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.
The 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.
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.
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.