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2018 Working Sessions
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ASTR/TLA 2018 Annual Conference logo

About Face: The Material History of Pleasure in Stage Makeup

Jane Barnette, University of Kansas,
Esther Kim Lee, University of Maryland,
Martine Kei Green-Rogers, SUNY New Paltz,

The performer’s face is at the root of our perceptions and performances of pleasure and arousal. Extant stage makeup manuals feature tutorials on how to use cosmetics to improve (or mask) one’s appearance, including one’s age, race, and gender (or species). Elaborate self-care routines for removing makeup and stimulating new skin are often part of this performance ritual. This working session explores the use of makeup, headwear, and facial plastic surgery in the construction and maintenance of arousal, broadly conceived. We will consider makeup, including cosmetics, prosthetics, and special effects makeup from both historical and contemporary perspectives. We welcome contributions about the material history of a wide variety of stage makeup, which can extend to include hair and those elements of costume that highlight the face.
Building on the success of our gathering last year, this working session explores the use of makeup in the construction and maintenance of arousal, broadly conceived. We will consider makeup, including cosmetics, prosthetics, and special effects makeup from both historical and contemporary perspectives. What assumptions about pleasure does the use of makeup imply? In what ways does makeup reflect the perception of attraction and arousal, and in what ways does it participate in shaping those perceptions? How, for example, do makeup manuals and product guides draw on and perpetuate social norms of age, race, class, and gender? Participants might address questions related to the following:

  1. What does the material history of stage makeup tell us about how bodies are perceived and represented?
  2. How does the focus on the face within the field of stage makeup (design and technique) contribute to larger conversations about arousal?
  3. How do makeup objects (manuals, tools, cosmetic colors and formulations, etc.) reveal users' biases about faces and bodies, and how are those biases materially linked to the cultures of design and production of that particular moment in history?
  4. How does the use of makeup in drag performance, blackface (and other racialized incarnations), animal makeup, and cosplay evoke pleasure?
  5. Could cosmetic surgery, as part of the performance (pre, during, post), factor into arousal?

In this working group, our primary interest is in projects that engage in the material practice of makeup and mask-making. We will also consider papers on fashion/editorial makeup. What does the use of paint and powder conceal and reveal?  We are particularly interested in how makeup has been used to drastically transform the performer and how these transformations may be linked to pleasure and pain. Do these cosmetic representations presume that the face is in some ways a static object that can be framed by a narrative for the audience, but overlook the considerable technology, artistry, and biases that shape that perception, which starts with facial recognition? What happens when cosmetic surgery becomes part of the performance?

Before the conference, participants will share critical reflections (2500 words maximum) via the shared private wiki. Each participant will then pose questions for at least two colleagues from the seminar, with the goal of elucidating the crucial elements of each colleague’s project: its context, its execution, and its potential contribution to the conversation. Following a dialogue occasioned by these questions, each member of the working group will post one artifact (photo of made-up face, technical diagram, mask, video, makeup tool or product, etc.) to the wiki; participants will review all artifacts as their final step of preparation. The two hours we share at the conference itself will be our opportunity to share insights about connections and provocations across projects, and to brainstorm the next steps for the participants who want to continue these conversations.

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Amusement Parks, Tourism, and Performed Selves (Off-Site)

Jennifer Kokai, Weber University,
Ryan Claycomb, West Virginia University,

“This beach isn't a favorite among the locals, always covered with tourists. On the other hand, I enjoy the fact that we practically have our own Santa Monica pier. Only, it's not nearly as ghetto at all. It's a must for your visit to San Diego."  —Local Guide Jessie Wells, review of Belmont Park

Tourist attractions, and perhaps amusement and theme parks in particular, are engineered to arouse feelings in guests that will prompt repeat visits, continued consumption of goods, and increased brand reach. Architecture, food offerings, and landscaping construct a locale meant to arouse pleasure, nostalgia, escape, and utopia for guests, focusing the tourist’s gaze and framing the tourist’s embodied experience. This is a reciprocal relationship: in order to enjoy the attractions, guests must be willing to adopt an identity in relationship to the park that engenders these arousals without rejecting or resisting them (or alternatively, finding pleasure in this resistance).  In this working group, continuing to think about theme parks and performance, the group will travel to Belmont Park the day before the plenaries begin.

Described in reviews as an old-fashioned, nostalgic “New England” style amusement park, Belmont Park (as with all amusement parks) is caught up in a nexus of issues of race, class, gender, and insider/outsider status. The labels guests attach to themselves and to other guests can arouse a variety of feelings, both positive and negative.

At Belmont Park, we will do field research into the kinds of identities that visitors to the parks craft and perform. How does their public performance of identity in (relation to) the parks manifest: through clothing choice, spatial arrangement, relationships to other guests, and willingness to participate in the parks’ script? In addition, we will analyze our own reactions to the park’s attempt to arouse affective responses and the autobiographical conceptions of self that encourage us to submit to or resist vectors of interpellation.  For this reason, we welcome participants who think this trip sounds like fun as well as those who think this sounds terrible.

We ask potential participants to submit abstracts of 250 words that illuminate the primary theoretical or historical project framework they wish to engage with in this scholarship. How will they choose to focus their examination of the performance of self at the parks?  Possibilities might include analyses of gender, race, political economics, neuro-cognition, food studies, environment, disability, historicity, materialisms, etc.

Brief statements (3-5 pages) expanding upon the theoretical or historical framework being used should be distributed to all session participants by October 1, 2018. After the visit to Belmont Park, the working session time will be used to share observations and results and to continue to theorize the relationships between theme parks and performance.

For any specific questions, please contact the working group conveners Jennifer Kokai ( and Ryan Claycomb (

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Animal Engagements: Arousal, Affect, Empathy, Spectacle (Off-Site)

Marla Carlson, University of Georgia,
Kim Marra, University of Iowa,
Jen Parker-Starbuck, Royal Holloway University of London,

What does the co-presence of human and non-human animals arouse? This session will bring together a diverse range of scholars to consider performative human-animal engagements, enriched and provoked by a visit to the nearby San Diego Zoo. The proximity of this world-famous local institution offers an especially productive opportunity to engage in ongoing debates around species preservation, empathy, and arousal in a performance context. Nonhuman animals have long performed with, for, and alongside humans, and zoos have been a charged site for the performance of animal histories, longevity, and care. Questions of captivity and animal ethics make the zoo a contested site, but zoos also play a vital role in wildlife conservancy and educational outreach—we want to interrogate these positions as we consider how our own field’s focus on spectatorial and embodied experiences functions within this institutional structure. Although she goes on to recognize the role of breeding programs in zoos, Donna Haraway provocatively writes: “Engaging in training (education) is interesting for animals, just as it is for people . . . training with an animal, whether the critter is named wild or domestic, can be a part of disengaging from the semiotics and technologies of compulsory reproductive biopolitics” (When Species Meet, 222). Our conference experience will critically question these ideas, following a three-part format:

Part 1: By October 1, we will exchange papers (15 pages max, double-spaced) addressing questions of nonhuman animal engagement in performance, broadly construed. While based in their specialized research, participants’ papers should be structured around the keywords “arousal,” “affect,” “empathy,” and “spectacle” as they relate to human and nonhuman animal exchanges and engagements. The convenors will organize on-line discussion of the papers in advance of the conference to provide feedback on each other’s work and move our collective thinking by generating questions.

Part 2: Informed by these questions, we will take a field trip to the SD Zoo on Thursday before the start of the conference. There, we will propose a series of activities encouraging participants to consider performance with and for human and nonhuman animals (as non-interventionist spectators) and deepening consideration of our four keywords as they relate to animal engagements. For example, how might engaging with the zoo’s exhibits related to the once “extinct” California Condor relate to the recent work of Snaebjornsdottir/Wilson documenting remaining birds’ deaths from ingesting lead gunshot? What can our empathy accomplish? What is aroused when we come face-to-face with rare, almost extinct, or rarely seen nonhuman animals versus “charismatic megafauna”?

We recognize the contested nature of zoos in animal studies and the multi-faceted roles they have played in and beyond fulfilling the need to look at animals that John Berger has interrogated. Consequently, we will address ethical questions raised through the performance of spectacle that zoos require (such as the “educational” culling of a young giraffe in the Copenhagen zoo to preserve a gene line). What are the ethical implications of such “animal encounters” when one animal is in captivity? What are the possibilities of human performances for nonhuman animals in this and other contexts? We will specifically address questions of spectacularity. We ask how a shift to what Jennifer Ham describes as a “tableaux vivant” style of zoo display, “offering total visibility and an increasing sense of liberation” (Animal Acts 1997: 149), and then to “wildlife park” open enclosures in which spectators may barely glimpse the animals, changes our relationship to the nonhuman animal in life and performance contexts.

A one-day zoo ticket costs $54.00. The convenors can arrange roundtrip shuttle transport from the hotel to the zoo at a cost of about $10 per person. We have obtained a conference grant to help defray at least some of the ticket and transport costs. The price of admission could be lowered further with a group rate depending on our numbers. Participants should plan on arriving in San Diego by Wednesday night in order to allow for a full day at the Zoo on Thursday.

Part 3: We will gather in a conference session to explore and share our experiences from the field trip as they apply to our focal questions and relate back to our individual research. This working group welcomes new and returning participants to build upon and extend the work of the Animals Perform I/II and Transspecies Working Groups (ASTR 2014-16), which successfully nurtured an interdisciplinary strand of theatre and performance studies, with ongoing publications and presentations by group participants.

Submission Instructions:
We ask applicants to this working group to provide (1) a paper title; (2) a 250-word abstract of the proposed paper, including how it will be structured around the keywords “arousal,” “affect,” “empathy,” and “spectacle” as they relate to human and nonhuman animal exchanges and engagements; (3) a brief biographical statement, no more than 150 words.

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Arab Arousal: Embodying Arab Identity in Performance

Hala Baki, University of California, Santa Barbara,
George Potter, Valparaiso University,
Samer Al-Saber, Florida State University,

What does the word Arab arouse?

Arab is a signifying category that evokes a range of ideas and images in culture and performance. This working group seeks to explore the contemporary proliferation of the term as an arousing idea in art and society. We invite a diverse group of interdisciplinary scholars to consider how Arab moves to action, shapes a vision, and stirs affective responses.

The category of “Arab” invites charged emotional reactions in the transnational public sphere today. These various responses have been shaped by and embedded into the dominant rhetoric used in media, politics, and everyday vernacular. Sensationalism, tokenism, and extremism all threaten Arab cultural agency both in the Arab world as well as in the diaspora. In addition, such responses have escalated in recent decades, especially with the unfolding of the so-called War On Terror, recent Arab uprisings, and the ongoing refugee crisis of the twenty-first century.

Unlike the use of the Arab harem and swordsmiths for the purpose of orientalist arousal in traditional western genres, contemporary Arab culture defies the static orient with images of international film stars, sexually suggestive music videos, reality television, Ramadan series, YouTube revolutionaries, and politically provocative theater.

Unless we increase the number of effective forums for the discussion of this category on its own terms, with regional awareness and expertise, the latent neocolonial trend will continue. In part, we intend to explore methodologies that entail linguistic expertise, ethnographic methods, and historiographic investigations in source texts.

In this working session, the conveners seek to gather scholars of Arab and Arab diaspora theatre and performance at different career levels, for a discussion to address current issues of the representation and cultural production of Arabs around the world.   By seeking the participation of native and non-native experts with scholars who wish to develop their expertise, the conveners hope to create a community that holds itself accountable for the fair representation of precarious subjects in performance and theatre scholarship.   

In the lead-up to San Diego, participants will share their papers in various focus groups in preparation for discussions with the larger group. We expect early submissions to take place in order to increase engagement on substantive discussion prior to the conference. 

We invite submissions of 250 to 400 word abstracts.  Broadly, topics may include issues of race, representation, method, theory, identity, and mixed identities. We also invite disciplinary critiques in the areas of performance, theatre, criticism, literature, and anthropology. Examples of potential investigations may include:

  • The representation of Arabs.
  • Racial considerations of Arab playwrights, artists, scholars, or characters.
  • The role of new media in globalizing Arab performance and scholarship.
  • Institutional approaches to Arab performance or scholarship.
  • Processes of production and reception in relation to Arab art.
  • Social, political, and economic impacts of the public sphere on Arab art.
  • Research methods or case studies that inform future research.
  • Proposed theoretical advancements.
  • Analyses or interpretations of source texts in their original language or in translation.
  • Critiques of existing methods in literature, theory, history, anthropology, and other relevant disciplines.
  • Critiques of existing English language scholarship on these topics.

For any specific questions, please contact the working group conveners Hala Baki (, George Potter (, and Samer Al-Saber (

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Archived Arousal?

Dorothy Chansky, Texas Tech University,
Terry Dean, James Madison University,
Valleri Robinson, University of Illinois,

For historians seeking to understand the visceral and emotional effects of theatrical events past, the archive is frequently the only available evidentiary source.  How are critical assessments and/or descriptions of personal experiences understood (or subject to suspicion) as reliable (written) testimonies with regard to the capacity of performance(s) to cause laughter, tears, embarrassment, outrage, nausea, fear, or a host of other kinds of somatic and psychological reactions?  As David Gooblar’s recent Chronicle of Higher Education article (November 20, 2017, “Yes, You Have Implicit Biases, Too”) reminds us, our subjective points of view, situated historically and ethnographically, shape our perceptions of our experiences.  How does this play into our experience of archived accounts of performance?  What aroused, for example, righteous anger in one era might seem merely shrug-worthy or even laughable today. 

In this working group, each participant will provide an archival document (diary entry, review, scholarly essay, etc.) that makes some kind of claim or claims about the effect(s) of one or more actual performance(s) and will write a brief paper (1000-1250 words) examining/parsing/problematizing the documentary evidence.  We invite participants to contribute archival/historical evidence from a variety of eras, languages, geographic areas, and/or performance traditions.  In our actual meeting together, participants will engage with each other’s examples.  We seek analyses that draw on the social, gendered, medical, linguistic, nationalistic, or other regimentary discourses in which the primary material is embedded (or perhaps that is overtly embedded in the analysis). 

Potential questions with which to interrogate the archival materials include:

  • To what degree can we deconstruct descriptions of (arousing) performances in order to trace the writer/critic’s subjectivity in terms of its moment and milieu?  
  • How might this impact the perceived reliability of the archival material or the weight it should play in a contemporary attempt to reconstruct and analyze what occurred?  
  • Moreover, how do our own implicit biases and subject positions as historians stimulate particular types of arousal in response to archival discoveries?  

We are also interested in instances where verbal evidence of arousal is not accompanied by a visual archive, leaving the historian (or teacher) by necessity in the thrall of words that may, in and of themselves, fail to convince or may confound (or tantalize) the latter-day reader. 

Proposals should include a piece (or pieces) from an archive along with a brief (300-500 words) document explaining the ways in which the archival material both indicates arousal at the time of the original event and how it does or does not arouse them in the present.  We welcome instances of re-translation that might differently inflect the source material for present-day readers.  Those selected as participants will then submit a concise (1500-2000 words) paper to the conveners no later than 6 weeks prior to the conference in which the evidence is analyzed and questions are raised regarding the arousal described in the material.  Papers will be shared electronically, and discussions among participants will begin in the weeks prior to the conference.  During the session at the conference, we will scaffold our discussion based on the foundation established through our prior electronic communications. We see the opportunity for participant response in the form of drawing or even performance as well as formal scholarship. 

For any specific questions, please contact the working group conveners Dorothy Chansky (, Terry Dean (, and Valleri Robinson (

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Arousal and Medieval Performance

Susannah Crowder, John Jay College of Criminal Justice,
Jacqueline Jenkins, University of Calgary,

Moments and methods of arousal lie at the heart of medieval performance.  From scenes that enflame our lust for the virgin saints to embodied devotional practices that stimulate sensual encounters with holy figures, desire lies at the heart of the dramatic encounters of the Middle Ages.  Medieval performance serves as a force of arousal and of stimulation, moving the participants and audience from the simplicity of pleasure or pain to the possibility of a transcendent experience in which visions and materiality combine to connect the earthly with the heavenly: through the awakening and cultivation of bodily experience, the embodied arousals of medieval performance permit access to the divine.

This session seeks contributions of short scholarly papers that actively engage with questions of arousal in medieval drama and performance practices.

Some possible paper topics:

  • How does a focus upon arousal in its various forms permit us to refocus or stimulate medieval drama studies?
  • How do the pain and pleasure of medieval performances – past and present – incite action, inaction, or reaction?
  • How does medieval drama and performance practice create arousal, relative to the identity and material experience of the scholar, practitioner, or audience member?
  • What fusions and fissions are created when medieval and modern modes of arousal collide, in scholarship or on stage?
  • What processes or goals do individual moments of medieval arousal enact?
  • Does the performance of arousal have a history that is specifically medieval?

This is an on-going working group focused on Medieval Performance; as in previous years, discussions will begin in the months prior to the meeting in order to foster a deeper exchange in person.  We invite participation from scholars and practitioners of medieval performance, both institutionally-based and independent, and from graduate students as well as more senior scholars.

Feel free to contact the co-organizers, Susannah Crowder ( and Jacqueline Jenkins (, with questions about the session.

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Arousal and Precarious Labor in Burlesque: Methods, Archives, and Ethical Scholarship (Off-Site)

Beth Hartman, University of Minnesota,
Elizabeth Wellman, Oregon State University,
Kalle Westerling, CUNY Graduate Center,

Those of us who work on burlesque and other forms of precarious sexual labor—adult entertainment, erotic performance, drag, sex work, and pornography—often encounter a variety of ethical dilemmas.  A tension-filled relationship with the archive, interlocutors, performers, and other community members can color the research and scholarship.  Our inquiries, however well-intended, may arouse suspicions about researchers interested in artists’ performance lives, spheres, and histories.  And those suspicions are not unwarranted—memories of being misquoted or misrepresented on the page, academic tourists for whom sexual laborers are merely passing, or titillating, interests, and requests for information without remuneration all have stoked the fires of mistrust among those who live in precarity.

Participants in this working group will critically examine their own research practices, offering methodological insights and questions for further inquiry.  Together, we will consider how we engage with the archive, our interlocutors, and other individuals in the communities about which we are writing. We seek to ask: How do we share our work with members of these performance communities? How might our own voices advocate for ethical scholarship, particularly for those whose work is forced to operate in illegal or extra-legal contexts? Who has historically been under- or mis-represented in this scholarship, and how can we amplify those voices? How can we invite conversations from within performance communities into our scholarship? What are useful models for co-authorship that include scholars and practitioners? Finally, what are other ways our research can benefit the performers with whom we work? 

The conversation will be structured around the ethics and methodologies of the burlesque archive and its relationship to contemporary artistic practices. This session invites participants to share methods and practices from their own research on burlesque, including archival, ethnographic, and performance-based approaches.

The goals for this session are three-fold: (1) to imagine a best practices document that offers guidance to current and future burlesque archivists, curators, historians, theorists, ethnographers, and practitioners as they work to preserve and analyze the role of burlesque in larger historical and social contexts while tangibly supporting the work of art-makers often operating in marginalized, fetishized, commodified, and occasionally extra-legal spaces; (2) to trouble the current divides between scholarship and practice, especially, but not exclusively, as they apply to burlesque studies; and (3) to map out the existing archives and collections, both public and private, and create a digital guide to aide in accessibility and build connections among archival resources.

Since one of our goals is to bridge the divide between scholarship and practice, participation in the working group also entails an off-site excursion to attend a burlesque show, preceded or followed by a discussion with the show’s producer(s) and several of the performers.  We will incorporate our experiences into our working group conversation and draw upon our interactions with practitioners when drafting our “best practices” document and thinking about collaborative approaches to research and writing.  In addition, we will share our working group’s insights with the practitioners afterward and open up the possibility of an ongoing dialogue.

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Arousing Activism: Revolutionary Impulses in Middle East Performance

Ali-Reza Mirsajadi, Tufts University,
James Al-Shamma, Belmont University,

While histories of Middle Eastern theatre are still largely unwritten, its artists and leaders have harnessed its capacity to engender social and political change for many years. In the 1950s, Egyptian leader Gamal Abdel Nasser invited artists to create work in support of his ongoing socialist revolution, hoping to rouse the populace to support sustained transformation. In response, dramatists took it upon themselves to convey what they perceived to be the wishes of the people back to their leader. While this relatively open atmosphere of exchange, of a desire for performance to arouse both the leader and a people, was short-lived, artists in the region have nevertheless continued using their work to arouse progressive sentiments, even going so far as to covertly advocate for revolution.

This revolutionary impulse for change can be seen throughout the Middle East, whether in mass protests along the streets of Tehran, radical peace activism in Jerusalem, or on Egyptian stages during the Arab Spring. It also is present in the work of diasporic artists and activists, who must additionally navigate hyphenated identities and distance/difference within their calls for change.

What has it meant, in the Middle East and its diaspora, to arouse the populace against injustice, at the risk of life and limb? We invite papers that explore these issues through theatrical or artistic work, protest and activism, as well as more broadly-construed notions of performance. Questions and lines of research may include (but are not limited to):

  • How has performance in the Middle East responded to political issues within its society and the world at large?
  • What does it look like to arouse covertly, challenging systems of oppression through various forms of censorship?
  • How have artists and activists used performance to interrogate Middle Eastern and diasporic identity? In what way do they seek to arouse audiences?
  • When, where, and how have minoritarian groups within Middle Eastern countries and communities sought to express themselves?
  • How do notions of gender, ethnicity, sexuality, class, and religion inform these performances and a deeper understanding of Middle Eastern identity?
  • How has the persistence of Western neoimperialism, Islamophobia, Orientalism, and neoliberalism played out in the work of artists and activists in the Middle East and its diaspora?

Participants will be divided into thematic subgroups, and will circulate initial drafts of 10-15 pages in September. Each group will discuss the ways in which their papers are in conversation, providing feedback and crafting a brief presentation of their collective work and further questions to explore that will be shared at the start of our working session in San Diego. With the help of the audience, we seek to ultimately find common ground in our work and delve deeper into our theoretical frameworks, interrogate Middle Eastern identity and this notion of arousal, and situate our intervention within wider discussions of theatre history and performance studies.

For any specific questions, please contact the working group conveners Ali-Reza Mirsajadi ( or James Al-Shamma (

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Arousing Curiosities: Knowledge, Embodiment, and the Science Performance

Vivian Appler, College of Charleston,
Meredith Conti, University at Buffalo, SUNY,

“The Brain is like a Perspective-glass, and the Understanding is the Eye to discover the Truth, Follies, and Falshood [sic] in the World,” noted Lady Margaret Cavendish, Duchess of Newcastle in her 1655 treatise The World’s Olio. Writing at a time when experiential science practice was at its infancy (and anti-theatrical prejudice had reached new heights), Cavendish engages with early Enlightenment anxieties surrounding the Body (Sensation) and the Mind (Reason). By placing sensation in the brain and thought in the eye, Cavendish¾a woman playwright and natural philosopher¾metaphorically evokes an embodied observational event in order to contemplate the processes by which humans encounter and perceive the world. Her observation both honors the human desire to know and highlights the role of performance in the building of knowledge; in this way, Cavendish’s writings resonate with contemporary, interdisciplinary discourses uniting the topics of embodiment, performance, and science.

This working group considers theatre culture and science culture as they overlap in performance events, particularly those that foreground the influence of embodied experience and sensory arousal in knowledge generation. Working group contributors may consider theatrical performances that deal with science content; view scientific events (i.e. astronomical observations, autopsies, or geological surveys) through a performance studies lens; or engage with performances that otherwise blur the already fuzzy line separating art and science. Papers may address questions pertaining to embodiment (what bodies perform the science event?), the generation of human knowledge (how might science performances augment popular and/or expert understandings of science questions in ways that liberal science practice has not?), and performance (how is science content performed and received across various sites and media?).

We welcome the use of diverse theoretical frameworks and discursive approaches to an array of topics that include but are not limited to:

  • Plays or performative meditations on sense and reason
  • Sensory arousal in the science and/or performance event
  • Embodying and performing knowledge in the natural and physical sciences
  • Agency, empathy, and cognition in performances of/for/about non-human bodies
  • Understanding science content through embodied perception
  • Performance’s function as a knowledge-generative experience
  • Performing science and trust in surgical theatres, clinical trials, and doctor/patient encounters
  • Activist performances in support of (or in opposition to) the sciences
  • Performances by and about non-hegemonic science players
  • Eco-critical performances and climate change plays
  • Embodied sensation and the theatrical audience, or the science of spectatorship
  • Plays and performances that interrogate intersections of science and sexuality
  • Performances that exploit or sexualize socially “othered” bodies in the name of scientific research
  • The arousal of the intellect and senses through/within the curiosity cabinet, science museum, and educational science performances
  • Questions of embodiment, knowledge, and trust in cyborg and mediated performance.
  • Sexual arousal and its role in the progress (or regress) of scientific research (i.e., women banned from laboratories because they present a sexual distraction to male scientists)

This is the third and final session of a science and performance working group that began in 2016 as “Transfusions and Transductions: Science and Performance as Permeable Disciplines,” and continued in 2017 as “From the Curious to the Quantum: Bodies at the Intersection of Science and Performance.” Proposals for “Arousing Curiosities” are not limited to past working group participants.

The working group has two primary stages: a pre-conference peer-review process that provides participants with substantive feedback on their articles-in-progress, and a conference session (comprised of both small- and large-group discussions) that is fully inclusive of conference attendees. Working group members will prepare a conference paper draft (8-12 pages) by October 12, 2018 to share within subgroups and exchange online feedback preceding our meeting in San Diego. The conference session will begin with a continuation of subgroup feedback sessions followed by a full-group discussion of issues related to the interdisciplinary field of performance and science. All aspects of the working session are open to outside participants.

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Arousing Generosity

Laurie Beth Clark, University of Wisconsin-Madison,
Michael Peterson, University of Wisconsin-Madison,

Can generosity fix what is wrong in our world? Grand claims are made about the power of generosity, and theatre’s capacity to arouse it.  Generosity is understood by some as key to responding to issues ranging from the global refugee crisis to bullying.

To ‘give’ a performance may be but one side of a transactional exchange, an ‘offer’, but we contend that performance is often shaped by (or understood to involve) a fundamental act of giving. As Lewis Hyde argues, “that art that matters to us—which moves the heart or revives the soul, or delights the senses, or offers courage for living, however we choose to describe the experience—that work is received as a gift by us. Even if we have paid a fee at the door of the museum or concert hall, when we are touched by a work of art something comes to us that has nothing to do with the price.  (Hyde (2007 [1979]: xvii)

But we should not see generosity only through rose-coloured glasses. Writing in the 1920s, Malinowski and Mauss’ foundational research on gift economies points out that generosity can also function as an instrument of domination, and numerous historical and contemporary examples of aid-for-influence demonstrate its abuse. More recently, Clare Bishop’s advocacy of agonism in performance provides a basis of considering the value of arousing not generosity but perhaps its opposite.

This working group calls for critical examinations of the ethics and practices of generosity, as well as generosity’s inherent performativity. Without recourse to a naive faith in its potential, but also without devolving into cynicism about its limits, we hope that the group can take a fresh look at the possibilities of arousing generosity in theatre and performance. We seek submissions that analyse practices of generosity in everyday life, political and economic interventions, the textual or structural appearance of generosity as narrative instances and as represented in theatrical performances. We are especially interested in participants that consider generosity itself as a performative relation, and enquiries into the generosity and generativity that may lie at the heart of performance itself. We encourage submissions on a wide range of topics, included but by no means limited to performance, social practice and alternative, street and community theatres. Alongside such performances we are keen to prompt considerations of generosity in ‘everyday life’, as well as political actions framed within generosity.

The conveners run the arts collaborative Spatula&Barcode; this working group is a component of their multi-year project on generosity, which includes events, artworks, and an edited journal volume. We hope the working group itself will be an opportunity to explore scholarly generosity in feedback and mentorship across generations and disciplines.

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Arousing the Bodies of Pre-1850 Performance

Julia Fawcett, University of California-Berkeley,
VK Preston, University of Toronto,
Kristina Straub Carnegie Mellon University,

How does performance studies make (or re-make) history? How can we use performance studies’ vocabularies of loss, of disappearance, of memory and forgetting, to restore the behaviors and attend to the bodies of the past?

This working session builds on and continues last year’s conversation about the interventions that performance studies has made in the histories of raced, gendered, queered, disabled, and otherwise extraordinary bodies and how we access and study these bodies. Against scholars who see performance studies as presentist or who regard history as long-past, thinkers such as Joseph Roach, Diana Taylor, Rebecca Schneider, and Robin Bernstein (among others) have exposed the ways in which performance studies and historical studies might work together to emphasize the political salience and even the urgency of studying pre-1850 bodies and performances. We welcome all topics on pre-1850 performance but are specifically interested, in recognition of this year’s conference theme, in papers dealing with the history of sex and sexuality. Theaters are especially fraught sites of sexual arousal; as such they are also foci for the containment and policing of arousal. How do we track this tension between arousal and containment historically?  Can queer theory be applied to periods before “queerness” was recognized as a distinct culture or identity? How does studying the emergence of this culture or identity help us to understand its present manifestations? How have past cultures theorized or described desire differently, and what can such differences teach us about the relationship between desire and sociability, identity, the body? How can we use current theories from performance studies, queer theory, critical race theory, Indigenous studies, and/or disability studies to rethink historical bodies, or to fill the gaps that absent bodies have left in the archives? And what theories and methodologies can we use to arouse these bodies and these performances long after their time has passed?

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Arousing the Senses: Sonic and Digital Dimensions in Performance

Stephanie Lim, University of California-Irvine,
Vicki Hoskins, University of Pittsburgh,
Laura London Waringer, Florida State University,

Theatre and performance often endeavor to reflect the digital and technological advancements that permeate modern society. Broadway, in particular, relies on technology in order to create large spectacles, which audiences have come to expect. Dear Evan Hansen, for example, incorporates sound, music, and projections in order to recreate a social media experience on stage, while The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time utilizes music, video projections, and lighting as a way of assaulting audiences with sensory overload. In Mapping Intermediality in Performance, Robin Nelson argues that live performers are only “one of many signifiers in a complex, multi-layered event,” since embodiment has been “displaced by microphones, cameras, TV monitors, laptop PCs, projection screens, motion sensors and related technologies,” and Patrick Lonergan blurs the lines between performance and digital media by suggesting in Theatre and Social Media that online posts about theatre-related experiences are performative themselves. In what ways do sonic and digital dimensions continually mediate our cultural experiences of and responses to theatre and performance?

Engaging with this year’s conference theme and considering performance widely, this working group will interrogate the ways in which digital media, technology, and design elements create arousing experiences, whether physical, emotional, affective, cognitive, or otherwise. Some of the questions we may explore include: In what ways is performance and/or audience mediated through the lens of technology? Are we experiencing, as Nelson posits, a paradigm shift in which technology displaces that which is human? How might digital media create a virtual space for fans to engage with performance beyond traditional theatre spaces? Ultimately, how has our digital progress distorted, mediated, and aroused the potentialities of performance, particularly on mainstream stages across the country?

Paper topics may include (but are not limited to):

  • Broadway spectacle and audience expectations
  • Technology and embodiment
  • Social media and live “Twitter seats”
  • Television and film adaptations of theatrical productions
  • What happens when technology “breaks”
  • Technology, performance, and disability studies
  • Digital media and performance’s role in social activism
  • Cognitive studies and performance

In assembling this working group, we hope to engage with diverse methodologies and theories in order to have the most nuanced and variegated conversation about the arousing potentials of technology and digital media. We hope that, through these conversations, we can arrive at a better understanding of how the sonic and digital dimensions of performance affect us today, within theatrical venues, across digital spaces, and beyond.

Please submit a 250-word abstract explaining how your paper engages with the questions of the working group. If selected, the working group conveners will circulate a set of short readings in early September related to the group’s themes to provide a common foundation for our conversation, though specific papers do not need to engage with these readings directly. In early October, participants will submit their short (roughly 10-page) papers. Participants will be divided into smaller groups based upon thematic, topical, and/or theoretical interests, and will share their feedback and ideas within these groups. During the conference session, participants will have the opportunity to share their papers with the larger group and discuss connections between the papers, the provided readings, and the larger conference theme, before moving into their subgroups for more targeted conversation. Then, the entire working session will re-convene to address final questions, conclusions, and discoveries.

You may direct additional questions to the co-conveners via email.

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Between Orientalism and Orientation: Rethinking Arousal through East Asian Performance

Tara Rodman, University of California, Irvine,
Soo Ryon Yoon, Lingnan University, Hong Kong,
Kayla Ji Hyon Yuh, The Graduate Center, CUNY,

East Asian performance arouses. Whether it elicits fear, fury, desire, or curiosity, East Asia as place and concept conjures a web of associations both for “the West” and for itself. The serene image of kuan yin in Ruth St. Denis’ White Jade represents American modern dance’s fascination with an imagined East Asian feminine corporeality. Simultaneously, Imperial Japan performatively narrated a history of East Asia to the world, on behalf of “Japan’s Orient,” as political scientist Sang-jung Kang reminds us. East Asian performance in these cases signifies how East Asia becomes a site of Orientalist arousal. Yet we can also rethink East Asia beyond the discourse of Orientalism. We ask: Can “East Asian performance” arouse anything other than familiar images of kabuki or Peony Pavilion, moving away from academe’s preoccupation with “native” East Asian culture undefiled by “contemporary Western culture”? How is arousal, sexual or otherwise, conceptualized, practiced, or suppressed in the East Asian context? Indeed, how does linguistic translation produce other cultural meanings and definitions of arousal? Expanding on Sara Ahmed’s concept of orientation as “the point from which the world unfolds: the here of the body and the where of its dwelling,” we propose to discuss East Asian performance broadly defined, as a frame to view and understand the world as it unfolds before and through our bodies. We invite participants interested in proposing new methodological approaches or analyzing cases that consider East Asian performance’s arousal as an activation of a new worldview, an “orientation.”

Upon submission of proposals (not to exceed 250 words), we ask that working group applicants identify their papers with one or two of the following four topics:

  1. Transpacific economies of arousal; How arousal travels around East Asia and beyond.
  2. The management and institutionalization of arousal, especially in practices of nation-building, colonialism, political crises, and education.
  3. Technologies of arousal and the politics of technological trends, such as dakimakura (body pillow), sex dolls, medical technologies, and the chemsex scene in East Asia.
  4. Othered bodies: How racialization, gendering, and other ways of producing alterity intersect with arousal.
  5. Activism and arousal: Social movements, resistance, the creation of new political approaches and alternative modes of knowledge in and about East Asia.

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Blurring the Lines in the Sand: Border Actions and Investigations (Off-Site)

Kevin Byrne, University of Arizona,
Ana Martínez, Independent Scholar,

This off-site working group is inspired by Ana Teresa Fernández's "Borrando la Frontera," specifically the version that was staged at the border between San Diego and Tijuana in San Diego's Border Field State Park. What this working group will investigate is the current state of performances in and about the border: what happens at this place of belonging, displacement, and alienation.  We encourage participants who engage with borderland studies: scholars, practitioners, and scholar-practitioners.  In thinking about the ways cultures use, abuse, celebrate, or denigrate walls and borders through performance, the working group will focus in the political arousal that performing at the border generates.  On the opening Thursday of the conference, the working group will head off-site to the San Diego Border Field State park, to visit the metallic border fence which extends from the land into the sea.  This is a location of both rigid lines (the wall) and fluid liminality (the undulating shore).  Buckets and shovels will be provided and we will travel to the site by van. 

The preparation for and action at the site begins before the event and extends into the conference afterward.  All participants are required to bring an object, body, or text to the beach, where the object/text will be performed, buried, launched into the ocean, floated over the border, or some combination therein.  The ride to and from the site will be for thinking about and processing the event and its possible meanings.  The event will be documented in photo and video, to be circulated and discussed at the rest of the conference.  We will erect a temporary installation: bringing sand back from the beach, half-burying a screen in it, having a video on loop in the conference's hotel. 

The goals for the working group are to spark a discussion of theories, techniques, and ideas among the artists and scholars.  The sand and other effluvia are meant as a tactile reminder of the stakes and processes involved in border studies and border performance.  We want to insert this discussion, both playful and serious, into the conference and its theme of arousal, to engage the senses and outside world into the usually airless and often anonymous spaces of a hotel. 

In August, the conveners will be collecting the complete essays and performance descriptions from the participants.  In September, we will pair up all the participants and facilitate an in-depth discussion over ideas and methods of performative investigation.  In October, we will share the thoughts and ideas of the pairings with the group as a whole, to help plan the event at the conference. In November, of course, we gather in San Diego and head to the beach.

Please submit an application of 250 to 300 words.  It should include the following: a description of the object or event that you want to stage at the site of performance; a brief bibliography of books, articles, or concepts that inspire you in your border investigations; and a short biographical sketch.

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Change as an Arousing State: Continuing the conversation about Theatre, Performance, and Change

Stephani Etheridge Woodson, Arizona State University,
Tamara Underiner, Arizona State University,

As co-editors of the recently released Theatre, Performance and Change (Palgrave Macmillan 2018), we wish to build on the collective wisdom of the contributors to further our understanding of and support for the claims we make to the importance of theatre and performance in arenas of individual and social change.  The collected essays offer a rich archive attending to the time, space, and matter of change, as we articulate in our epilogue, with perhaps less attention to the underlying affective mechanisms at work that bring change about.  In this working session, we invite participants to take up the question of how exactly theatre and performance work/s to move our hearts, change our minds, and arouse us to action in both private and public.

To Submit:
We ask interested participants to read the conclusion to the volume (“And…?”) and to select one or more essays from the collection as a point of reference from which to launch new and deeper work of their own, specifically attending to the mechanisms of arousal in theatre and performance that lead to change. (PDF copies can be made available upon request to conveners.)  Questions for consideration and which will guide our subsequent discussion include the following:

  • What historical examples of positive and negative arousal states productively led to lasting change? And how can we learn from their examples?
  • An observation from Theatre, Performance and Change noted that most contributors understood theatre/performance ability to effect change as incremental, and located primarily within individuals, but also linked those incremental changes to hoped for positive futures.  What are/can be the relationship/s of individuals to limiting social structures? What are the assumed relationships between the incremental (and perhaps temporary) change and sustained positive futures?
  • What factors shape change’s range and directionality?
  • What are the ethical limits of change as an object of desire?
  • What methods, models and materials are best suited to theorizing change within theatre and performance studies?
  • To what extent can we draw on existing theories of change in other fields—philosophy, sociology, political studies, global development perspectives, economics, et cetera—to animate approaches to change within theatre, performance art and activism?

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Circle of Chairs (Off-Site)

Erika Chong Shuch,
Sima Belmar, University of California-Berkeley,
Selby Wynn Schwartz, Stanford University,

How do we arouse joy in this time of suspicion? Circle of Chairs is a dance that brings people together in celebration without cause–the joy people find in making something together on the spot. Circle of Chairs re-conceptualizes the idea of folk dance: inclusion is based on willing engagement in a movement task, rather than cultural affiliation or religious denomination. A participatory performance, this dance is about the “forces that move us” out of our enclosures and into engagement. We intend to bring together strangers who literally come from all walks of life, including ASTR participants, local residents, and tourists. Encountering strangers can unleash anxiety and distrust; Circle of Chairs provides a structure for turning that experience into connection, movement, and even delight. Join us on the San Diego Marina!

Circle of Chairs is a part of a larger project by Erika Chong Shuch Performance Project (ESP Project) called For You (commissioned in 2017/18 by Yerba Buena Center for the Arts and supported by Creative Capital).

No submission instructions (the workshop at the San Diego Marina will be open to all). Additionally, we plan to gather at the conference hotel after the performances to discuss the project with anyone from ASTR who is interested. We are particularly interested in discussing issues of documentation and ways to move this work forward within academic circles and beyond.

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Cognitive and Affective Intersections in the Arousals of Performance

Carla Neuss, UCLA,
Scott Knowles, Southern Utah University,
John Lutterbie, Stony Brook University,

“The transmission of affect is social in origin but biological and neurological in effect.” —Teresa Brennan, The Transmission of Affect

Before Alfred Kinsey applied it to notions of sexuality, the word “arousal” etymologically derived from the concept of “awakening”; in the words of the OED, to arouse is to “to raise or stir up from sleep or inactivity, to awaken”. Using this lens, performance is perhaps always attempting to “arouse” by awakening thoughts and feelings otherwise left dormant in spectators and society at large.

This working session is interested in curating a conversation about the intersection of cognitive and affect theory in performance studies. The recent cognitive turn has introduced new methods of applying the findings of cognitive science to readings of performance through the work of such scholars as Jill Stevenson, Amy Cook, Rhonda Blair, Bruce McConachie, John Lutterbie, and Nicola Shaughnessy. Affect theory has more broadly explored the arousal of emotion and various affective states; from its roots in the work of psychologist Silvan Tompkins to Teresa Brennan’s neurological and physiological reading of affect, affect theory has produced multiple discourses that utilize the concept of affect. The work of Eve Kosofsky Sedgwick, Sara Ahmed, Lauren Berlant, Brian Massumi, and Sara Warner testify to the breath of generative applications of affect theory across disciplines.

If cognition/thought and affect/feeling are both ultimately situated in the embodied mind and its material processes, how can interdisciplinary research inform our understanding of the arousal of emotion and cognition in performance? How does live performance arouse audiences on an experiential and physiological level? How are cognitive and affective states impacted by performance, both intentionally and unintentionally?


  • To discuss the different ways cognitive and affect theory seek to destabilize the emotion/reason dualism
  • To analyze different methodologies for applying scientific findings behind cognitive theory and affect theory to performance studies
  • To explore the intersections between affect theory and cognitive theory
  • To investigate the convergence of cognitive and affect theory with theories of the embodied and material subject

Submission Instructions:
Prospective participants are invited to submit a 300 word abstract on a paper topic that explores aesthetic performance or the performance of the everyday through the lens of cognitive or other science-informed theories, particularly performances that “arouse” affective states through cognition.

Selected papers of no more than 3000 words, are then due on August 15, 2018. The papers will subsequently be distributed to all participants, and thematic sub-groups formed. Scholars are expected to participate in an on-line discussion of the papers with other members of the group prior to arriving at the conference, as well as reading the papers of all other participants.

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Crowded Spaces

David Calder, University of Manchester,  
Jordana Cox, University of Waterloo,

Singer-songwriter Regina Spektor understands the sensual appeal of the crowd: “Summer in the city / I was lonely, lonely, lonely / So I went to a protest / Just to rub up against strangers” (2006). In crowded spaces, bodies come together, bump into each other, and generate friction. They experience loneliness and intimacy, anonymity and solidarity.

When performance happens, crowds are often on the scene: performers can draw a crowd ; performers can stand out from a crowd ; crowds, themselves, can perform. They can assemble, surge and swell, riot and stampede. Crowds, however, are often identified by their failings. In theories of collective action, “the crowd” is often an unruly foil to “the public:” whereas the public is rational and effectual, the crowd is scattered, libidinal, out-of-control.

This working session takes the conference organizers’ invitation to consider the “s ensual, erotic, cognitive, and embodied,” and apply it to models of social formation. We ask: what possibilities for feeling, doing, sensing, and knowing do crowds arouse? How might a rigorous conceptual framing of the crowd contribute to theatre and performance studies, and how might theatre and performance studies contribute to our understanding of a crowd’s actions and affects? What methods might we use to study the crowd without getting lost in it?

Submission Guidelines:
Please submit an abstract (up to 350 words) for a 10-12 page paper, and a brief bio (up to 150 words). Topics are not limited to a particular historical period or geographic area, and might include:

  • Moving en masse: pageants, processions, pilgrimages, and promenades
  • Street theatre and other performances in crowded space
  • Agitated crowds: protests, marches, charivari, and agit-prop
  • Crowd control: surveillance, kettling, security, and discipline
  • Crowd scenes: putting the crowd on stage; the crowd as character
  • Faces in the crowd: how are crowds marked by race, gender, ability, class, sexuality?
  • Crowd-sourcing: crowds in a digital age, historical precedents to crowd-sourcing
  • Other crowds: mobs and masses
  • Interventions in crowd theory and/or public sphere theory
  • Historiographical and/or methodological issues in studying crowds

Participants will be asked to pre-circulate papers by October 15, 2018. In advance of the conference, participants will be expected to read all other papers and provide written comments on the three or four papers from a thematic subgroup created by convenors. Participants will also be invited to contribute to a collective bibliography on crowds and/in performance. Co-conveners will comment on all papers.

At the start of the working session, participants will meet in their subgroups to discuss each other’s comments and questions. These initial conversations will feed into a full group discussion during which we will consider our conceptual framing of crowds and crowded spaces and the methods and methodologies we might employ in our study of them. In the interest of “crowdsourcing,” we will ultimately open the discussion to contributions from audience members (who might–we hope–be a crowd).

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Disidentifying Borders: Coalitional Futurity and Migration (Muñoz)

Dominika Laster, University of New Mexico,
Amy L. Brandzel, University of New Mexico,
Hillary Cooperman, Rollins College,


Queer and feminist migration studies scholars, activists, and artists have offered brilliant insights into the im/mobilities of bodies across borders, techniques of control and surveillance, systemic analyses of war, genocide, globalization, as well as other processes that require and produce im/mobility and displacement. As much as these traditions have advanced important critiques and strategies, this working group invites activists, artists, and scholars into a series of difficult conversations to put pressure on queer and feminist migration analyses in order to forge coalitional modalities of resistance.

This José Esteban Muñoz Targeted Research Working Session brings together scholars, activists, and artists with similarly positioned but often segregated activist and academic fields of inquiry, namely Indigenous sovereignties, prison abolitionism, and Palestinian-led transnational activisms against the Israeli occupation. Following in the footsteps of Muñoz, we seek to amplify minoritarian knowledge in the form of queer, transgender, and two-spirit migrant and Indigenous activist-scholars in order to offer direct refutations to the various hegemonic orders that produce borders, nation-states, and colonial order.

Our intention is to elicit difficult, but necessary, conversations on how to build coalitions across these diverse lines of activism. For example, Indigenous sovereignties offer necessary disruptions to anti-border, pro-migration politics; prison abolitionisms create intersectional and utopian political visions of justice; and Palestinian activisms bring strategic im/mobilities (such as BDS) against oppressive regimes.

By bringing together scholars and practitioners invested in these topics, our goals are three-fold: to configure theoretical analyses as to how processes of globalization, slavery and racial capitalism, settler colonialism, and white supremacist (trans)nationalisms converge and diverge to create systems of violence and overlapping systems of control; to share and examine the diverse strategies of resistance; and to configure coalitional activist strategies to disrupt these operations and create coalitional futurities.

In order to bring an embodied approach to coalitional futurity, the session conveners will invite an artist-activist to present work and engage with us in the goals of the working group, encouraging the meaningful interplay of theory and practice. In the first part of the session, the invited artist will present their work and discuss it with our working group. In the second part, group members will present brief position papers that emerge from shared reading and focused discussion questions proposed by the conveners. In the final hour, we will engage in focused dialogue between the invited artist and the audience moderated by the conveners.

Each year the working group will focus on a distinctive but related theme (Sovereignty, Abolitions, Utopias), broad enough to create coalitional conversations, but narrow enough to provide structure to the working group sessions. This year, we invite applications from those interested in joining us as we investigate and think through the relationship between borders, Indigenous sovereignties, and migration. Some questions include:

  • What is the relationship among Indigenous peoples, migrants, and so-called “citizens”?
  • How are Indigenous peoples and migrants positioned in ways that are oppositional, and how are their futurities aligned?
  • How are Indigenous peoples and migrants of color comparatively positioned via processes of racialization, gender, sexuality, and more?
  • What are some concrete examples of coalitional work across Indigenous and migrant communities, and how are these manifested in aesthetic and activist practice?
  • How do settler societies differ from each other in these processes of differentiation?
  • How have quotidian and non-quotidian performances of belonging, citizenship, politics, and mobility offered critiques of nation-states, borders, colonialisms, imperialisms, and more?
Please submit a 250 to 500-word abstract detailing how your project engages with the questions and themes of the working group, as well as a brief bio. For specific questions please contact the working group conveners Dominika Laster (, Amy L. Brandzel (, and Hillary Cooperman (

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Drive and Desire for Perfection: The Arousing Effects of Sport, Physical Culture, and Performance

Kimberly Jannarone, University of California-Santa Cruz,
Noe Montez, Tufts University,
Shannon Walsh, Louisiana State University,

Athletic performances arouse and are arousing. Sports and displays of physical culture operate as sites of recreation, freedom, and pleasure, but they also enforce and reproduce ways of seeing bodies that reinforce racism, sexism, ableism, and heteronormativity. Physically agile, strong, and coordinated bodies model ideals to spectators, who can identify with or reject them, depending on the kind of arousal they experience— similarity, longing, appreciation, fear, anxiety, or disgust.

Athletes’ performances arouse erotic and patriotic energies through their individual displays (of prowess, ability, strength, appearance) and their collective displays (of strength, communal spirit, and a functioning body “political unit”). Displays of individual strength and skill emphasize individualistic traits and arouse competitiveness, hero-worship, individual virtuosity, and physical idealization. At their best, these displays can lead to moments that exemplify the art of athletics. At their worst, the desire to satisfy nationalist impulses can lead to abuses such as the systematic doping that led to Russia’s ban from the 2018 Olympic Games, or to increased lines of aggression and hostility to other groups.

Similarly, displays of group physical skills and coordination emphasize collective strength and arouse feelings of solidarity and group ethos that may attract or repel visions of an ideal body politic. In the United States, black athletes and their allies inflame viewers’ passions by incorporating the language and gestures of the Black Lives Matters movement. In a different vein, several dozen gymnasts reassert their power through collective legal action against Dr. Larry Nassar and the USA gymnastics by working in opposition to perverse desires enacted under blind eyes.

Our working group builds on the work initiated by last year’s “Extraordinary Players: Sports, Physical Training, and Performance” group in order to query this year’s conference theme of arousal by focusing on the ways that sports and physical culture provoke our bodies and brains both as embodied practice and performance. What differences exist in the contemporary assumptions made about the ways that sport, physical culture, and performing arts arouse the senses? How might these assumptions shift if we consider theater a sport, or physical training an art? How might blurring the line help us rethink the body in theater? In sport? In what ways do our own engagements with sport and physical culture facilitate our navigation of the arts and academy?

We are interested in papers that:

  • Explore the ways that the performing body arouses feelings of yearning or repulsion based on the displays of gender, race, ethnicity, and sexual mores displayed within and beyond the playing field.
  • Inquire into the ways that sports and physical training arouse participants and spectators. How does the work that athletes do maximize their own pleasure and inflame desire in viewing audiences?
  • Contemplate how arousal in sports reframes athletics and spectatorship
  • Analyze how spectacles of hostility, violence, and competition demand a reconsideration of embodied performance and arousal given our current cultural moment.
  • Discuss how desire wears on the body through bodily damage taken in order to achieve collective victory.
  • Address how athlete’s bodies are made “real” through performance and/or mediatization.
  • Question how physical acts translate into social and moral characteristics or how the physical act serves as a conduit of the moral and cultural.

Session participants will circulate 10-15 page papers in early October and will be grouped based on thematic, theoretical, and/or methodological commonalities to exchange feedback prior to the conference in November. The structure of the Working Session itself will be determined based on the questions and discussions that come out of these smaller groups prior to the conference.

For any specific questions, please contact the working group conveners Kimberly Jannarone (, Noe Montez (, and Shannon Walsh (

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Ecology & Performance Working Group

Angenette Spalink, Weber State University,
Jonah Winn-Lenetsky, Institute of American Indian Arts,
Lisa Woynarski, University of Reading,

Climate change and other large-scale ecological disasters arouse many different responses. These anthropogenic dilemmas have the potential to arouse action, awareness, and radical hope, but also intense despair and helplessness. As Catriona Sandilands states, “If we take seriously the argument that the ecological crisis is, even in small part, a problem of desire - specifically, of its narrowing, regulations, erasure, ordering, atomization and homogenization - then, I think queer theory has a great deal to offer environmental ethics and vice verse” (188). Following this line of thought, pursuing arousal – by growing, consuming, taming, killing, dominating, and copulating – is the root of the world’s ecological disasters. And yet, in reorienting our pursuit of arousal, desire may indeed be the Anthropocene’s only hope.

Growing out of the performance and ecology seminar at ASTR 2005/Toronto, and continuing as a research group at ASTR's 2010/Seattle, 2012/Nashville, 2014/Baltimore, 2015/Portland, 2016/Minneapolis, and 2017/Atlanta conferences, this research group has been at the forefront of the emergent field of performance and ecology. Responding to this year’s theme of Arousal: Theatre, Performance, Embodiment, the Ecology & Performance working group will concentrate on the intersection of ecology and desire, pleasure and exposure in a bodily sense. In her recent book, Exposed: Environmental Politics and Pleasures in Posthuman Times, Stacy Alaimo posits that “pleasure, desire, sensuality, and eroticism can pulse through the human exposed to place, permeating environmentalist ethics and politics as inspiration, catalyst, and energy” (5). We are interested in exploring how “arousal” might act as a catalyst to understand complex ecological issues.

We welcome proposals for both traditional and creative/artistic scholarship (performative writing, practice-as-research documentation, etc). Specifically, paper proposals might relate to following key themes:

  • Queer ecology and the “queering” of performance and ecological discourses and Sandilands claim, “Desire . . . and pleasure. . . has the potential to reorient sexuality away from both ecologically and sexually destructive relations” (188).
  • Ecofeminisms and intersectional environmentalism: What kind of arousal is excluded and/or disempowering? How do different identities and privileges create and sanction arousal?
  • Vital materiality and the performativity of nonhuman “matter,” including postcolonial perspectives. The stakes of acknowledging more-than-human “bodies” in performance. “Can exposing human flesh while making space for multispecies liveliness disperse and displace human exceptionalism?” (Alaimo 1).
  • Arousal, privilege, and bodies. What bodies are disproportionately affected by ecological consequences? What bodies are expendable or exposed to toxins and contaminated?
  • Performance and ecosexuality: What does “circulating erotic energy with the earth” (Sprinkle and Stephens) through performance practices do to the concept of “arousal” or “pleasure”?

In advance of the conference, session participants will exchange papers and engage in peer review of one another's work in order to raise key questions around the threads of the intersection of ecology and desire, pleasure and exposure, and transdisciplinary practice/thinking/activism. We will hold online discussions around these themes. During our working session, we will be undertaking small group discussion with in-depth analysis and critical review of papers/ideas by sub-sets of participants. This will be followed by a plenary discussion in which the sub-groups share the key connections and conundrums emerging from their joint discussion of research and propose new areas of research development.

Please submit a 250-word paper proposal and short bio. We welcome proposals from scholars at all levels (including independent scholars), as well as artists, and those who have been traditionally underrepresented in the academy. For specific questions please contact working group conveners at Angenette Spalink (, Jonah Winn-Lenetsky (, and Lisa Woynarski (

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Impacting Audiences: Spectatorship, Embodiment, and Change

Dani Snyder-Young, Northeastern University,
Matt Omasta, Utah State University,

Many activist, applied, and/or educational performance projects are created with the goal of shifting the perspectives of participants and/or audience members on a particular issue.  Yet scholars and practitioners of theatre and performance tend to be skeptical of rigorous evaluation of the impact of such artistic work, fearing “beautiful, radiant things” (Thompson 2009) such as beauty or joy will wither and fade performance from art to instrument.  Performance events ignite cognitive, affective, sensual embodied responses; taboos surrounding the erotic often leave these impacts unmarked and unstudied.  This session considers a simple yet thorny question: how do we know what embodied impacts performance events have on their audiences?  

Helen Freshwater (2009) points out that studies of spectatorship tend to focus on either the experience of the researchers themselves or published testimonies of critics. Practitioner-focused audience study within the theatre industry tends to rely on anonymous survey methodologies oriented towards the needs of marketing departments.   Both of these approaches often fall short of helping artists and scholars understand the complexity of audience members' embodied responses to performance events.  

This session welcomes theoretical considerations, case studies, and historical analysis of the ways in which scholars can understand the affective, educational, political, and/or material impacts of performance events.  Of particular interest are papers exploring questions such as:

  • How can embodied spectatorship be theorized?
  • What external effects does arousal produce that can be observed or documented in acts of spectatorship?
  • What methods can be used to tangibly demonstrate cognitive or affective change?
  • What traces do bodily markers of spectators’ sex, gender, age, race, ability, and/or size leave in relation their experiences of particular performance events?
  • How do spectators embodied responses to performance events resist or support dominant systems of power?
  • What taboos challenge the study of embodied spectatorship?

Participants will circulate brief papers or memos two months before the conference. Facilitators will pair participants and each pair will engage in an email exchange about their writings. At the conference, each pair will briefly summarize their discussion and pose a question for the group inspired by their work. The session will include time for a larger Q&A period and conversation with session attendees.

Freshwater, Helen.  Theatre & Audience (Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan, 2009).
Thompson, James. Performance affects: Applied theatre and the end of effect (Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan, 2009).

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Impotent Performance

Tarryn Chun, University of Notre Dame,
Christopher Grobe, Amherst College,
Rebecca Kastleman, Harvard University,
Derek Miller Harvard University,
Alisa Zhulina, New York University,

Flop (noun): a theatrical production that does not recoup its investment costs. This onomatopoetic word, so central to evaluating performance, evokes deflation and collapse, the opposite of arousal. If, as this conference's description asserts, "arousal is at the center of what performance can and should do," what are we to make of performances that flop, that do not create arousal?

Recent theater and performance studies scholarship has explored fruitfully impossible theaters, theater's inevitable (Beckettian) failure, and the productivity of a deliberate poetics of failure. Scholars have resisted, however, interrogating impotence without the compensatory possibility of redemption. But not all impotent performances can or should be redeemed. Sometimes, an unarousing performance warrants consideration precisely because it fails to arouse. How should we understand categories such as bad theater, unpersuasive agitprop, and misfired performatives? What’s the value in paying attention to apathetic audiences, comedians dying on stage, actors corpsing or going dry? What can performance scholars do with walkouts, embarrassments, bankruptcies, and disasters?

In short, this working session explores performances that either resist a paradigm of performance-as-arousal or that, despite their best efforts, fail to arouse.

This working session considers the limitations of arousal—and synonyms such as interest, pleasure, efficacy, etc.—as a paradigm for theater and performance studies scholarship. We invite papers that explore performance without or against arousal. Contributions might seek to answer questions including:

  1. What limits performance's ability to create arousal?
  2. What kinds of arousal is performance worst at achieving?
  3. What kinds of performance never pursue arousal at all?
  4. When is arousal a hindrance in the theater?
  5. Should certain forms of arousal be censored?
  6. How have theater and performance studies been defined (for good or ill) by love of arousal and fear of impotence?

Scholars at any stage of their careers, researching any aspect of performance, and in any geographic area or time period are welcome to apply. We particularly encourage first drafts of articles or chapters that will benefit from careful peer review. By the end of the working session, participants will have received useful feedback on their materials and will be prepared to advance their writing towards publication.

Accepted participants will be required to submit papers—either substantive prospectuses of 10-12 pages or a complete article/chapter of roughly 25 pages—by October 1, 2018. Conveners will organize these submissions into groups of 3-5 papers, and ask each member to read the papers from their group by mid-October. Conveners will then chair an hour-long online video discussion for each group, in which participants will offer feedback on the pre-circulated papers and formulate a question for the entire working session.

During our meeting at ASTR, we will ask each participant to introduce briefly the work of another member in their group. Each group will then pose the question they formulated in the online conversation. Finally, we will break out into new sub-groups to discuss those questions, before reconvening as a whole to offer final thoughts on the topic.

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Indigenous Research in the Americas—Rousing Resistance, Withholding Arousal

Adron Farris, Ball State University,
Jill Carter, University of Toronto,
Jenn Cole, University of Toronto,

During a recent address, Mohawk scholar Audra Simpson threw out this rousing challenge: Why should Indigenous people participate in the life of the settler state, which has been built upon the theft of Indigenous lands and unconscionable acts of violence perpetrated upon Indigenous bodies and minds? Why entertain the promises of that state –promises of acceptance, inclusion, or reparation? Why entertain its fantasies of “disavowal,” or its dreams of reconciliation –dreams in which Indigenous peoples “accept our colonization” (Simpson)?

With this challenge, Simpson adds her voice to an ever-growing chorus that enjoins us to reject such state-administered soporifics as acceptance and apology and to arouse ourselves from the lull of their enchantments. From David Garneau’s concept of “irreconcilable spaces of Aboriginality” (see Robinson 216) to Anishinaabe scholar Leanne Simpson’s Radical Resurgence Project (see As We Have Always Done), an ever-intensifying alarum rushes at Indigenous peoples from all directions, urging us to wake up, “resist” and “refuse” (Simpson np).

Responding to the calls sent forth by Anishinaabe scholar Leanne Simpson, Metis artist and curator David Garneau, and Mohawk scholar Audra Simpson and building on Sto:Lo scholar Dylan Robinson’s recent reflections on the relationship between enchantment and activism (218), the Indigenous Research in the Americas Working Group will focus its energies upon encounters with and ignition of Indigenous activations that lend voice and give body to the necessary and justifiable resistance of Indigenous peoples, as they resist exceptionalism, refute pathologization, and withhold arousal.

Simpson, Audra. “Savage States: Settler Governance in an Age of Sorrow.”
17 January 2018. Jackman Humanities Institute, University of Toronto

Robinson, Dylan. “Enchantment’s Irreconcilable Connection: Listening to Anger, Being Idle No More.” Performance Studies in Canada. Edited by Laura Levin and Marlis Schweitzer. McGill-Queen’s UP, 2017. 211-235.

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Monstrous Arousal: The Erotics of Fear

Rosemarie Garland Thomson, Emory University,
Michael M. Chemers, University of California Santa Cruz,
Analola Santana, Dartmouth College,
Jimmy A. Noriega, College of Wooster,

This working session will invite scholars to investigate the intersection between erotics in the performance of the extraordinary body and the processes of social disqualification generated by fear of the “other.” We are defining “monstrosity” broadly, to describe the cultural processes by which certain bodies are configured to be threateningly deviant, whether by race, gender, sexuality, nationality, immigration status, or physical or psychological extraordinariness. Following Roach, we investigate the monster as a performative surrogate which permits the public playing out of social anxieties. The papers will examine ways in which playwrights, theatre and performance artists, and activists have engaged with this extraordinariness in its potential for erotic or sensual representation. Our panel will be as critically engaged with the creators of the works as with the monsters they represent; as Jeffrey Jerome Cohen has written “the monster and its dreamer are not two entities inhabiting a divided world, but two participants in an open process, two components of a circuit that intermixes and disperse both within an open, vibrant, unstable expanse.” How does performance engage, productively or destructively, in this open discursive milieu? Are these performances a form of testimonial as to deep-seated, perhaps repressed, social or personal sexual anxieties? May they be utopian as well as dystopian in this regard? What explains the “attraction” to the monster in performance even as it repulses and horrifies?  How does monstrosity intersect with discourses of ableism, racism, chauvinism, homophobia, xenophobia or other forms of fear-based social disqualification and by what means can we engage with the fecund assemblage that results between monster, author, and audience?

We seek to combine scholars and practitioners who will articulate a reflection not only on different histories and theatricalities of disqualified identities, but also on future directions for inquiry. Two months prior to the conference meeting, all participants will submit papers (8-10 pages) that we will use as the basis for our conversation at the conference. In addition, those who wish to share short performance pieces or images will be able to do so on the online discussion forum.

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Moving San Diego: Sites, Senses, and Bodies (Off-Site)

Susan Bennett, University of Calgary,
Kristin Hunt, Arizona State University,

Inspired by Audre Lorde’s call to acknowledge the “forces that move us,” this session asks participants to explore the notion of movement in scholarly, creative, individual, collective, theatrical, and performative contexts, and especially in the specific geographic and cultural contexts of our host city. Drawing upon a wide array of definitions of movement, from locomotion to affective response, and inviting consideration of multiple methods of movement, from Debord’s dérives to Wrights and Sites misguides, this working group aims to arouse participants with a multisensory and embodied exploration of the intellectual, affective,  geographical, ideological, and other potentials of moving and being moved in San Diego. As the launching point of the Spirit of St. Louis, home of the nation’s first drive-in restaurant, the northern port of call for ships passing through the Panama Canal, and home port of the world’s oldest sailing ship, the city that dubs itself “America’s Finest” is enmeshed in US narratives of movement. Simultaneously, as a Navy-dominated oceanfront border town whose residents speak over one hundred different languages and cultivate the most farms of any US metropolis, San Diego offers a chance to contemplate other forms of movement, political and geographic, social and linguistic, ecological and ideological.

The session invites proposals from artists and researchers interested in movement of all sorts, including but not limited to:

  • Site specific research and practice
  • Border studies
  • Pedagogies of movement and embodiment
  • Performance-based research
  • Indigenous ways of knowing and moving
  • Research and practice in multisensory and immersive performance
  • Community-engaged research and performance
  • Extraordinary bodies in motion
  • Activism, resistance, moving the body politic

In keeping with this year’s conference theme, participants will explore the means by which the site of San Diego might arouse new movement in their work, and vice versa. In an effort to explore the many possibilities of movement and being moved in the specific context of San Diego, participants will be asked to place their research into the context of San Diego either in terms of a site, a mode of movement, or a combination of the two. Participants may identify a site or mode of movement of specific relevance to their research, one with an affinity to research interests, or an unfamiliar but arousing location in which to test a new theoretical, historiographical, and/or embodied practice. Possible sites and modes of movement might include but are not limited to:

  • Geographical, cultural, historical, or temporal borders as sites of or provocations to movement
  • Movement in and between three or four dimensions and in other planes (the ocean, virtuality, verticality)
  • Sites of the past (archaeological spaces, museums, graveyards, monuments)
  • Sites in transition (construction, gentrification, the natural environment)
  • Internal, affective, and sensory movement (foodways, transformative experiences, ritual, community)
  • Sites of transformation (gyms, military sites, schools, theatres, gardens)

Participants will exchange brief position papers in advance of the conference, with conveners facilitating a series of pre-conference discussions around these contributions. Early in the day on the first day of the conference, participants will gather to move through San Diego on an itinerary resulting from these pre-conference discussions, including visits to sites pertinent to individual and group research interests as well as a range of moving experiences (involving both modes of transit, locomotion, and sensory and affective movement possibilities drawn from our research and from the city of San Diego). After seeing what this experience of moving arouses in and among participants and their work, we will reconvene in a two-hour seminar to begin moving this work forward into new scholarship or creative practice.

Submissions should not only outline the research to be shared with the group, but also propose sites and/or modes of movement that might prove arousing in the context of the individual’s research and the group’s shared itinerary.

*Please note: participants must be available for our moving session, which will take place early in the day on the first day of the conference.

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New Research in Minoritarian Performance Proposal/Grant Writing Workshop (Muñoz)

Soyica Diggs Colbert, Georgetown University,
Douglas Jones, Rutgers University,
Shane Vogel, University of Indiana,

This José Esteban Muñoz Targeted Research working group is dedicated to practical skills for those conducting minoritarian research in theater and performance studies. Specifically, we seek junior faculty, contingent faculty, and graduate students completing projects at the intersections of race/ethnicity and performance who are conceptualizing their research for the purposes of grant proposals and/or book proposals. The purpose of the working group is threefold: to collectively map out some of the parameters of the emergent state of race and performance research at ASTR; to provide individualized feedback from senior scholars in the field on in-progress grant or book proposals; and to provide an opportunity to put participants’ work in dialogue with each other as they strengthen the presentation of their research. This working group thus honors Dr. Muñoz’s dedication to mentorship in theater/performance studies and commitment to expanding the scope of minoritarian research.

Please submit 250-word descriptions of your research project and a brief bio. Accepted proposals will be paired with senior members of our previous Muñoz working groups. In the working group (both in advance of the meeting in San Diego and at the conference itself), we will curate a general discussion of proposal writing skills for participants, who will present their research and workshop their proposals.

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Nuerodiversity and Performance Training at Do Ho Suh’s Fallen Star (Off-Site)

Hans Vermy, PhD,
Judy Bauerlein, PhD,
Sam Ginn, Autism Educator
Mary L. Beebe, Curator of Fallen Star,
Sam Mitchell,

It’s commonly accepted that performance training improves cognition and increases self-worth and joy.  But when our brains are atypical, that same provocation can often lead to a sense of frustration or failure. Behaviors such as extended eye contact, rapid response to questions, and verbal delivery of memorized text can be challenging to students with autism, bipolar disorder and Aspergers. In this working session we will explore familiar theatre games and exercises and learn ways to modify them for our neurodiverse students. If—as we posit here—arousal is a force that awakens us to diverse patterns of thought, can we awaken to a pattern of performance training that centers non-normative brain functioning? In this session, which takes place in Do Ho Suh’s cantilevered house, we will (re)awaken our commitment to supporting ALL of our students in their performance training.

  • Support student self-advocacy
  • Reinforce independent thinking instead of “prompt dependency”
  • Learn more about processing time


This event will take place at Do Ho Suh’s Fallen Star, an interactive architectural art piece that explores disorientation and displacement. Fallen Star is part of the Stuart Collection, which is a series of art works on the campus of UCSD.  Space is limited. Event is FREE.

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Oceanic Politics and a Black Radical Performance Aesthetic

Maurya Wickstrom, CUNY Graduate Center,

This working session is organized around four nodes in a constellation of ideas prompted by contemporary performance in a black radical aesthetic. The first, the performances, are absolutely experiences of erotic, spiritual, historical, political and personal arousal. They appear as forms of revolt. They presume the post-dramatic, gender fluidity, sexualities that do not submit to ready categories, the past that is not done, and the future appearing in diversely articulated forms of Afro-Futurism. The second node is the ship. The ship and its hold, even if not represented, or alluded to overtly, is never far from this performance. The ship circumnavigates through it, underlying an aesthetic of de-containerization, or exploding from the hold. The third node in the constellation is the historical make-up of the labor force on the ships of mercantile/slavery capitalism: a multi-linguistic, outer-national and multi-ethnic sea-born proletariat. Sailors mutinied, created insurrections, and invented forms of social egalitarian organization. They spread revolutionary ideas around the slave-Atlantic, inter-influencing insurrections around the oceanic circuit. The fourth node is the work of black radical and international thinkers whose own Atlantic circulations, physically, intellectually and artistically, enabled them to constitute novel relations to colonialism, to communism, and to suggest Afro-modernities to counter the European. Taken together, these nodes might suggest an oceanic politics, precisely an arousal, circulating as an aesthetic or dramaturgy of performance, and offering reframed ideas about collectivity and revolt in the face of racial capitalism, a radicalism concurrently historical and newly in formation. 

Papers might address black performance aesthetics, as theorized or felt; theoretical work on defiant forms of being; historical forms of black performance that might be seen as precursors to a contemporary radical black aesthetic; contemporary modalities of the hold, of what Christina Sharpe calls being “in the wake” of the slave ship that still exists in many forms (as in incarceration, containers, the immiseration on refugee boats manned by black market entrepreneurs, on the ghost ships off Thailand where the sea is clearly instrumentalized for human trafficking), and how predictable assignations of victimhood might be rethought; germane work of the black radical thinkers of the early to mid 20th century; insurrectionist ideas that were ocean and ship born; work that extends this idea into the Pacific and South Asian circuits of exchange; traditional and counter theories of the proletariat; representations of blackness and a proletariat, theories of use and exchange value, wage, un-free, and slave labor; mercantile/slave capitalism and its forms of containment; work on oceanic counter-temporality;  plays about the sea;  Melville and his ships; films on oceanic revolts or life on the sea; investigations of diverse imaginations of the sea – for instance the English Romantic, the Caribbean, the African, especially with an eye to if and how they translated into aesthetics and/or performance. The constriction on the papers would be that they work with their research subjects so that they are in some way constituted as part of a constellation of hypothetical oceanic politics, an assembly of new forms of collectivity, a history and present of what we can call sea-born arousals.

The ship, the Star of India, floating at the Maritime Museum in San Diego, would be an ideal place for an arousal-sit-in, a kind of activist moment of sitting and reading excerpts from our work, or specially prepared texts that would arouse the ship from its touristic dormancy, represented in the most banal terms, to its life as a site of human transportation, colonial trade, mutiny, and transport of Chinese workers from San Francisco to the fish canneries of Alaska.

We would attempt to re-animate it, if only for ourselves, ideally on-board, as these histories, as a materiality of colonial and human circulation, and of mutinous sailors. This would be followed by a gathering during the conference itself. If not possible, our group would meet in the usual format.

Please submit 250-500 word abstracts and a short bio.

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"Other Erotics": Performance Studies in/from the Global South Working Group

David Donkor, Texas A&M University,
Ryan Hartigan, Cornish College of the Arts,
Vivek Narayan, Stanford University,
Sharvari Sastry, University of Chicago,
Joshua Williams, Harvard University,

We are very pleased to continue the work of the Performance Studies in/from the Global South Working Group at ASTR 2018 in San Diego. The overarching theme of the conference – “Arousal: Theatre, Performance, Embodiment” – is extraordinarily resonant for scholars working in, on and from the Global South. We are all too well aware of how coloniality has framed many sites in the Global South as spaces of affect and embodiment that (allegedly) arouse outside visitors in ways that are no longer possible in the West. The persistent Orientalist investment in fantasies of the harem and its forbidden pleasures is but one example of a wide array of practices and discourses that link the many others of colonial epistemologies to sex, violence, rhythm, ecstasy, hunger and other figures of the excessive, transgressive and libidinal. How might a perspective that comes from and engages with the Global South contest or reimagine these narratives? If, as the Call for Proposals suggests, arousal is a “driving force” in theatrical and performative encounters, we seek to understand whose arousal is at issue in the Global South and how it is marked. Have the libidinal and the erotic been irrevocably contaminated for scholars of non-Western theatre and performance by colonial fixations, or is there some possibility of recovery, reclamation and repair? Alternatively, are there spaces beyond the reach of the colonial where discussions of arousal can proceed along differently embodied tracks? How might forms of embodied knowledge emerging from the Global South enact – or, indeed, arouse – different temporalities, corporealities and politics? And how can these repertoires of embodied knowledge from the Global South inflect the issue of arousal with questions of colonial, postcolonial and neocolonial power?

If you have any questions, please feel free to email the co-conveners at

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The Pedagogy of Extraordinary Bodies

Jessica Brater, Montclair University,
Michelle Liu Carriger, University of California-Los Angeles,
La Donna Forsgren, University of Notre Dame,

Challenges to building a strong, diverse, and balanced theatre history curriculum are myriad: lingering Euro- and Anglo-centrism in textbooks and curricula (with concomitant tokenization of non-Western topics as colourful addenda), the burden of exposing students to traditionally canonical texts while making space for women and other canonically marginalized artists, the impossibility of any one instructor developing expertise in the wide swath of world performance history given constraints on time and effort such as adjunct remuneration and balancing research and other teaching responsibilities. This year’s theme of “Arousal” reminds us that a large part of our job as pedagogues is arousing interests and sympathies in our students for the unlike, different, and the unknown while also inculcating a sense of care and articulation around the potential violence of desire. Attention to the unpredictable power of arousal further encourages us to remember how strongly our students’ feelings and sensibilities are infused into issues of “identity,” emphasizing the fragility of the balance we so often seek to strike in our classrooms.

This working group seeks to (re)interrogate and (re)assemble our syllabi and our theater history classrooms, exploring new modes in which to create productive “spaces of discomfort” to speak and learn about difference and otherness with each other and with our students. We are fundamentally concerned with how we incorporate diverse bodies, broadly construed, into our discipline, across the divisions of rank amongst the professoriate, graduate and undergraduate education.

Building on 2017’s meeting, subgroups of cross-generational participants working at similar institutions will pre-circulate position papers, syllabi, and lesson and assignment plans amongst each other to discuss macro- and micro-strategies for theater department teaching. We will use our preparation and in-person conference meeting time to set in motion the lesson plan and syllabus database and organize a special journal issue or edited volume to be developed during the next three years of the working group. Some of the issues upon which we might focus include: effective strategies for training and supporting adjunct and grad student instructors without unduly burdening them, building diverse and effective collections of teaching materials—in all media formats—in conjunction with colleagues and libraries, sourcing or creating new texts appropriate for undergrads, and working with different types of classes from large lecture to small seminars.

The working group will be organized into subgroups of cross-generational participants working at similar institutions, who will precirculate position papers, syllabi, and/or lesson and assignment plans amongst each other. In the working session itself in Atlanta, the pre-assigned small groups will collaborate to present summaries of their work to the assembled group and then we will break out into discussion group/task forces on the key concerns of the group (like effective strategies for training and supporting adjunct and grad student instructors without unduly burdening them, building diverse and effective collections of teaching materials—in all media formats—in conjunction with colleagues and libraries, and working with different types of classes from large lecture to small seminars). The long term goals of this working group include building a database of lesson plans, syllabi, and teacher-training materials; a special journal issue on pedagogy; and perhaps even a new theater and performance history textbook.

To apply:
Prepare abstracts of up to 300 words and a short (150 word) bio. We welcome a variety of formats, including lesson plans, syllabi, assessment designs, or article/journal special issue proposals in addition to or in lieu of traditional paper formats.

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Performance and/as Arousal in Global Asia

Jyana S. Browne, University of Washington,
Amanda Culp, Columbia University,
Sissi Liu, The Graduate Center, City University of New York,

The Performance and/as Arousal in Global Asia working session explores the many dimensions of performing arousal across East, South, Southeast Asia, and their diasporas. This session seeks to de-center the fetishizing gaze of the West toward global Asian performance and complicate the role of arousal through critical examination of global Asian theatrical practice, performative acts, and material culture. We consider how arousal was theorized, performed, and embodied historically across Asian geographies, and how texts, objects, and performance traditions have shifted as they have moved across time and geographic regions to encounter new spectators. Our inquiry is guided by questions of reception: Are all spectators aroused in the same way? Where does arousal inhere: is it intrinsic to a text? A character? A performer? How does the ability of a performance to arouse, to “move us in a fundamental way,” evolve over time and space? Are there conditions that would preclude arousal altogether? Engaging in topics that range from circulation of erotic objects to performing self-Orientalization and/as arousal in global Asia, we welcome contributions about performing arousal as a mode of inquiry in a wide variety of historical and socio-cultural contexts.
We invite proposals from participants working on historical and contemporary topics in East, South, and Southeast Asia and their diasporas. One of the goals of this working session is to generate scholarship that is theoretically and linguistically rigorous. We are therefore particularly interested in papers that integrate research in target Asian languages. Topics may include (but are not limited to):

  • How arousal has been theorized historically in East, South, Southeast Asia, and their diasporas;
  • The reframing of theatrical genre through contemplating arousal;
  • Erotic connections between performers and audience in global Asia;
  • Racialized performance as arousal in everyday life: traditions and innovations;
  • Self-Orientalization and/as arousal in global Asia;
  • Commodification of desire;
  • Arousal and/as power-play;
  • Performing queerness on and off the global Asian stage;
  • Comedic and/or political arousal in global Asia under censorship;
  • Pain, fear, grief as embodied arousal;
  • Circulation and performativity of erotic objects in global Asia;  
  • Inter-Asian legal regulation of performance as arousal;
  • Aftershocks of Arousal: performances that linger;
  • Religious and/or spiritual arousal in performance.

Before the conference, participants will circulate short papers (10-12 pages) in small, pre-assigned groups, and participants will provide feedback to each other’s drafts for revision. During the working session, participants will share the key ideas that have emerged from their original groups, after which we will break into new groups, which audience members can join, to discuss the broader session ideas. At the conclusion of the session, we will all come together once more to share resource lists, action plans, and goals, and to discuss how the papers and ideas from the session can inform our scholarships, pedagogies, and artistic practices moving forward.  Our goal is to support new research that can be published as articles or book chapters to advance the field of global Asian performance.

For any specific questions, please contact the working group conveners at

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Performing "Jobs": Leadership in Performing Arts

Li-Min Lin, Guangdong University of Foreign Studies,
Kathy (Ruoran) Li, Yale University,

If neoliberalism is an ever-changing signifier that represents a “mode of reason, a conduct of conduct, and a scheme of valuation” (Brown, 2015), then the increase of creative economy and creative industries is just one manifestation of the rising discourse. With government's current obsession with "creative industries," the new slogan has shown the power of language, making economic entities subject to it and writing a new storyline of the developmental fairy tale. In that sense, performing arts businesses have been promoted and encouraged as prominent investment project in the hope to grow a second Broadway or the eventful Edinburgh Fringe for the nation’s benefit. In other words, creative industries conveniently conceal the tension between culture and economy, legitimizing the ever-growing commodification of live performance and granting symbolic meaning to economic development, and the management of such product—a successful and effective leadership, is expected to transform artistic value into monetary profits by strategic management. On the meso level, this imagined future, with economic theories as tools, obscures the line between “arts management” and “entrepreneurship,” and on the micro level, a new kind of charismatic leadership has been sought, trained, and romanticized with new knowledges and technologies, the kind of human capital that Steve Jobs embodies. Therefore, this working group proposes to investigate how leadership in performing arts business is constructed and performed, with a particular emphasis on the current context. 

Papers might engage with these questions through (but not limited to) the following topics:   

  • Neoliberal governmentality in performing arts business 
  • Training and discipline of the managerial body 
  • Between the fantasy of management theories and space of practice 
  • Creative class versus creative labor 
  • Cultural policy and national economy 
  • Arts management and entrepreneurship   

Applicants should submit a short proposal for a 10-15 page essay. If selected, participants will be divided into subgroups depending on the number of submissions received, and the convenors will then circulate a set of readings prior to the conference. Participants will draft their papers to be circulated within their subgroup and are encouraged to read and respond to each other’s paper before the session takes place. At the conference session, after the introduction and guiding questions, we will break into subgroups to discuss individual papers for the first hour, and then draw questions and connections to the group’s key ideas for the remaining part.

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Prick up the Ears: Listening to the Subalterns’ Sonic Revolutions

Caitlin Marshall, University of Maryland,
Marci McMahon, University of Texas-Rio Grande Valley,
Patricia Herrera, Richmond University,

“Prick up the ears.” This expression captures the state of arousal, and heightened sensitivity/sensibility that attends careful listening. José Muñoz, in his meditations on minoritarian knowledge, remarked on the frequency with which people of color, particularly queer and/or disabled people of color, are systematically misheard. Here, Muñoz makes two crucial observations. First, he identifies the ear as a vector of white supremacy, compulsory heterosexuality, and ablebodiedness. Secondly, he positions the sonic – that that which is sounded out – as a site of utopic performativity and world-making for LGBTQ/disabled and/or people of color.

Taking our cue from Muñoz, we heed Dwight Conquergood’s “Performance Studies: Interventions and Radical Research,” where he identifies performance studies as a field uniquely attuned to subjugated knowledge. He illustrates the analytic and activist capacities of performance studies by tuning into a site that has since been largely overlooked in theater and performance: sound. Conquergood draws attention to Frederick Douglass’ call to white readers, in his 1845 Narrative, to listen to slave song to apprehend slaves’ humanity, and the abhorrence of slavery. Conquergood positions Douglass’ move as a performance “ethnography of the ears” (149), ushering listeners to the radical ground of black subjectivity.  

This working group re-commits itself to Muñoz’s and Conquergood’s formulations of performance studies, arousing critical listening to the sonic subaltern within the fields of theatre and performance studies, and tuning our ears towards those performances of resistance, survival, critique, negation, and world-making that interfere with oppression through revolutions of, and, in sound.  

Over the past decade, scholarship by and about people of color, as well as LGBTQ, indigenous, and disability scholarship has contributed exemplary studies of radical performance through sonic modes of analysis. This work has, among others, contributed theories of Chicanx “sounds of belonging” (Casillas), America’s “sonic color line” (Stoever),  “sonic slave narratives” (Brooks), black feminist “sonics of dissent” (McMillan), “sonic latinidades” (Herrera), indigenous “sonic sovereignty” (Piatote), “sonic cultural citizenship” (McMahon), “crip speech” (Marshall), the ear as “vestibular flesh” (Nyong’o), and latinx “sonic negativity” (Ramos). This turn reveals the sonic as a productive performance/performative site of revolution, survival, and resistance – one that is frequently working with, or in tension with visual forms of performance and embodiment. For example, Brooks’ work argues that while slaves’ bodies were rent in chains, their sounds could fly fugitive, while Ramos posits sound as a space for transnational Latinx disidentification with the movements between and beyond the US/Mexico border.

Our working group builds from this scholarship, as well as from our 2017 ASTR working session Listening to the Sonic Subaltern. That convening, meant to take the pulse of sound studies within the fields of theater and performance, confirmed that what the sub-discipline demands at this moment is a clearer set of theories and methods for analyzing what sound does, and how to listen. With this instantiation of our research group, we take a cue from Alexandra T. Vasquez’s “listening in detail” to understand how the body and its sound performances can operate on multi-registers, sounding dissidence and double speak-back to the forces of slavery, colonialism, compulsory heterosexuality, ablenationalism, etc. We position sound as crucial to many modes of minoritarian performance – black, Latinx, indigenous, disabled, LGBTQ – and therefore argue that analytic attention to sound is essential to understanding minoritarian performance and its cultural interventions. Through this convening we hope to circle our methods and analytic strategies, pushing forward a body of scholarship by and about people of color, LGBTQ, crip, de-colonial, and Native subjectivities, etc. This working session will continue the conveners goal to publish a special journal issue on radical, subaltern sound performance to be submitted to Theatre Survey or Theatre Journal.

Once working session participants have been selected, we will divide members into thematic subgroups. Each subgroup will adhere to the following plan and schedule to:

  1. Circulate 10-15 page papers amongst the subgroup by September 14th
  2. Provide subgroup members feedback on their written work by October 5th
  3. Revise papers and circulate to working session at large by October 19th
  4. Engage in a Skype meeting or google hangout with subgroup members by October 26th
  5. Read working session papers and submit questions or observations to session co-conveners by November 9th

At the annual ASTR meeting, the working session will be open to the conference public. Participants will present brief, 5-minute introductions of their work, after which the co-conveners will pose framing questions. These questions will be drawn from or inspired by those generated by participants during the working session process. At the conclusion of this discussion, session members will form breakout groups with audience members and participants with whom they feel their work resonates. Finally, the session will reconvene to summarize breakout group discussion, to make concluding remarks, and to suggest next steps.

Potential participants should submit a 250-word abstract through the ASTR website. We welcome questions regarding the working group’s interests and goals, and are happy to correspond to applicants regarding potential submissions in advance of the submission deadline. Please reach out to Caitlin Marshall (, Marci McMahon ( or Patricia Herrera ( for more information.

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Puppetry and Material Performance

Alissa Mello, Independent Scholar,
Claudia Orenstein, CUNY Hunter College/The Graduate Center,
Dassia N. Posner, Northwestern University,
Lawrence Switzky, University of Toronto,

In the spirit of this year’s conference theme, “Arousal: Theatre, Performance, Embodiment,” this session asks participants to reflect on what it is that gives puppets and performing objects their power. What attracts us to puppets? Enthralls us? Repulses us? Awakens our senses or emotions? How does this apply to different kinds of puppets and in what contexts? Why do we weep tears of joy when encountering massive processional puppets, form communities around puppet traditions and rituals, or fear the puppet’s uncanny potential? 

We seek papers that investigate these questions while simultaneously examining how we talk about puppets as historians, critics, theorists, and artists. How do we articulate the puppet’s visceral, tactile, affective, emotional, symbolic, phenomenological, spiritual, or cultural power? While papers may focus on any aspect of puppetry and/or material performance, priority will be given to those that explore the following themes:

  • Puppetry and the spirit (ritual use, the soul of the puppet, agency, religion)
  • Puppetry and the human (anthropomorphism, puppet/puppeteer co-presence, juxtapositions of life and lifelessness)
  • Puppetry and politics (race, gender, accessibility, social justice)
  • Puppets and materiality (thing theory, phenomenology, material performance, performing objects)
  • Puppetry and tradition (intangible heritage, cultural power, post-tradition, threatened traditions)
  • Puppetry and dramaturgy (how puppets make meaning, size/scale in relation to meaning, affective potential)

Papers should begin with a section that explicitly addresses the what and why of the author’s chosen methodological approach, followed by the author’s analysis of the proposed topic. 

The overarching aim of this Working Session is to foster active interest in and sophisticated analysis of puppetry and material performance within the broader field of theatre research. Our immediate aim is to develop essays and approaches that identify and analyze key recurrent themes, expand the available scholarship, and provide researchers with methodological tools for future puppetry and material performance research. A long-term goal is an eventual book project that will make strong papers addressing these topics available to a wider. We are committed to encouraging conversations among scholars at every point in their academic career.

Key dates for selected participants: Papers (8-10 pages) should be distributed to all session participants by October 1, 2018. Papers should be read by group participants and feedback posted on our discussion board by November 1, 2018 in order to facilitate online pre-conference discussions.

At the conference, participants will each present a brief (1-2 minute) abstract of their paper at the start of the session. Participants and audience members will then divide into their subgroups to discuss the themes that linked their papers and then reconvene with the larger group to exchange ideas. This will be followed by a discussion of the themes raised in the papers, including suggestions for how to further develop those themes.

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queer nightlife performance: flesh, pleasure, and power at night (Muñoz)

Kemi Adeyemi, University of Washington,
Ramón H. Rivera-Servera, Northwestern University,
Kareem Khubchandani, Tufts University,

This working session invites submission from scholars and artists making work about queer nightlife. This session honors and extends José Esteban Muñoz’s theorizations of “everynight life” by centering the labor of queer and trans people of color, indigenous people, and migrants across the world who apprehend the risky medium of the night to explore, know, and stage their bodies, genders, and sexualities in the face of systemic and social negation. Nightlife cannot be valorized as a utopic alternative to hetero, racial capitalism. We encourage submissions considering the exceptional possibilities that nightlife affords minoritarian subjects, while acknowledging the systemic and social oppressions that impinge on the spaces and bodies they study.

Following the conference theme, “Arousal,” we seek submissions that explore bodily experiences of nightlife through experiences of flesh and their entanglements with power. We invite nightlife engagements with queer and trans of color scholarship that centers dance pedagogies, sensational flesh, sartorial style, the taste for brown sugar and brown bodies, views from the bottom, funking the erotic, extravagant abjections, colors of kink, public sex, sex work, and the wonder of doing it for daddy even if “daddy” is the state.  We invite contributors who extend these body-centered projects into a focus on nightlife, broadly defined: that which takes places in clubs and bars, but also staged in private and semi-private spaces carved out in house parties, parks, dungeons, sex work, and more.

Participants submit work in the early Fall, receiving individualized feedback at the working session before joining collective conversation.

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Rousing the (Theatrical) Worker: Labor Conditions, Uprisings, and Unionization in American Theatre and Drama from the 19th Century to the Present

Claudia Case, Lehman College/CUNY,
Rick DesRochers, Lehman College/CUNY,

This session examines intersections of labor conflicts and theatrical performance in America from the 19th century to the present. Responding to the conference theme, “Arousal: theatre, performance, embodiment,” and building on work by such scholars as Colette A. Hyman (1997), Arthur Frank Wertheim (2006), Sean P. Holmes (2013), Dorothy Chansky (2015), Elizabeth Osborne and Christine Woodworth (2015), and Timothy R. White (2015), we ask participants to examine how the labor movement has been embodied both on and off the American stage, from the days of vaudeville to recent theatrical expressions of labor tensions, as seen, for example, in Lynn Nottage’s Sweat (2015) or Dominique Morisseau’s Skeleton Crew (2016). Considering applicable contexts of social class, political affiliation, race, ethnicity, nationality, gender, and/or sexuality, participants are invited to explore such topics as labor conditions that aroused revolts, ways (theatrical) workers have used the stage as a platform for stirring labor action, and/or the connection of labor unions to American theatre and drama. San Diego provides the backdrop for a discussion of theatrical labor from both historical and current perspectives, as seen, for example, in the work of the WPA that constructed the Old Globe Theatre in Balboa Park for the 1935-36 California Pacific International Exposition, and in the protests that arose when UCSD in 2017 laid off its technical theatre staff during the split of the university’s theatrical production unit from La Jolla Playhouse.

Interested scholars should submit a 250-word proposal through the ASTR website describing a paper that addresses a labor conflict from modern or contemporary American theatre history and noting how labor studies applies to your current and future scholarship goals. Participants will need to identify a specific theatrical labor event or play/performance that engages with the complexity of labor conditions, uprisings, and/or unionization and sheds light on labor issues in the context of modern or contemporary American theatre history. We ask: How do conflicts in the working world of theatre practitioners and conflicts in the practical or aesthetic construction of performance connect to a framework of labor studies? Topic suggestions include but are not limited to:

  • African-American vaudeville labor and the T.O.B.A. circuit
  • The effect of the Gerry Society on child labor and family performance groups
  • The work of such theatrical unions as Actors’ Equity, IATSE, or the Dramatists Guild
  • The 1913 Paterson Strike Pageant
  • The 1919 Actors’ Strike; the Dramatists Guild’s minimum basic agreement
  • 1930s American workers’ theatre
  • Theatrical (un-)employment and the Federal Theatre Project
  • The effects of post-World-War-II Red-Scare blacklisting on theatrical labor
  • The role of such politically-minded groups as el Teatro Campesino or the San Francisco Mime Troupe in the broader American labor movement
  • The relationship of theatrical producers/managers to labor
  • Studies of American plays, vaudeville scenarios, or musical revues that dramatize labor problems

The two-hour session will focus on discussing pre-circulated papers from 10-12 participants. Papers should be between 2000 and 3000 words and must be circulated to all participants in advance of the November conference. We envision this working session as the start to a two- or three-year project that examines labor conditions, uprisings, and unionization in American theatre and drama from the 19th century to the present. We would like to use the session as the foundation for an edited collection of essays on the subject of American theatrical labor conflicts, ultimately inviting participants to expand their conference papers into book chapters.

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Sense and Sensuality: Food, Theatre, and the Question of Commensality (Off-Site)

Joshua Abrams, Royal Central School of Speech and Drama,
Ann Folino White, Michigan State University,

In his 1999 essay, “Food is Fundamental, Fun, Frightening and Far-Reaching,” sociologist Paul Rozin argued that food was so central to all human cultural understanding that it would have been a better choice for Freud’s conceptions than sex. Indeed, the links between food and arousal are longstanding and oft-cited, both in scholarship and popular culture, from notions of hungers or cravings to seduction and sensuality. Food, like sex, has historically aroused communities to commit violence and exclusion, drawing boundaries based on sexual and gustatory tastes and traditions as unclean, perverse, or unsavoury. Recent performance events such as Kaye Winwood’s Diabolical Roses, an “alternative Valentine’s Day”, Sean Rogg’s Waldorf Project, and Bobby Baker’s work sit alongside seminal works including Carolee Schneeman’s Meat Joy, Hannah Wilke’s Super-t-Art, and Judy Chicago’s The Dinner Party, as well as wide-ranging cultural tropes—Nigella Lawson’s on-screen personality and films such as Tom Jones or the infamous Last Tango in Paris – in linking performances of cooking and eating to arousal. Responding to the call’s reminder that “arousal . . . is sensual, erotic, cognitive, and embodied,” this working group seeks to examine the intersections between the sensual engagements of theatre, eating and cooking. What challenges do these practices offer across the senses? How might explorations at the junctures of the charged embodied practices of theatre and the crossmodal sensory practices of food preparation and commensality challenge both narratives and cultural understandings of arousal?

Participants will exchange brief (10-12 page) research papers in advance of the conference, with conveners facilitating a series of pre-conference discussions around these essays and developing a shared off-site cooking performance in San Diego. Rather than ask individuals to represent or restage their research through cooking, as previous iterations of this working group have done, we will stage an event that collides the research ideas of all participants in an embodied performance, asking what it means to cook together. In response to the conference’s call to question “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?”, we bring together individuals in the often intimate space of the domestic kitchen to share the practice of cooking, expanding and challenging working group participants’ individual writing practices and theoretical perspectives by exploring relationships between labor, food, and the human body. During our formal session, participants will reconvene to share their work and discoveries made in the process of cooking together. Small groups will be asked to present their pre-conference discussions and convenors will shape a broader discussion about the challenges of food, performance, intimacy and arousal.

Potential Topics Might Include:

  • Gendered performances of food production
  • Food and burlesque; arousal and the production of celebrity
  • Relationships between talent/aesthetic achievement, (gustatory) taste, and morality
  • Bodily practices of consumption
  • Explorations of othering, authenticity, fetishizing, appropriation in relation between to food and performance of culture, race, or ethnicity
  • Food, theatre and the permeability of bodily and other borders
  • Conspicuous consumption, performances of excess
  • Revulsion and arousal
  • Food and performances of seduction
  • Definitions and policing of morals, table manners and permissible behaviors
  • Hunger as abstinence, hunger as promiscuity
  • Privation and power
  • Discourses of cannibalism and humanness

If you have questions about your proposal or this working session, please contact the conveners Joshua Abrams ( and Ann Folino White ( For questions about ASTR in general, please contact the Conference Organizers at

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Shakespearean Performance Research Group

Catherine Burriss, California State University-Channel Islands,
Amy Cook, Stonybrook University,
Louise Geddes, Adelphi University (primary contact)
Cary Mazer, University of Pennsylvania,
Don Weingust,
W.B. Worthen, Barnard College,

Shakespeare has historically been used provocatively to arouse intellectual and emotional responses. Shakespearean stage histories, including the the Essex rebellion, the Astor Place riots, or the recent outcry over the Public Theatre’s performance of Julius Caesar, suggest that there is an ongoing use of Shakespearean performance to initiate explorations of nationalism and politics. Other provocative uses, as found in the work produced by the African Grove Theatre, or Fiona Shaw’s 1996 Richard II, suggest that staged Shakespeare can arouse complex responses to gender, race, or sexuality. This, combined with Shakespeare’s capacity to provoke examinations of performance aesthetics and theatre’s social role, as well as unsourced theatrical anxieties - the superstitions that surround Macbeth, for example -  makes clear that the Shakespearean stage has complex history with arousal.  The Shakespearean Performance Research Group welcomes papers that might explore arousal’s affective origins in Shakespeare’s stage practices; exploited states of arousal in spectatorship; antagonistic and/or controversial performance histories; audience responses to provocative stagings; acting methodologies; the arousing effect of spectacle on the early modern stage; the use of Shakespeare to resist mimetic representation; the erotics of the performing body.  We welcome approaches that will engage theatre history, new media studies, cultural studies, and affect theory. In particular, we invite papers that consider the cognitive processes that elicit arousal in performance, and will reflect the broader theme of the conference with an expansive definition of arousal that is manifest in embodied performance. Please submit a 200-250 word abstract and a 50-word biography.

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“Staying Woke”: Authorship, Circulation, and Critique of American Blackness in Performance

Megan Geigner, United States Naval Academy,
Rhaisa Williams, Washington University,
Le'Mil, Eiland University of Pittsburgh,

Jordan Peele’s acclaimed film Get Out begins with the demand to “stay woke,” calling us to engage in the critical distrust needed to see through and protect ourselves from the various ruses of white supremacy. The figurative and literal implications of black people “staying woke” aptly fits this year’s theme of arousal, performance, theatre, and embodiment. To be “woke” qualifies a form of (black) consciousness bred by conditions of racism; it both secures blacks to a marginalized status, but also bestows them with inner sight to see through and protect the nation from the limitations of political ideals (for example, the celebration of black Alabama women electing Doug Jones). In addition to the merits of racial “wokeness,” many quantitative studies show how the constant pressure to arouse others out of complacency or unawareness and bestir action robs black people of rest, recuperation, and health. This working group asks how performance–which provokes bodies, contextualizes and creates physical existence, and articulates embodied agency–has rendered American blackness. If performance creates the “abstracted and imagined figure” of the black body, as described by Harvey Young, and instigates or resists “wokeness,” then how have theatre and performance created icons and scripts of embodied blackness?

This working group investigates how performance authors embodied blackness. For example, black figures have been championed as saviors (Maxine Waters), denigrated as scourges (the welfare queen), or held up as litmus tests of the nation (the election of Barack Obama as evidence of a post-racial United States). Topics for analysis in this working group could include:

  • The (changing) authorship of black icons through performance
  • Circulation of the black body in theatre and performance
  • Platforms and publics of black iconicity (i.e. black twitter, black comedy)
  • Historical performance forms of American blackness (slave auctions, minstrelsy, performance of the Harlem Renaissance, contemporary plays by and/or about black people)
  • The performance of specific icons of American blackness (Sojourner Truth, Harriet Tubman, Frederick Douglass, Williams and Walker, Josephine Baker, Martin Luther King Jr., Malcolm X, Oprah Winfrey, Tyra Banks, Colin Kaepernick)
  • Considerations of the interiority/quiet of figures who embody blackness at any given moment
  • Gender fluidity and the black body (Laverne Cox, RuPaul)

Completed papers, which will be due and circulate among the working group in October, will be 10-12 pages.

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Stimulating Transfeminisms

Bess Rowen, Purchase College, SUNY,
Rye Gentleman, University of Minnesota,
Amy Meyer, Tufts University,
Janet Werther, The Graduate Center, CUNY,

Queer analyses of theatre and performance have been published in our field since the 1990s, yet trans theory and analysis remain marginal today, even to queer and gender-based scholarship in theatre studies. In scholarship and popular media, trans arouses fantasies of moving beyond binaries, categories, and "identity politics." Trans persons are theorized to exist outside structures, activating our desire to transcend. This often leads to a utopian idea of "trans" as an allegory instead of a lived experience. Where is the line between allegorizing trans and acknowledging the personhood of trans people?    This marks the third year convening the Transfeminisms session at ASTR. Following this year's conference theme, this session aims to use arousal as a mode of inquiry. We aim to gather scholars motivated to center transgender embodiment and experience in theatre studies, and together create a working bibliography to stimulate new methodologies and re-awaken areas of research.    Our proposed format follows expressions of interest in consolidating sources from scholars who have individually been finding pieces in archives, and together hope to excite increased engagement and exchange across the numerous topics and areas explored in previous sessions. We seek to reframe transfeminisms as an accessible and fundamental lens through which to analyze theatre and performance, rather than letting it exist as a marginalized field of theory. We also see mentorship as an important aspect of this working session, as we hope to continue to bring together scholars with different specialties, and varying levels of experience in transfeminist work.

In continuing the Transfeminisms Working Session, we seek to build a collective bibliography for scholarship that centers transgender embodiment and experience in theatre studies. Susan Stryker writes, "If queer theory was born of the union of sexuality studies and feminism, transgender studies can be considered queer theory's evil twin: it has the same parentage but willfully disrupts the privileged family narratives that favor sexual identity labels (like gay, lesbian, bisexual, and heterosexual) over the gender categories (like man and woman) that enable desire to take shape and find its aim." What can this alternate narrative stimulate through scholarship, especially a type of scholarship often overtly based on arousal? Where is the space for trans arousal in this narrative? What is a trans methodology for considering representations of gender in live performance, and how might that perspective intersect productively and/or disruptively with familiar theories such as Judith Butler's notion of gender performativity? To what extent are anti-identitarian conceptions of "queer" fruitful for transfeminist performance scholarship? And, what other frameworks from the burgeoning field of transgender studies are useful for rethinking gender and the body in theatre and performance studies? To begin grappling with these questions, applicants to the Transfeminisms Working Group are asked to submit a brief abstract of their own research and a literature review of approximately three texts that they find particularly useful and/or problematic for their work on trans or gender-non-conforming performance.   Each participant in the working group will write a brief paper (8 - 12 pages) that summarizes what these texts have to say, and also how they have proven/could prove useful in the participant's own research. When applying, we will ask for a short abstract of a participant's own research with a few possible sources listed. The co-conveners will then work to help ensure that multiple participants are not using all of the same sources. Papers will be due two weeks before the conference so that the working session co-conveners can facilitate subgroups for more detailed conversations. The papers will be used during the working group session to establish a more concrete framework for trans-centered scholarship in theatre studies. In doing so, it is our goal that the Transfeminisms Working Group can begin to carve out space and establish a theoretical and practical base for new and important work in this critical but still marginalized field of inquiry.  This year's theme comes in response to requests from participants and audience members at both previous Transfeminisms working sessions who wondered what could be done about the lack of a clear archival scaffolding that would enable such discourse to continue.

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Theater in the Age of Pervasive Media

Martin Harries, University of California-Irvine,
Nicholas Ridout, Queen Mary University of London,

Recent uses of a range of media have involved attempts to arouse (inflame, stir up, agitate and aggravate) consumers of images, speech and texts. This is widely regarded as constituting a new kind of intervention into what used to be called public life.

This seminar aims to make a particular contribution to research that responds to this state of affairs, by exploring it in terms of what Fredric Jameson once called the 'hegemony of video', which we now take to encompass a plethora of screen-based media, on the one hand, and the more traditional conceptions of the public often associated with theater and performance, on the other.

For many people today, the experience of spectatorship is shaped primarily by pervasive media and their logics, some of which, at least, appear to follow the logics of video as outlined by Jameson. This seminar starts from a few initial questions:

  1. Do the conventions associated with these media carry over into other forms of aesthetic experience, including theater and performance? 
  2. How do particular forms of theater and performance work with, and against, the conventions by which these media form their publics? 
  3. Might part of the work of theater today lie in its negation of these conventions?At the same time, can we avoid theater and performance being recruited in support of nostalgic and conservative laments that derive their emotional force from fantasies about calmer and more rational publics that may never have existed?

Participants are invited to submit proposals for short (no more than 10 page) papers. Once a working group is established, the convenors, in consultation with participants, will make a selection of materials which participants will share (these might be texts, images, videos, tweets) and use as a reference point for discussion in November, alongside the short papers.  It is envisaged that participants may choose to develop their papers with the shared materials in mind.

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Theatre and Performance vs the Crisis in the Humanities: (A)rousing the "Mobile Critical Paradigm"

Kim Solga, Western University,  
Sylvan Baker, Royal Central School of Speech and Drama (CSSD)
Diana Damian (CSSD)
Rebecca Hayes Laughton (CSSD)
Katharine Low (CSSD)

This working session, the third in an information- and data-gathering project we have been undertaking since autumn 2017, seeks to share, collect, and generate dialogues about how theatre and performance may best be deployed as a "mobile critical paradigm" (Gallagher and Freeman 2016, 9) in the neoliberal university.     

"The discourse of crisis in the humanities persists," as Kathleen Gallagher and Barry Freeman write in their 2016 collection, In Defence of Theatre (5); scholars, artists, and educators in theatre and performance across (and beyond) the Anglosphere feel this pressure especially acutely as a result of what Laura Levin describes as the expendability with which fine arts programs are often regarded as part of the logic of austerity (161). The emergent challenge for educators is then twofold: 1) to face what often seems like the overwhelming pressures of government and administration-mandated measurement and accountability on our own terms, and 2) in the process to redefine those terms – the measures by which university administrators and governments recognize us, and view our continued worth.

Michael McKinnie (2017) and Jen Harvie (2013) have both separately argued that theatre and performance occupy what we might call an enviably precarious position vis-à-vis institutionality: they are both imbricated within institutional paradigms (from grammar school through to university curricula, to national theatre spaces and government-granting agencies), and yet work against those institutional paradigms as essential forms of social critique. Can theatre and performance find ways to be instrumental to the neoliberal university, without fully becoming instrumentalized by it?

If performance is indeed a “mobile critical paradigm” in Freeman and Gallagher’s provocative and useful formulation — deeply relevant to a range of university disciplines, yet not often visible as such — theatre and performance teachers, researchers, and practitioners must (a)rouse ourselves to its potential across our internal institutional borders. Recognizing how and where this awakening has already happened, and how we might further rouse one another to the means of activating performance's mobile critical potential, is this session's aim. It builds on the recent "social turn" in theatre and performance scholarship (Jackson 2011), but it focuses deliberately on its framing within university contexts. Our goal is to share a variety of "best practices" that, taken individually as models, can assist us in making local change at our own institutions, while taken collectively can represent qualitative evidence of our successful, ongoing adaptation to existing institutional realities.

The session will build on workshops and discussions we have already curated in England at the Royal Central School of Speech and Drama (December 2017), in Canada at the Canadian Association of Theatre Research (May 2018), and at ATHE in Boston (summer 2018). The session is also linked, indirectly, to a special issue of Research in Drama Education that will be published in August 2019. The research questions attached to the session, and to the larger project of which it forms a part, are:

  1. What initiatives are already underway to ready schools and departments of theatre and performance for survival within the neoliberal university? 
  2. How are these initiatives received by stakeholders (students, teachers, artists, administrators, community partners) both inside and outside of institutional contexts? 
  3. How essential is interdisciplinary collaboration to the survival of theatre and performance labour in the neoliberal university? What models exist for such (successful) collaboration? 
  4. How essential is community collaboration to the survival of theatre and performance labour in the neoliberal university? What models exist for such (successful) collaboration? 
  5. Within the initiatives and collaborations thus detailed, what room exists for creative, performance-driven critique of neoliberal structures? How is that room made? When and how does making such space fall short of goals? 

Participants will be selected based on the case studies – whether past or present, ongoing or closed, successful or “failed” – that they have to share: we aim to amass a wide range of examples of ongoing work that respond to the questions above in order to produce a similarly wide-ranging and provocative conversation. Once selected, participants will be asked to craft a brief (1500-word) case study document for group dissemination; based on our collective reading of those documents, and other relevant materials, we will all generate topics and questions for discussion in San Diego together.

Please submit a 250-word description of the case study you would like to share and a 50-word biographical note. If you wish, please note the research question(s) above to which it responds, and/or suggest a question we may not have yet articulated!

Please also note that we hope to include a genuinely diverse range of participants: from those at small colleges and teaching-only institutions to R1 faculty; from students, to contract faculty, to full-time faculty, to those who are also administrators. (Theatre and performance scholars turned administrators are especially welcome to apply.)

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Videogames and Theater Studies: Arousing the Audience, Arousing the Discipline

Mike Sell, Indiana University of Pennsylvania,
Alan Filewod, University of Guelph,
Kimi Johnson, University of Minnesota,

Despite the growth of scholarly work on digital performance and new media dramaturgy, videogames remain an understudied topic. Yet theater and performance studies provide effective tools for the study of games, game players, and game culture, and there is a diverse body of work that incorporates and interrogates the same. This includes artists who utilize videogame technology (Swim Pony’s War of the Worlds: Philadelphia, Blast Theory’s Karen), that utilize ludic strategies (Punchdrunk’s The Drowned Man), that stage theater in game environments (EK Theater’s Grand Theft Ovid 2), that remediate stage design in games (Cardboard Computer’s Kentucky Route Zero, which recalls the scenography of Jo Mielziner and Beowulf Boritt), that position videogames within performance spaces (Mary Flanagan’s installation [giantJoystick], whose visitors manipulate a six-foot-tall joystick), or that treat videogames as the subject of dramatic works (Jennifer Haley’s The Nether).

Continuing the collaborative interrogation of videogames initiated in our 2016 and 2017 working sessions, we seek essays by critics, historians, and practitioners who want to join us in building the interface between theater studies and videogames.

Proposals for this working group should either:

  1. Explore the dynamics of theater, performance, and embodiment in respect to videogames, whether in terms of critical historiography, theoretical analysis, or artistic practice.
  2. Stimulate new research directions in the disciplines of theater and performance studies themselves, to awaken scholars and practitioners to what theater brings videogames and what videogames can bring to theater. 

We have two goals for this working session. First, we seek to identify the ways videogames arouse (or fail to arouse) the body, the sensorium, critical consciousness, and social participation and coalition. We understand this first goal in the broadest terms and encourage essays on a wide range of topics: mainstream “AAA” games, independent and queer games, gamified social spaces and practices, artists and works that incorporate ludic digital technologies (dance and puppetry scholars are particularly welcome), the convergence culture surrounding videogames (cosplay, modding, streaming, etc.), critical genealogies and archeologies that articulate videogames beyond digital media and the digital era, and any other topic that stimulates critical consciousness about the tropes, technologies, cultures, and practices of videogames. 

Second, we wish to continue the work of arousing the field of theater studies to treat videogames as a legitimate field. We intend to continue the group’s work on the identification and elaboration of fundamental terms and methods for interrogating videogames and game culture through the lens of theatre and performance studies. Ultimately, we seek to work with and consolidate a community of interested scholars and practitioners to promote critical videogame studies in ASTR, in academia, and in the technoculture more broadly.

Applicants should submit a short proposal for a 10-15-page essay on topic that explores videogames and theatre, performance, and embodiment. Proposals should outline a plan for research as well as its connections to the broader goals of the working group: identifying the ways videogames arouse (or fail to arouse) and continuing the work of arousing the field of theatre studies to treat videogames as a legitimate field.

If selected, applicants can expect to participate in structured peer-review groups and should be prepared to play two or three exemplary game texts to be decided upon in response to participant interests and research foci. Initial exchange of essay will occur in early October.

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Violent Incitements: Affect/Effect and Arousal (Off-Site)

Mary Karen Dahl, Florida State University,
Deborah Kochman, Florida State University,
Victoria Thoms, Coventry University,

The “Violent Incitements Working Group” explores violence and its effects/affects. In its beauty or in its terror, violence in the world arouses, emboldens, provokes, and awakens. We ask how theatre and performance enacts and/or resists violence. If violence creates and inspires, it also objectifies and destroys. Using contemporary theories of violence and related discourses, we focus on strategies theatre and performance use to arouse awareness, bear witness, and/or incite spectators to action.

The group will address the duality of violence and the complexity of our responses to it, both in life and in performance. We seek papers that focus on the violence that celebrates or serves the nation, violence against Others, cultural and technological upheavals, dramaturgical innovation, and/or the violence of creation. Because, whatever the origin, violence, both visible and invisible, is held in the body and embodied. We will pay particular attention to the effect/affect of thematized and staged violence in order to (1) complicate and develop notions of performance/performing as an act of witness[ing], arousing/inciting others to witness; (2) assess different theoretical approaches for their explanatory power; and (3) question how theatre and performance might operate as a “clarion call to our time which stagnates in naive inhumanity.” (Albert Schweitzer, “Preface” to Rolf Hochhuth’s The Deputy, 1964).

Supported by off-site visits during the conference, we seek to promote in-depth collective thinking that strengthens individual research and performance projects while stimulating new directions in the study of violence and its effects in performance. Using a secure electronic site, all group members contribute 10-page papers and respond to each member's abstract and then to each paper in advance of ASTR. These exchanges produce the plan for our ASTR off-site session and conference session and prepare us to think hard together.

Papers for the “Violent Incitements Working Group” should focus on specific performance responses to individual, vicarious, or cultural violence, paying special attention to the formal properties of each event and/or experience, its context, and its implied effects/affects on participants, observers, or culture. How does the event arouse to attention, to witness, to resistance, to action?

  1. We look for synergies between violence theory and related discourses (queer theory, critical race theory, postcolonial theory, age studies, trauma theory, age studies, etc.).
  2. We ask: How are intersections between physical and psychological violence defined and explored through theory? How do different forms of performance instantiate, interrogate, and/or mediate such intersections? If violence arouses, how is it carried in the body? What are the ethical implications of the embodied performance of violence?
  3. We investigate questions of embodiment through related art forms and events, some live (dance, performance art, festivals), some fixed (museums, statuary, memorials).
  4. We acknoweldge the importance of fixed site and extra-theatrical research into museums and memorials. Does memorializing erase violence? Or does memorialization revive, arouse, or incite new violence? How does memorialization contribute to or distract from what Schweitzer calls “guilt” of “accepting terrible human acts”?
  5. We ask, should we dare to, whether performance can operate as a clarion call to become aware and remain aware of the violence and inhumanity of our time.

This year, the Working Group is among those selected to receive funding for an off-site session in addition to the Working Group session at the conference. The off-site session will begin early on Thursday, November 15th; therefore, group members must arrive in San Diego on Wednesday, November 14th. Group members should anticipate an early morning start and prepare for a full day of touring. Our 2018 field trip design acknowledges San Diego’s significance to generations of warriors. Preparing for, engaging in, or witnessing warfare and its aftermath stimulate complex effects/affects to violence. The city provides two sites, each resonating with the creative and/or destructive effects of violence. The USS Midway Museum memorializes human technological ingenuity aimed at managing/manifesting violence; the Veterans Museum in Balboa Park displays the memorabilia of individual lives. One signals the awesome beauty/terror violence generates; the other condenses the lives that enacted/experienced violence into objects, remainders to contemplate. For the off-site visit, group members will divide into two “advance parties,” each visiting one of the sites before reconvening to analyze the sites’ design elements and their effects/affects. Our aim in these embodied encounters with the artifacts of violence is to create a common experiential language for our on-site Working Group session.

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Women Writers and the "Erotics" of Dramatic Theory and Criticism

Catherine Burroughs, Cornell University,
J. Ellen Gainor, Cornell University,

Historically, collections of dramatic theory and criticism, such as Bernard Dukore’s canonical Dramatic Theory and Criticism: Greeks to Grotowski (1974), contain few, if any entries by women.  While subsequent studies have introduced some women writers into a revised historical narrative, there remain relatively few published locations for women’s writing on the theatre, broadly conceived.  For this working session, we hope to attract participants who will contribute to an expanded understanding, trans-historically and trans-culturally, of women’s affective responses to theatre and drama.  What have women written about the performative worlds and dramatic works they encounter, and how might such responses contribute to a revised and/or enriched sense of Dramatic Theory and Criticism as a discipline and a practice?

We would like our participants to (re)identify prefaces, introductions, letters, journals, diaries, articles, essays, scrapbooks, day books, prompt books, and other occasional writings that we can (re)consider as works of theory and criticism.  We want to explore such writings by women dramatists, performers, designers, stage managers, directors, producers, audiences, and/or readers, in order to revisit what constitutes our notions of not only theory and criticism, but also performative history and culture. Moreover, we wonder to what extent does an “erotics” of dramatic theory and criticism, pedagogy, acting, design, and directing emerge from a study of the texts and performances that women have produced through the years, whether about the stage, “the closet,” or the text? Some of the core questions that our project embraces are:

  • How does the women’s writing speak to our understanding of drama and performance, broadly conceived?
  • How does the women’s writing engage with, or prompt us to reconsider, extant understandings of dramatic theory and criticism?
  • How does the women’s writing contribute to, or help us to revise, extant understandings of drama and performance in relation to history and culture?      

We anticipate that this ASTR Working Session will help us to identify a more expansive group of primary texts by women, as well as the colleagues who can contribute contextualized assessments of their import to our understanding of Dramatic Theory and Criticism.  Applications to our Working Session should include a brief description of the primary document(s): authorship, date of composition and/or publication, source of document(s), summary of and context for document(s), as well as a brief description (500 word maximum) of its/their historical and cultural significance.  If possible, a copy of the proposed document(s), or an excerpt (if a longer work) should also be included. Ultimately, the conveners hope to edit an anthology with these and other writings, and with these and other contributors, to reveal women’s deep engagement with drama and theatre, and to reconsider the historical narratives that have so profoundly shaped our field.

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