Arousal: Theatre, Performance, Embodiment
Westin San Diego Gaslamp Quarter | San Diego, California | November 15–18, 2018
Performance arouses; arousal is at the center of what performance can and should do. On and off stage, performances evoke, excite, inflame, and awaken. They provoke our different bodies and brains—our spirits and our materiality. Whether or not our arousal is explicitly sexual, it is sensual, erotic, cognitive, and embodied. As human animals, our arousal activates our desires, and its chemical reactions and unrelenting physical insistence reveal hidden motivations.
In a 1983 interview, Audre Lorde warned against “think[ing] of the erotic as an easy, tantalizing sexual arousal” and to understand “the erotic as … a force which moves us toward living in a fundamental way.” The erotic, in other words, drives arousal, motivating our impulses and desires. For theatre and performance scholars who study the potentials of performing bodies, her reminder to acknowledge these “forces that move us” suggests an opportunity to stage a dialogue around arousal as a mode of inquiry and as a driving impulse behind theatre and performance scholarship.
How does focusing on arousal stimulate new areas of research or re-stimulate more established ones? What are the implications of arousal as a focus of theatre and performance pedagogy and scholarship? How do performances of arousal reshape our understandings of artistic discovery, performance practice, and spectatorship? How does contemplating arousal reframe theatrical genre and spectatorship, from Burlesque’s teases and tassles, to Kabuki’s physical and emotional transformations, to Theatre of Cruelty’s visceral vices, to the blood-drenched sex of Jacobean tragedies, or Punchdrunk’s immersive incantations? Does an insistence on naming arousal demand a reconsideration of our spaces of inquiry—offices and classrooms, stages and backstages, and archives and libraries? How does arousal become renamed or refashioned into acceptable expressions of social behavior or performance artistry? When do performances of arousal—the leering advances of Stanley Kowalski toward his wife’s sister, Dushyanta’s and Sakuntala’s embodiment of the erotic, Tartuffe’s comic pursuit of Elmire, the undeniable attraction of Charles Ludlam’s Marguerite to Armand—stir us to understanding, compel us to face the unavoidable, and incite action? Likewise, how do the spectacles of hostility, violence, and legislated inequity that mark our current cultural moment demand a reconsideration of embodied performance and/as arousal, especially around bodies marked by sex, gender, age, race, ability, and size?
Arousal is a crucial element of what performance does and how performance means. Whether we are painfully or pleasantly aroused, performance moves and changes us. Events like the mass shooting at the PULSE nightclub in Orlando and the tragic violence that unfolded in Charlottesville, as well as terrorist incidents in European cities and across the globe remind us of the serious stakes of arousal and the importance of articulating embodied agency in spaces both public and private.
San Diego, the setting for ASTR’s 2018 conference, evokes a number of arousing images. How does the gritty sand of a California beach, the wild animals at the San Diego Zoo, the fantastic fan communities of Comic Con, the markets and tea shops of the Convoy Triangle, or the warships docked at the San Diego Naval Base arouse and inspire new performances and new scholarship? We encourage ASTR’s membership to contemplate the arousing possibilities of exploring our host city’s formal and informal performance venues (La Jolla Playhouse, Old Globe Theatre, SeaWorld, San Diego Chinese Historical Museum, or the Gaslamp Quarter) in order to excavate the past (indigenous sites and modern relocations), resurrect ghosts (colonial encounters and civic confrontations), and survey the sprawling metropolitan conurbation that crosses lived and legislated borders from San Diego to Tijuana. In particular, our location demands that we consider performances of and around borders, of inclusion, of power and authority (and their subversion), of Native, global South, and Pacific Rim performances. When we stand in San Diego, we look South across the border and West across the Pacific, at multiple intersections of culture, community, and performance. As we meet, a collection/collective of bodies laboring around our scholarship, how does San Diego arouse us? How does an investigation of arousal invigorate the discipline and re-awaken our commitment to work by and about all members of our artistic and intellectual communities?
We especially invite working sessions or other collaborative working formats that include off-site components, allowing San Diego to arouse new connections between ideas and between scholars in real time and space. For example, groups working on animal performance might visit the San Diego Zoo; sessions examining theatres of war might tour the naval base. In addition, we encourage visits to local performance venues (like The Old Globe Theatre and LaJolla Playhouse) and urge working session coordinators to propose sessions that include such visits.
The U.S. President aroused fear to garner the support to build a wall between Mexico and the United States. How are we aroused to occupy a border city, and how will our scholarship challenge the understood relationships between performing bodies and borders? Can a theory and practice of arousal—in all its guises—engage artists, scholars, and other audiences in especially relevant and energetic theatre and performance histories?
The deadline for working session proposals has passed. Working session participants will be notified by July 1, 2018.
All proposals, including those for previously convened working sessions, must explicitly relate their goals to the conference theme. Proposals that do not include direct articulation to the theme will not be considered. The Program Committee also reminds proposers that working sessions and curated panels are a part of ASTR’s explicit charge to promote, support, and feature work by, about, and with under-represented groups, including communities of color, LGBTQ communities, Disability communities, and communities of scholars without regularized institutional support.
2018 Conference Program Chairs
Chase Bringardner, Associate Professor of Theatre, Auburn University
Christin Essin, Associate Professor of Theatre, Vanderbilt University
Kirsten Pullen, Professor and Head, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign
2018 Conference Program Committee
Hala Baki, Doctoral Candidate, University of California, Santa Barbara
Donatella Galella, Assistant Professor of Theatre, University of California-Riverside
Patricia Herrera, Associate Professor of Theatre, University of Richmond
D.J. Hopkins, Professor, School of Theatre, Television, and Film, San Diego State University
Rosemary Malague, University of Pennsylvania
Francesca Marini, Associate Professor, Cushing Library Director, and Associate Dean for Special Collections, Texas A&M University
Rachel Moss, Northwestern University
Megan Sanborn Jones, Professor of Theatre, Brigham Young University
Jill Stevenson, Professor of Theatre, Marymount Manhattan College, ex officio
Aaron C. Thomas, Assistant Professor of Theatre, University of Central Florida
Kalle Westerling, Doctoral Candidate, The Graduate Center—CUNY