PSWG Speakers Fall 2021

Kimberly Jannarone, Co-Convener, Yale School of Drama

Elise Morrison, Co-Convener, Theater and Performance Studies Program

Tavia Nyong’o, Co-Convener, Theater and Performance Studies Program/American Studies/African American Studies

Evan Hill, Graduate Student Assistant, DFA candidate, Yale School of Drama

Andie Berry, Graduate Student Assistant, PhD candidate, English Literature/African American Studies

This semester, the working group will convene online via Zoom on Tuesdays from 12-1pm EST.  This year’s theme is “Environment in and of Crisis.”  Guests present for approximately 30-40 minutes, leaving time for a robust  Q&A with the broader group.

Sept 10 May Joseph, Professor Social Science & Cultural Studies, Pratt Institue; Founder of Harmattan Theater, Inc

Sept 17 Sean Metzger, Professor, School of Theater, Film, and Television; Associate Dean, Faculty and Students, UCLA

Sept 24  Siobhan Angus, Banting Postdoctoral Fellow, History of Art, Yale University; visiting scholar, Yale Center for British Art

Oct 1 Frances Ya Chu Cowhig, playwright; Joshua Chambers-Letson, Professor, Northwestern University; and Christine Mok, Assistant Professor, English, University of Rhode Island

Oct 8 Stacey Sacks, artist and scholar, Stockholm; Fulbright Scholar-in-Residence, Naugatuck Valley Community College

Oct 15  Michael Wang, artist, creator of Extinct in the Wild

Oct 22  Yale Fall Break

Oct 29  Jonathan D. Howard, Assistant Professor of English and African American Studies, Yale

Nov 5  Lisa Woynarski, Associate Professor, Film, Theatre, and Television, University of Reading

Nov 12  Joshua Chambers-Letson, Professor, Performance Studies, Northwestern University

Nov 19  Jennifer Parker-Starbuck, Head of School, Performance and Digital Art, Royal Holloway

Frances Ya-Chu Cowhig//October

Snow in Midsummer: A Parable of Global Capital



Frances Ya-Chu Cowhig, playwright

Christine Mok, University of Rhode Island

Joshua Takano Chambers-Letson, Northwestern University



“Men were born with mouths that could right wrongs with a few words. Why are you too timid to speak?” In Snow in Midsummer, playwright Frances Ya-Chu Cowhig’s contemporary adaptation of a Yuan Dynasty classic, a young woman in a factory town is executed for a crime she did not commit. Her body, now property of the state, is scavenged and auctioned across the world. At her execution, Dou Yi vows that if she is innocent, snow will fall in midsummer and a drought will devastate the town. In the world of the play, the injustice to Dou Yi moves heaven and earth, but justice can only be wrought by human hands and truths spoken by human mouths.  Playwright Cowhig and co-editors Christine Mok and Joshua Takano Chambers-Letson will delve into the play to discuss four crises (pandemic, ecological, human, racial representation) and present on the newly published collection, Frances Ya-Chu Cowhig’s China Trilogy: Three Parables of Global Capital.


Frances Ya-Chu Cowhig is an internationally produced playwright whose work has been staged in the United Kingdom at the Royal Shakespeare Company, Hampstead Theatre, the National Theatre, Trafalgar Studios 2 [West End] and the Unicorn Theatre. In the United States her work has been staged at the Oregon Shakespeare Festival, Manhattan Theater Club and the Goodman Theatre.

Her plays have been awarded the Wasserstein Prize, the Yale Drama Series Award (selected by David Hare), an Edinburgh Fringe First Award, the David A. Callichio Award,  the Keene Prize for Literature and a United States Artist Fellowship.

She has benefited from artist residencies at Yaddo, Macdowell, Hedgebrook, Ragdale, the Sundance Playwright Retreats at Ucross and Flying Point, and the Santa Fe Art Institute.  Her work has been published by Yale University Press, Glimmer Train, Methuen Drama, Samuel French and Dramatists Play Service. 

Frances was born in Philadelphia, and raised in Northern Virginia, Okinawa, Taipei and Beijing. She received an MFA in Writing from the James A. Michener Center for Writers at UT Austin, a BA in Sociology from Brown University, and a certificate in Ensemble-Based Physical Theatre from the Dell’Arte International School of Physical Theatre.  She was formerly an Associate Professor of Drama at UC Santa Barbara, where she had the pleasure of mentoring undergraduate playwrights and directing the New Works Lab.

Christine Mok is a dramaturg, designer, and scholar. Her work, in scholarship and practice, focuses on the people, places, and performances where the limits of representation rub up against the limits of racial representation. She is an Assistant Professor of English at the University of Rhode Island. She has published in Journal of Asian American Studies, Theatre Survey, Modern Drama, and PAJ: A Performing Arts Journal. A founding member of Wingspace Theatrical Design, she received her Ph.D. in Theatre and Performance Studies from Brown University and holds an MFA in Dramaturgy and Dramatic Criticism from the Yale School of Drama. She is currently completing her first book project, which charts a genealogy of Asian American performance as an un-disciplining aesthetic and political strategy to imagine affiliation in inauthenticity and failure.


Joshua Chambers-Letson is Professor of Performance Studies and Asian American Studies at Northwestern University and, for the ’21-’22 academic year, a Presidential Fellow and Visiting Professor of Theater and Performance Studies at Yale University. He has published in the areas of contemporary art and performance, critical race theory, and queer of color critique and is the author of After the Party: A Manifesto for Queer of Color Life (NYU Press, 2018) and A Race So Different: Law and Performance in Asian America (NYU Press, 2013) as well as other edited volumes, articles, and art writing.

Kimberly Jannarone // March 23, Noon-1pm EST

Physical Culture and the Nationalist Socialization of the Body

Dr. Jannarone will be presenting work in progress from her book Mass Performance: Systems and Citizens, a book that investigates the way the power of synchronized mass movement has been recognized and regularized by ruling powers in the era of nationalization.  This excerpt focuses on the path from German physical culture clubs in the immediate aftermath of World War II to the system of rallies, gestures, and unison calls-and-response so well known from the rallies of the NSDAP in the 1930s.  Taking a close look at the physiological bonding generated by thousands of bodies moving together in synchrony, the work elucidates how the harnessing of visceral and kinesthetic energies was integral to modern mass politics, and how performance studies might help us understand a little piece of the unthinkable.


Kimberly Jannarone is Professor in the Practice of Dramaturgy and Dramatic Criticism at the Yale School of Drama and Affiliate Faculty with the Theater and Performance Studies program.  She spent 2017-18 at the National Humanities Center working on her book, Mass Performance: Systems and Citizens (forthcoming, University of Michigan Press).  From 2001-19, she was Professor of Theater Arts at UC Santa Cruz.  Her books include Artaud and His Doubles (Honorable Mention, Joe Callaway Prize for best book in drama) and Vanguard Performance Beyond Left and Right.  She directs experimental performance and has co-translated, with Erik Butler, several contemporary French plays.


April 22, 2014 — Season Finale

On TuesdayApril 22 from 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.

April 16th – Performance Art at Yale, a session of the PSWG at the Yale School of Art

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.

Lunch will be served.

April 9 – Magda Romańska: Of Drammatology: Form and Content in Performative Exchange

 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?

March 26 – Willa Fitzgerald: Playing at Representation, Playing at War: An Examination of the Wooster Group and The Royal Shakespeare’s Company’s Triolus and Cressida

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.

February 19 – Kathy Foley: Tangible Intangibles: Heritage and Performance in Bordered Worlds

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).

March 5 – Kee-Yoon Nahm: “This Solidity and Compound Mass:” Material Objects and Authenticity in The Wooster Group’s Hamlet

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.