Elizabeth Wiet – October 2 – Jack Smith, Charles Ludlam, and the Objects of Camp

My paper is propelled by a series of interrelated questions concerning the uses of Camp—and its relationship to queer community formation—in the work of Jack Smith and Charles Ludlam, both of whom have been lauded by various admirers as the “father” of (contemporary) queer theatre. If Smith’s influence is so strongly felt in the work of artists as diverse as John Waters, Robert Wilson, John Vaccaro, and Andy Warhol, then why has his name largely dropped out of popular consciousness? If Camp is a performance style marked by “excess” and aimed at producing queer social visibility, then why and how does Smith use it to stage his own disappearance? If Smith is a notoriously antipathetic (and antipersonal) performer, then how does Ludlam’s performance style, which owes much to Smith, become indistinguishable from his affability and personableness in the reception surrounding his performances? How do Smith and Ludlam negotiate their relationships to the “objects of refuse” that litter their stages and their scripts, and how do those relationships alter the affective resonances of their performances? How does the relationship Smith and Ludlam establish with their audiences affect our understanding of their relationship to their communities? By framing my analysis in terms of the way Smith and Ludlam have been variously received by their successors, it is ultimately my goal to complicate our understanding of queer performance as a genealogy.


Elizabeth Wiet is a doctoral candidate in English working at the nexus of performance studies, queer theory, and affect theory.