Debating the Stakes in Theatre and Performance Scholarship
Portland Marriott Downtown Waterfront | Portland, Oregon | November 5–8, 2015
The illusion of consensus and unanimity, as well as the calls for “anti-politics,” should be recognized as being fatal for democracy and therefore abandoned.
Conviction. Commitment. Urgency. Advocacy. Activism. These are terms that evoke a robust assertion of ideals, a principled embrace of political positions, a vigorous pursuit of envisioned goals, and a spirited defense of articulated values. Within the context of theatrical performance, the terms signal artists and practitioners who are willing to choose sides, to take stands or to incur political risks and who understand the work of theatre and performance not as an end in itself but as a catalyst for change and a means to an end. Applied to theatre and performance scholarship, the terms mean nothing less: the stakes are just as high. However, these terms also require a calculated, self-reflective examination of theatre and performance history in order to further a larger political debate. They imply a marshalling of research in support of a particular issue or cause, and engage historical analyses that are crafted into calls to action, deliberate provocations and timely polemics. Such terms ask practitioners and scholars to confront issues in our discipline that require us to stake a claim, pick a side, take a position and to take up spirited debate, animated dialogue and a rigorous exchange of ideas, argument and evidence.
In their relation to theatre and performance scholarship, terms such as “conviction,” “commitment,” “urgency,” “advocacy” and “activism” are bound by—even as they shape—historical context. Their points of reference change from generation to generation, and from location to location. In these respects, such terms are often best defined in work that exemplifies their corresponding concepts in actual practice: articulating new pressing political urgencies; literally calling us to direct action; stirring controversy and thus provoking immediate debate within our profession. In short, they call forth work that identifies the issues in which we currently have a stake and about which we cannot afford to remain indifferent.
It was with the goal of creating a forum for such work and for the constructive yet critical debates that it engenderd that we had focused the 2015 ASTR conference on debating the stakes in theatre and performance scholarship. We were as interested in papers that critically examined broadly defined aspects of activist theatre and performance as we were in scholarship that positions itself in terms of advocacy or issues. We also invited proposals that examined the value of past critical debates or that charted those of an imagined future. Above all, we were interested in papers that pointed us toward and asked us to concern ourselves with the current and emerging issues that we as scholars, practitioners and citizens face.
2015 Conference Program Chairs
Jean Graham-Jones, City University of New York
James Harding, University of Maryland
Janelle Reinelt, University of Warwick
2015 Conference Program Committee
Patrick Anderson, University of California, San Diego, ex officio
Margaret Werry, University of Minnesota, ex officio
Kate Bredeson, Reed College
Joshua Chambers-Letson, Northwestern, Committee on Conferences Rep
Dorothy Chansky, Texas Tech University, Committee on Conferences Rep
Matt Di Cintio, Tufts, Theatre Library Association Rep
John Fletcher, Louisiana State University
Avishek Ganguly, Rhode Island School of Design
Christina McMahon, University of California, Santa Barbara
Stephanie Vella, City University of New York, Graduate Student Caucus Rep