playfully strange beauty pageants, in which contestants competed for the elusive title of Miss General Idea. From the original pageant, which accompanied a media-saturated staging of Gertrude Stein’s play What Happened, through an escalating series of participatory performances, General Idea developed a mode of viral art that explicitly relied upon the live presence of performers and spectators. Art-historical scholarship has frequently sidelined these works in favor of the group’s visual art. I seek to restore General Idea to performance history, arguing that the live encounter shaped and propelled their viral vision—and that their viral vision marks a fundamental turning point in the history of radical participatory performance.

Miriam Felton-Dansky is assistant professor of Theater & Performance at Bard College and acting director of Bard’s Experimental Humanities Initiative for 2015-16. Her essays and articles have appeared in Theatre Journal, Theater, PAJ, and TDR, and she is a regular contributor to the theater section of the Village Voice. A contributing editor of Theater, she is also a guest co-editor of two themed issues: Digital Dramaturgies (2012), and its sequel, Digital Feelings, forthcoming in 2016. She is currently working on a book about viral performance.

December 8, 2015: VK Preston

Baroque Relations:
Performance and Extractivism in Circum-Atlantic Worlds, 1626

“Baroque Relations” investigates precious metals associated with Andean mining in the archives of early modern ballets in France. Identifying events and tropes of Inca protest within early French ballet, this study situates dances in an Atlantic world vortex, drawing the ‘parts of the world’ into international political disputes, extractivism, and scenes of Indigenous and African slavery. The work invokes a ‘performative commons’ (Maddock Dillon) of an early baroque-era, addressing global circulations of metals through proto-industrial mining, trade, and ecology as well as performance in the early modern Anthropocene. This talk is based on a chapter from my current book project, expanding my research on performance and aesthetics of emergent sites of global trade and capital. Another essay on these sources is forthcoming in a collected volume edited by Mark Franko, with Oxford University Press.

VK Preston is a visiting assistant professor of Theatre Arts and Performance Studies at Brown University. She pursues contemporary as well as historical research, writing on the witches’ Sabbath in the early modern Atlantic World, Franco-Indigenous North American and Caribbean intercultures pre-1800 and in contemporary performance, early ballet, transmedia, choreography, and queer theory. She has published essays in The Oxford Handbook of Dance and Theatre, TDR / The Drama Review, TheatreForum, and History, Memory, Performance. As guest editor for Canadian Theatre Review she has also ‘Views and Reviews’ on curating performance. She teaches contemporary political and engaged performance, performance historiography (1500-1850), and performance studies. VK comes to performance research with an interdisciplinary background in practice, and she teaches Laban-based movement research and interdisciplinary performance fundamentals.

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December 1, 2015: Jacob Gallagher-Ross

Mediating the Method: Lee Strasberg, Marlon Brando, and the Sound of Authenticity

Marlon_Brando_Streetcar_1948_f Method acting, the mid-twentieth century performance style developed at the Actors Studio in New York City, was both renowned and reviled for its monomaniacal pursuit of emotional authenticity in performance: sacrificing textual integrity, and sometimes even intelligibility, to feeling. (Marlon Brando’s infamous mumbling is a case in point.) But our obsession with the Method’s psychological contortions can cause us to overlook its creative dialogue with new technologies. In this talk, I’ll examine the media behind the Method: Recording undergirded the exercises and thought of Lee Strasberg, the Method’s Svengali. And Brando’s mumbling, upon closer scrutiny, reveals itself as a canny sound experiment.

The Method, in Strasberg’s conception, purported to be a system bringing the vast trove of affective experience registered in the unconscious mind into rehearsal rooms and auditoriums. But I’ll consider the Method as investigating a different unconscious, what Walter Benjamin called the “optical unconscious”: those uncanny aspects of everyday life revealed by the surgical incursions of the camera and microphone into reality. The Method’s most salient legacy may have more to do with media—with the ways that recording had already changed performance and spectatorship—than emotional recall.

The debates about Method acting were symptomatic of a new postwar landscape of theatrical performance—and a new conception of everyday life— in which theater was only one of many possible modes of encountering spoken art, most of them mediated to greater or lesser degree by technologies of recording. And these technologies of reproduction and transmission were becoming ubiquitous: squalling radios, TVs rattling in the background, Muzak in elevators. Life was getting noisier, and so was acting.

Jacob Gallagher-Ross is assistant professor of theatre at the University at Buffalo, where he is interim director of the MA and PhD programs in theatre and performance studies. His essays and articles have appeared in Theatre Survey, TDR, PAJ, Theater, Contemporary Theatre Review, and Canadian Theatre Review, among other journals. A contributing editor of Theater, he is also a guest-co-editor of two special themed issues: Digital Dramaturgies, from 2012, and Digital Feelings, forthcoming in 2016. A frequent contributor to the Village Voice’s theater section since 2009, he also writes criticism for other national publications.

This talk is based on a chapter from his current book project, Re-Enchanting the World: American Theaters of the Everyday, which is under advance contract with Northwestern University Press. An article-length version of the chapter appeared in the September 2015, issue of Theatre Survey.