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by on September 14th, 2015

“The photograph of Aylan Kurdi [http://media.breitbart.com/media/2015/09/ap_ap-photo219-640×497.jpg], the Syrian child from Kobane whose body washed up on a Turkish beach, has sparked a “light bulb moment” in the heads and hearts of European public and policymakers alike – forcing both significant debate and new policy towards the refugee crisis.”

-James Denselow, Al Jazeera English 8 Sept. 2015 http://www.aljazeera.com/indepth/opinion/2015/09/europe-light-bulb-moment-150907115044435.html

What is a light bulb moment?

In David Grieg’s eerily prescient play Europe (1994), the cast of characters assemble as a chorus at the beginning of each act (Scenes 2 and 9, to be specific)—each actor identified in the script as a number, not as a named character—and offer descriptions of the play’s time and place to the audience:

1 Ours is a small town on the border, at various times on this side,

2 and,

3 at various times,

2 on the other,

1 but always

1,2,3 on the border.

4 We’re famous for our soup,

5 for our factory which makes lightbulbs

1 and for being on the border.

These manufacturers of soup and light live in a town that, like a rock in the sea, has been washed over by the ebb and flow of warring armies, political and economic interests, and, soon, inevitably, tourists. The identity of the town has been rubbed off. The text hints at the erasure of the town and its people even before the characters speak: “Setting: A small decaying provincial town in Europe. Autumn.” Unlike Autumn, however, a natural and recurring event, or for that matter a rock smoothed into sand by the sea, the decay and erosion of this unnamed European border town results from man-made causes.

I am not sure why Grieg chooses soup and lightbulbs, except that, by doing so, perhaps he offers a spectrum of use-values. Soup to sustain the body. Light to protect the body from darkness. Together, soup and light to nourish the soul and the intellect. Regardless of the meaning, I am confident that Grieg offered a synecdoche of 1994 Europe in his depiction of this small decaying town and by doing so should have sparked a “light bulb moment” to ward off the darkness of racism and economic exploitation that was, at that time, mounting.

The play comments on numerous issues through Grieg multi-layered dramaturgical style. One worth mentioning here is the connection between monetary (in)stability (perhaps thinking of the coming Euro currency) and the hocus-pocus of money changing. The character Morocco, a man who has discovered how to make a living through his mastery of the magic of trade, lays the situation bare:

Morocco         This is what the border is. See…?

Berlin             What?

Morocco         A magic money line. See. You pass something across it and it’s suddenly worth more. Pass it across again and now it’s cheaper. More…less…less…more…fags, drink, jobs, cars…less is more, more or less…see? Magic money just for crossing a magic line. I’m not a smuggler, I’m a magician, an illusionist. There’s no crime in that.


Morocco         I swear to God it’s a conjuring trick. Swear to God. Give me a dollar…abracadabra…I give you roubles back…give me some roubles…come on…give…hey presto…Deutschmarks. It’s all imaginary…none of it’s real, none. You just have to think up the trick…it’s easy.

Looking for contemporary resonance? If we shift our attention to Greece and the never-ending discussion of bailouts, I think we’ll be able to return to Grieg’s play and discern the satire in Morocco’s character. But Berlin, the character with whom Morocco shares his secrets, does not find anything amusing. Berlin—a name laden with historical significance—seems to prove Dan Rebellato’s statement in Theatre & Globalization: “The geographical boundaries of a country are often the arbitrary sediment of centuries of historical processes. Yet they can take on symbolic importance in the national imagination and any penetration of these boundaries, real or imagined, can cause a convulsion of national feeling” (xvi). For Morocco, who no longer pledges any allegiance to the small town where he and Berlin grew up, the border is porous. For Berlin, this porosity and Morocco’s carefree jaunts back and forth through the pores, such a situation amounts to an attack on his way of life.

These two causes in particular bring tragedy to Fret, the local station agent, and his daughter Adele: economic destabilization at the cusp of Europe’s transformation into the European Union and rage; rage focused at the flood of immigrants coming into the town by locals Berlin, Horse, and Billy who believe immigrants—whom they refer to as Flying Boat People—will take their jobs and their money. Again, this twenty-year-old play starts to sound familiar. Grieg managed to capture not only the social, political, and economic forces that contributed to Europe’s internal fracturing in 1994 but also the human habits that ensure the repetition of history. (Consider and consult the following links:




Economic decline shows itself in the play’s setting, a train station that Grieg describes as “a forgotten place [that] bears witness to the past century’s methods of government.” The rage of the townspeople amplifies upon news of the station’s closing, the announcement of layoffs at the light bulb factory, and the arrival of Sava and Katia, a father and daughter who are escaping an unnamed war-torn landscape. For Sava and Katia, the train station acts as a threshold between an old life of violence and uncertainty, to one side, and a new life of stability and hope, to the other. The townspeople, however, see the same train station, which becomes a makeshift immigrant camp for the two refugees, as the threshold between the old Europe that brought them economic stability and the new Europe that makes no promises at all.

Due to their different ages, Sava and Katia have different expectations about the Europe of the north to which they are fleeing. Grieg crafts the viewpoints of all his characters into a kaleidoscopic view of 1994 Europe. In particular, though, Sava’s and Katia’s perspective from the bottom, as it were, offer his European (at first English and Scottish) audience members a vivid portrait of the violence waging just to the south as well as the myth of Northern European Enlightenment that supposedly keeps the north safe.

Sava    […] Katia, we’re not in some savage country on the other side of the world. Look around you, look at the architecture. Listen to the sounds from the street. You can smell the forest. We’re a long way from home but we’re still in Europe. We’ll be looked after. Our situation will be understood.

Katia  Europe. Snipers on the roofs, mortars in the suburbs, and you said: ‘This is Europe…we must stay in Europe.’ So we stayed, even after the food ran out: ‘This is Europe.’ When the hospitals were left with nothing but alcohol and dirty bandages. I warned you and you still said: ‘This is Europe. Honesty will prevail, sense will win, this war is an aberration…a tear in the fabric. In time it’ll be sewn up again and things will look as good as new.’

Things, however, do not begin to improve for the two immigrants or for Fret and Adele who would like to help them. Berlin and Horse conspire to enact revenge against these boat people who will surely take their jobs and steal their way of life. Fueled by hate and ignorance, the two characters eventually set the train station ablaze. Grieg dramatizes this action by having Berlin narrate the events to the audience:

Berlin On the news the fireman said the station was a tinderbox. He said it was criminal. Criminal that it could have been left in that condition. They didn’t have a chance he said. No one stood a chance in that place. Criminal.


At first we just saw the light inside. Just an orange glow inside and then some smore. It was a clear night so we could see the smoke rising. Even from that distance we could feel it warm. AMAZING. (He holds out the back of his hand.)

Katia and Adele manage to make it out. They escape on a train for destinations unknown before the bombing occurs. Fret and Sava do not escape. The darkness of the scene culminates in the final words, which Grieg decides to give to Berlin: “They know that, in our own way, we’re also Europe.”

That is to say, “we,” the good and the bad, the left and the right, the center and the margins, the awake and the sleeping, the hopeful and the hopeless, the terrorists and the terrorized, we’re all Europe. If this play, written 20 years ago, didn’t have the power to enact lasting change for the minorities of Europe or to prevent the public from being duped about the sleight-of-hand economics of the European Union, it is hard to imagine that an image of a dead child on a beach will make an impact now. The “light bulb moment” alluded to by the Al Jazeera journalist may only be a flash, more like the final moments of the forgotten light bulb factory in Europe than an enduring Enlightenment.


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CTR 163 (Summer 2015) Now Available Online

by on August 21st, 2015

CTR_163_SUMMER2015_100 DPI

CTR 163 (Summer 2015)
Performance Futures: Imagining Theatre in 2030

Edited by Jenn Stephenson and Laura Levin

Also available on Project MUSE

CTR 163 (Summer 2015): Performance Futures: Imagining Theatre in 2030, edited by Jenn Stephenson and Laura Levin, explores very recent innovations in theatre and performance, and asks what they can tell us about where the field is headed. Focusing on new formats of theatrical production and reception, contributors have been invited to answer the question: “What will the performance landscape in Canada look like in fifteen years?” This is not theatre in a distant sci-fi future but theatre that is just around the corner. The assembled collection brings together voices that are passionate and visionary, and address such disparate topics as the future of theatre in online venues, the future of interculturalism and cultural diversity in theatre, the future of theatre funding, and the future of theatre criticism. The script featured in this issue is Concord Floral, winner of the 2015 Dora Mavor Moore Award for Outstanding New Play. Written by Governor General Award-winning playwright Jordan Tannahill, and co-created with acclaimed artists Erin Brubacher and Cara Spooner along with a group of exceptional Toronto teens, this powerful text exhibits alternative ways of representing the lives of tomorrow’s youth as well as more ecologically responsive human futures. Concord Floral is accompanied by an arresting series of staged photo-portraits by Erin Brubacher, which help reconceptualize the boundaries of a theatrical script and production.

Click here to read the full table of contents.

For more information about the Canadian TheatreReview or for submissions information, please contact:

Canadian Theatre Review
University of Toronto Press, Journals Division
5201 Dufferin Street, Toronto, ON M3H 5T8, Canada
Tel: (416) 667-7810 Fax: (416) 667-7881
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Emerging Discourses in Theatre and Performance Studies: Ecocriticism, Cog Sci, and Affect Theory

by on June 11th, 2015

This spring (2015) I led a graduate seminar in the Center for Performance Studies at the University of Washington called “Emerging Discourses in Theatre and Performance Studies.” Throughout the ten-week term, we discussed readings in three areas: Ecocriticism, the Cognitive Sciences, and Affect Theory. Each of these areas represented discursive “turns,” that is, conversations that have emerged fairly recently in our fields and do not seem to be going away soon. The goal for the seminar, then, was for the students to become familiar with these discourses, so that they would be at the very least conversant with them in reading and at conferences, and, even better, equipped with “tool belts” of helpful concepts and resources for their own research.

We devoted roughly three weeks to a crash-course in each area, reading essays from special journal issues and collections and discussing them in the seminar. One of the benefits of taking on contemporary scholarly conversations was that when we had questions or confusions about particular concepts or arguments, we could contact many of the working scholars in the field to ask them directly, and our colleagues in the field were generous, thoughtful and timely in their responses. At the end of each unit, the students compiled a working inventory of provocative key terms and concepts that gave some shape to the conversation and that could serve as indexes for future term papers, dissertation chapters, conference presentations and publications.

Attached are .pdf files of our inventories, along with a syllabus for the course. We hope they might be useful springboards for a larger collective of scholars engaged in these conversations.

Additions, corrections, and suggestions are welcome in the comments section, below.


Seminar Participants: Monica Cortés-Viharo (Drama), Jay Eckard (Drama), Duygu Erdoğan Monson (Drama), Storm S. Sundberg (Dance), Robert Wighs (Drama). With thanks to Monica Cortés-Viharo for transcribing and organizing the inventories, and to Rhonda Blair, Amy Cook, Baz Kershaw, and Theresa May.

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Some thoughts on the Mid-America Theatre Conference, Kansas City, 2015

by on June 3rd, 2015

I fumbled, I shifted, I repeatedly ran my fingers over the scars made by boxknife blades on the back of my hands, I touched the raised flesh hidden under the hair of my head, a reminder of those who tried to squash the queer materiality of the punkified presence I had imposed upon the quaint rural community of pre-internet Sand Springs, Oklahoma; I recalled the hunger pangs and acrid smells of the Los Angeles streets. As I sat listening to the keynote address from Dr. Irma Mayorga of Dartmouth, I could not help but run over the past traumas of my body, desperately searching for evidence of suffering. Why?

Mayorga’s speech was a blend of biography and social analysis that made visible markers of race (a predominantly externally regulated category) and ethnicity (a more agential category in its uptake) central. She is the first Latina to receive a doctorate from Stanford’s Drama Department, and her personal exploration of the techniques of policing the raced body was inscribed in her phenotype as much as her words. None of the stories and representations she encountered in the dramatic canon resembled her world, those colored bodies who looked like her and populated that world, or the stories attached to and circulating around those colored bodies. She has continually sought to rectify this.

Opposed to the brown, marginalized body is of course the neutral (yet masculine) gleam of whiteness, a historically and ontologically (through discursive reinforcement) disembodied positionality in all its hegemonic force and appeal. Whiteness is concerned with white history, the great man theory—as long as those great men are white with a few tokenistic gestures to the Frederick Douglasses and Luis Valdezes thrown into the mix. Whiteness is not a body, certainly not my body, though I benefit from its categorical deployment. Whiteness is a way of looking, of appraising, of rising above the body. It too has its phenotypic markers that must be filled in with history, rhetoric, and the deflation of affect. It is not my body, or at least my embodied experience in total, but I bear its marks and benefits.

At these conferences we are all about the embodied experience, embodied epistemologies, affective ways of knowing, phenomenological bodies (a term Harvey Young prefers), and the body as a political site of resistance, containment, and surveillance. But as I looked around the conference room I saw many souls uncomfortable in their fair skinned bodies: a spasm, a fidget, a twitch, a look down, a forced smile. In sum, consciousness was reversing Merleau-Ponty’s phenomenological schema, knowledge was attempting to de-situate, to transcend the material and the flux of subject-object, and leave behind only the trace of a mechanical nod of the head.

Yes, we white theatre scholars were fulfilling the mandate of whiteness to rise above our bodies, but realizing the impossibility of doing so. Why? Because in some ways to agree with Dr. Mayorga was to reject those benefits of Caucasian phenotype, to possibly deny oneself a job, publication, or field of study. No one of course mentioned this, but that potential move from imaginary to actuality was nonetheless there. No one wanted his or her body to plunge itself back into debates on affirmative action, especially to find that body on the “wrong” side, that side that centers the self as it partakes of fruits of domination. (And unfortunately, sometimes affirmative action only affirms systemic racism if its actions do not go deep and wide enough).

So I (unconsciously at the time) searched my body for its history, its marks of travail, poverty, homelessness, hunger, violence, those typically un-white varieties of experience—no doubt to make myself feel better because I agreed with Mayorga in many of her assessments. But also I considered my bodily exploration an act of theorizing, of connecting, of perhaps destabilizing categories, of potentially empathizing and connecting with other embodied agents. The body is a repository of memory and this could be where we start.

At the University of Washington many of our students share an East Asian heritage (of course, a multi-sited heritage or heritages), but the curriculum centers upon Anglophone or European traditions of performance. Some lament that there is no common base of analysis in the classroom: Haven’t any of these students read Hamlet? Don’t they know Oedipus? But rather than seeing this problematic as an insuperable obstacle, I take it as an opportunity. John Dewey writes of publics as formed around and by problems, and this “problem” of no Hamlet, no Oedipus, can force open (if an instructor is receptive) a dialogic encounter rather than a unidirectional lecture–the continual dialectic of wrestling with the ostensibly incommensurable clutter of objects between cultures.

I carry no utopian visions that a comprehensive shared language is developed, but rather that common terms are learned or created together in order to deal with new problems; the canon is shifted, adjusted, refracted, enlarged etc. In short, we theorize through the body, through co-presence, through expanding the frame of critique to include entities of association usually excluded–to realize anew the network of agents. Treating histories as bodies treated as repositories of clashes, trauma, failures, problems and yes, affects, jouissance, hopes and alliances. Let us ask considerate questions: considerate because they consider the presence of individuals, of interests, of difference. To deny this is to deny a situatedness that extends beyond the self. I study animals and other life forms, and argue with them for better treatment and an adjustment and extension of certain rights, so I am always willing to look beyond the flat ontology of whiteness, but its push and pull is always there, circumscribing possibilities of imagination if one is not vigilant or diligent in his or her resistance.

So as I mentally return to that MATC luncheon, I again think about my embodied history, but what about all those bodies marked in various ways that got me there: human bodies, animal bodies, plant bodies, rock bodies? I think of what has been de-emphasized from political belonging to become my resource, my means to an end, and I again, feeling uncomfortable and guilty, “reach for the scars.” But let me not stop there. Let me gesture towards another’s scars and inquire. Let us notice our scars. Let us think beyond sight to embodied histories rich with sounds, smells, tastes and the tactile. Let us be truly theatrical in our sharing—cordoning off time and space to listen, see, and experience the other. Students should never be considered an obstacle or a means to an end. Differences, gaps in understanding, blank stares are all opportunities for reflection both on the self and what we consider external to the self. Perhaps I receive blank stares (which I sometimes do) because I am not asking interesting questions about interesting things because I am not being expansive enough in my definition of interests. So where I land after this impromptu foray into memory is in a place where I am no longer just looking at my scars or reflecting upon myself, but I am looking at the other—I am looking at you and exulting in where our differences can take us.

Scott Venters is a Doctoral Student in Theatre History, Theory, and Criticism in the School of Drama, University of Washington.

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Now available on Project MUSE

by on May 23rd, 2015

CTR 162

CTR 162 / Spring 2015

Performing Products: When Acting Up Is Selling Out

Edited by T. Nikki Cesare Schotzko, Didier Morelli and Isabel Stowell-Kaplan

How can we, as artists, scholars, and critics, determine where art might and might not intervene into matters that exceed its immediate aesthetic parameters? Why is there such a pervasive fear within the art community that art might presume too much, getting in the way of “real action” and “real change”? Moreover, does art’s role, witting or not, within commodity culture render any political motivation it might carry with it a commodity as well? What do we do when acting up is already selling out? These tensions and confusions, these preoccupations and paranoias are precisely what we address in Performing Products: When Acting Up Is Selling Out. Featuring interviews, photo-essays, reflections on performances past, articles on the current state of performance as a set of deftly imbricated practices and economics, as well as one letter-cum-manifesto, we have deliberately blurred the lines between art, performance, and criticism in this issue: Percival P. Puppet discusses his copyright dispute with Marina Abramović; Istvan Kantor writes to Jeff Koons; Nicole Lizée talks of her love for merch in a world of avant-garde composition; Lawrence Switzky considers the redemptive possibility of exhaustion in marathon theatre; and many more artists and scholars reflect upon their own experience of performance in the current economy.

Click here to read the full table of contents.

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