November 16-19, 2017
Grand Hyatt Atlanta in Buckhead | Atlanta, Georgia
Conference Theme – Extra/Ordinary Bodies: Interrogating the Performance and Aesthetics of “Difference”
Historically, bodies have been divided into categories that separate the normal from the abnormal, the natural from the monstrous. In Generatione Animalium, Aristotle describes terata (monsters) as defective beings because they disrupt the order of nature. Subsequent approaches to defining our world, and by extension the human body, continued throughout the Middle Ages, Renaissance, Enlightenment, and into our present understanding of scientific, racial, and moral difference. These “extraordinary bodies,” as Rosemarie Garland-Thomson calls them, have persistently been understood as aberrations that produce either fear or marvel. She says, “Because such bodies are rare, unique, material, and confounding of cultural categories, they function as magnets to which culture secures its anxieties, questions, and needs at any given moment.”
A focus on extraordinary bodies also provides an entryway into a discussion of aesthetics. In our culture, bodies that fall outside heteronormative ideals of beauty, health, and behavior are marked as “other” and regularly oppressed by cultural and social institutions. For example, scholar Kathleen Lebesco has argued that fat bodies are revolting bodies, bodies that actively rebel against normative cultural assumptions, challenging patriarchal and economic power structures. Additional examples of these kinds of bodies include people of color, undocumented immigrants, queers and queers of color, indigenous peoples, disabled people, and the poor. For these individuals, performance has the potential to destabilize—or rewrite—existing cultural power structures and establish alternative narratives of embodiment.
Unquestionably, the most commonly accepted way of understanding different subjectivities is through the physical aspect. However, there are multiple approaches to the concept of “the freak” (or any other category of otherness) beyond the physical, which include the social, political, cultural, and moral dimensions that define the monstrous, grotesque, deformed, disabled, disproportionate, socially deviant and/or morally excluded. We especially invite proposals that consider how extraordinary bodies speak to larger issues and movements of our time, including: #blacklivesmatter, undocumented immigration, refugees and displacement, and queer and transgender rights.
For scholars of theatre and performance history, a study of the body provides avenues through which to (re)interrogate historical practices, as well as our own acts of (re)assembling the past. In theatre and performance, we witness a proliferation of popular and critical discourses that appropriate the other, turning the “extraordinary body” into a lucrative figure. This conference seeks to explore and engage difference, resisting those constructions of difference that appropriate cultural capital for the benefit of an academic and cultural discourse. For these reasons, a focus on the extra/ordinary body also calls for consideration of normalization, normativity, and normate bodies.
This theme seeks to crack open the spaces of discomfort produced when we speak about difference and otherness in theatre and performance studies. How can we interrogate these spaces: stage them, claim them, theorize them, promote them, and celebrate them? How do uncomfortable words like freak, fat, illegal, sick, crip, queer, and abnormal function as ways of describing bodies of excess or deficiency? How have these descriptions of the human body divided people into hierarchies of power and exploitation? In what ways have these definitions changed over time and what repercussions do they carry today? How do different bodies get (re)presented in performance and how does scholarship play a role in the dissemination of these practices and aesthetics? How have theatre and performance been influenced by these images and restrictions of the human body and what can an exploration of difference do to create an epistemology of otherness?
Portland Marriott Downtown Waterfront
1401 SW Naito Pkwy.
Portland, Oregon 97201
Conviction. Commitment. Urgency. Advocacy. Activism. These are terms that evoke a robust assertion of ideals, a principled embrace of political positions, a vigorous pursuit of envisioned goals, and a spirited defense of articulated values. Within the context of theatrical performance, the terms signal artists and practitioners who are willing to choose sides, to take stands or to incur political risks and who understand the work of theatre and performance not as an end in itself but as a catalyst for change and a means to an end. Applied to theatre and performance scholarship, the terms mean nothing less: the stakes are just as high. However, these terms also require a calculated, self-reflective examination of theatre and performance history in order to further a larger political debate. They imply a marshalling of research in support of a particular issue or cause, and engage historical analyses that are crafted into calls to action, deliberate provocations and timely polemics. Such terms ask practitioners and scholars to confront issues in our discipline that require us to stake a claim, pick a side, take a position and to take up spirited debate, animated dialogue and a rigorous exchange of ideas, argument and evidence.
In their relation to theatre and performance scholarship, terms such as “conviction,” “commitment,” “urgency,” “advocacy” and “activism” are bound by—even as they shape—historical context. Their points of reference change from generation to generation, and from location to location. In these respects, such terms are often best defined in work that exemplifies their corresponding concepts in actual practice: articulating new pressing political urgencies; literally calling us to direct action; stirring controversy and thus provoking immediate debate within our profession. In short, they call forth work that identifies the issues in which we currently have a stake and about which we cannot afford to remain indifferent.
It is with the goal of creating a forum for such work and for the constructive yet critical debates that it engenders that we have focused the 2015 ASTR conference on debating the stakes in theatre and performance scholarship. We are as interested in papers that critically examine broadly defined aspects of activist theatre and performance as we are in scholarship that positions itself in terms of advocacy or issues. We also invite proposals that examine the value of past critical debates or that chart those of an imagined future. Above all, we are interested in papers that point us toward and ask us to concern ourselves with the current and emerging issues that we as scholars, practitioners and citizens face.