The Promise of Common Creation in Improv Comedy and Contact Improv
Katherine Profeta, Nov. 12 2019 2- 3 pm. 220 York Street, Room 100.
My new research explores two forms of improvisational performer training and performance, and Improv Comedy and Contact Improvisation, which emerged in the USA in the second half of the 20th century. Both live on today, partially assimilated into institutional training structures, but still sometimes serving as alternatives to more formal pathways of study and creative production. Thinking across dance and theater can better illuminate each practice, for instance clarifying how they arose from a shared cultural moment, during which the ideals of improvisation and collective creation swept across many disciplines. I assign much credit for that larger moment to Africanist approaches to musical improvisation, and particularly the popular awareness of 1940s bebop which grew in the 50s and 60s. I also find common roots in progressive theories of education, which date back to the 19th century but similarly expanded in popularity as the 20th century went on. Both Contact Improvisation and Improv Comedy boast an exciting rhetoric of inclusion, according to which the creative act is decentralized, and performances are generated as the common property of all bodies present. Yet these techniques must also reckon with a less pleasant reality that the rhetoric of inclusion cannot obscure: open improvisation within a collective does not always counter patterns of socially ingrained bias, and in fact can amplify them instead.
Katherine Profeta is a NYC dramaturg who has worked with choreographer/visual artist Ralph Lemon since 1997. Other collaborators over the years, both recent and long-past, include Alexandra Beller, Nora Chipaumire, Karin Coonrod, Annie Dorsen, Julie Taymor, David Thomson, Ni’Ja Whitson, and Theater for a New Audience. She is also a founding member and frequent choreographer with the New York City theater company Elevator Repair Service, lending her hand to the majority of its productions since 1991. Profeta holds an MFA and DFA in dramaturgy from the Yale School of Drama, where she is currently a Professor in the Practice of Dramaturgy and Dramatic Criticism. Previously she taught in the theater departments of Barnard and Queens College, CUNY. Her first book, Dramaturgy in Motion, came out in 2015 from University of Wisconsin Press. Other writing has been seen in Performing Arts Journal, Theater magazine, Movement Research Performance Journal, TCG’s Production Notebooks, and MoMA’s Modern Dance series. She was proud to be a dramaturg last year with the Urban Bush Women Choreographic Center Initiative.
Postdramatic Stress: Performance in the Aftermath of War
Elise Morrison, Nov. 5, 2019 2-3pm. 220 York Street, Room 100.
Post-dramatic performance in the aftermath of war describes performances whose practitioners and audiences have prior knowledge of the war(s) that have come before, are versed in the dramaturgies and narratives employed in the preparation and enactment of war, and have chosen deliberately to step beyond those habitual expressive structures into imaginative and embodied new vocabularies of peace. Centered on research conducted on a recent trip to Hiroshima and Okinawa, two communities that experienced such severe devastation in WWII that civic life has been defined by the aftermath for the 75 years since, Morrison discusses examples of artist-activists who submit martial interfaces and received narratives of war to “post-dramatic stress,” utilizing interactivity and participatory world making within the space of a performance as a means of facilitating “performative ethics” and “moral imagination” for local and international communities.
A Specific Anarchy: The Cockettes, Genderfuck, and the Beginning of the 1970s
Charles O’Malley, Oct. 15, 2019 2-3pm. 220 York Street, Room 100.
This talk comes from Charles O’Malley’s current project, a critical history of the genderfuck performance collective the Cockettes, a group of mostly queer artists working in San Francisco from 1969-1972. Situated between the rise of the New Left and the opening of the queer liberation movement, the Cockettes worked to blur the line between performance and the everyday, all while constantly needling at definitions of gender and asking which walls needed to come down. Drawn from interviews and performance detritus left by members of the group, this talk analyzes the use of “genderfuck” as a tool and considers the group’s legacy.
Charles O’Malley is a doctoral candidate at the Yale School of Drama; his dissertation focuses on queer radicalism in 1970s San Francisco. At Yale, he co-convenes the Performance Studies Working Group and is the Artistic Fellow at Yale Repertory Theatre. His writing has appeared in the New Republic, Lambda Literary, Indiewire, and in the journal QED. He has taught at Yale College and Connecticut College.
What Can Theater Scholarship Learn from Theater? Methodology and a Collaborative Turn
In spite of seismic shifts in how scholars conduct and conceive of their research in the digital age, humanists still tend to research in isolation, publish single-author articles in journals, and rarely collaborate on peer-reviewed publications. For theater scholars, there is thus a massive disjuncture between how we produce our scholarship and how the works we study are created. Theater studies considers the cultural, historical, and literary dimensions of events that are intensely collaborative by definition; yet we rarely discuss or reenact this collective dimension in our scholarly writing. At the same time, collaborative forms and strategies are frequent topics of conversation among theater artists, since collaborative currents, and the obstacles that get in their way, are crucial elements of the production process. While there may not always be a relationship between methods and objects of study, we believe that collaboration is important both as a topic for theater scholarship and also in the methodologies we employ. The Working Group for the Study of Collaboration in Theater is committed to bridging the gap between theatrical practices and scholarly perceptions by theorizing scholarly collaboration. In this informal round table, we discuss our process and preliminary findings.
Michael G. Garber, PhD in Theatre, is an interdisciplinary teacher, historian, theorist, critic, and artist in drama, dance, music, film, and media. His book-in-progress is about the complex collective authorship of early twentieth-century American Broadway songs.
Debra Caplan is Assistant Professor of Theater at Baruch College, City University of New York. Her research focuses on Yiddish theater and global artistic networks, and her work has appeared in Theatre Survey, Theatre Journal, Modern Drama, New England Theatre Journal, and Comparative Drama.
Katherine Hollander holds a PhD in modern European history from Boston University. Her work focuses on collaborative practices among a small group of German-speaking theater professionals in the 1930. Also a poet and librettist, she teaches at Simmons College.
Alisa Sniderman is Assistant Professor / Faculty Fellow in Drama at NYU Tisch. Her research centers on the intersection of theatre studies and economics, and her work has appeared in Modern Drama and Theatre Journal.
Claire Solomon is associate professor of Hispanic studies and Comparative Literature at Oberlin College. Her book Fictions of the Bad Life: The Naturalist Prostitute and Her Avatars in Latin American Literature 1880-2010 explores how the literary prostitute of the late nineteenth century incarnated racial, ethnic, and sexual tensions in tropes that have persisted into the twenty-first century. Her current research focuses on how the popular and the avant-garde overlap in “minoritarian” theater of the 1920s-40s in North and South America.
Inscrutability, Hospitality, and the Parasitic Performance of Laurel Nakadate
Notorious for staging scenarios that maximize awkwardness, Laurel Nakadate might be thought of as a contemporary artist who sculpts loneliness and discomfort as her materials of choice. As she once stated in an interview, Nakadate has a penchant for putting herself in places she does not belong, with people she seemingly does not belong with. The artist’s costars and subjects predominantly fall into one of two groups: the first, people whom one critic describes as “beer-bellied, awkward loners who seem remarkable mainly for how unremarkable they are,” and the second, pretty and bored teenage girls in domestic and rural spaces. Whether Laurel is accompanied or alone, however, the challenge and urge to belong remain recurrent themes in her work. While critics have described some of her co-stars as being pathetic and the activities practiced in her videos as exploitative, Nakadate has insisted that her work is optimistic and collaborative.
This talk will focus on Nakadate’s three-channel video installation Oops! (2000) in order to discuss the relationship among Asian/American femininity, inscrutability, and hospitality in her filmed encounters dancing alongside male strangers to Britney Spears’s 2000 smash hit. I will turn to writings on hospitality and the parasite by Jacques Derrida and Michel Serres to ask: if Orientalist discourse produces and eroticizes an affinity among Asianness, femininity, inscrutability, and hospitality, then can attunements to hospitality and inscrutability perform Asian femininity otherwise? How and when is inscrutability a useful aesthetic mode for minoritarian subjects, and can performances of inscrutability enact ethical modes of being?
Vivian L. Huang is currently the Gaius Charles Bolin Fellow in Comparative Literature and Women’s, Gender, & Sexuality Studies at Williams College. She completed her doctoral work in performance studies at New York University and is working on her book manuscript entitled Some Island Unknown to the Rest of the World: Inscrutability and Asian American Performance. Huang’s writing has appeared in the Journal of Asian American Studies and Criticism: A Journal for Literature and the Arts.
Irreverent Calypsos in Derek Walcott’s The Joker of Seville
In 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 tigres, Sirena selena vestida de pena, La importancia de llamarse Daniel Santos, Le 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!
Playing in the Ruins: En Garde Arts and the Millennial American City
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.
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.