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.


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.

November 17, 2015: Lilian Mengesha

A Different Kind of Cont(r)act:
Building a Record of the Missing in Rebecca Belmore’s Vigil 

This talk is concerned with the following question: how does one build a record of disappearance through a medium, like performance, that troubles the foundations of traditional record keeping? To answer this question, I examine a 2002 performance entitled Vigil by Anishanaabe artist Rebecca Belmore. On a street corner in Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside, the artist nailed her red gown to a wooden electric pole. Belmore nails her dress repeatedly, and then tears her body away from the fabric, until there is nothing left of the material and we only see Belmore in her under garments. This is the same downtown intersection where First Nations and Aboriginal women haunt the sidewalks looking for ways to survive, often times by participating in sex work. Many of these women have gone missing, were murdered or have disappeared. The precarious labor of many of these workers lands them in a tight paradox: they are both publicly recognizable and spectacularly visible yet invisible, or negligible, when it comes to securing their protection and safety in the economic sphere. Belatedly, in 2014, the Royal Canadian Mounted Police reported a total of 1,181 missing and murdered women between 1980-2012. This amount is staggering given that Aboriginal women make up 10% of the homicides in Canada, yet they are only 3% of Canada’s total population. What these percentages tell us is that First Nations and Aboriginal women are often forced to occupy some of the most precarious social positions in order to survive. These disappearances and murders are at the heart of Belmore’s performance and we see her persistence in questioning where they might be.

The redundancy of Belmore’s hammering asks audiences, both local and otherwise, to consider the relationship between time and action differently, repetitively, as a measurement that is a function of syncopation. Rebecca Schneider’s concept of syncopated time asks “what is the time of the live act when a live act is reiterative” arguing that live acts happen “then” as well as “now” (Performance Remains 37). How do Belmore’s actions in the live moment, through a reiterative act of putting her body at this intersection stretch time or stretch through time to recall the “then” of disappearance prior to the performance? This talk will trace these genealogies of time and redundancy to reconsider a different kind of contact between life and death, particularly through Indigenous worldviews, as well as a different kind of shared agreement that the action of nailing might suggest.

Lilian Mengesha is a PhD Candidate in Theater and Performance Studies at Brown University. Her dissertation, tentatively titled Hard to See: Disappearance, Indigeneity and Performance, examines the widespread disappearances of Indigenous women throughout North and Central America and performances and plays that use abject aesthetics and affects of/in violence to respond to the lack of  accountability of these deaths. Her work folds together Indigenous and Third World Feminisms, decolonial thought, aesthetic theory, and performance theories around liveness and disappearance. Her work seeks to bring together the resonances between Native Studies and Performance Studies in their shared concern around states of dispossession.

Still from Rebecca Belmore's 2002 Vigil, Video by Paul Wong.
Still from Rebecca Belmore’s 2002 Vigil, Video by Paul Wong.