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CTR 167 (Summer 2016) Now Available

by on September 21st, 2016


NOW AVAILABLE AT CTR ONLINE  –  CTR 167, Summer 2016 “Funding”

Also available on Project MUSE

Can you put a price tag on art? How much is an artist worth? CTR 167 Funding, edited by Nicholas Hanson, follows the money, tracking the financial wellbeing of the Canadian performing arts network. From coast to coast to coast, our nation’s theatre artists are facing increasingly precarious living and working conditions. Nevertheless, artists and arts organizations are demonstrating imagination and innovation in the conception and implementation of new ways to pay the bills. In 2016, the Canada Council for the Arts will implement the most transformative changes in their history; this issue is perfectly timed to explore the unspoken realities about artistic labour, the complicated notions of accessibility, and the creative solutions for the future.

This issue critiques governmental policies and organizational structures, but never loses sight of the fact that arts funding isn’t an abstract topic—access to money (or lack thereof) impacts individual people in deeply personal ways. With dynamic contributions from a group of established and emerging voices, CTR 167 features lively conversations, insightful articles, and whimsical provocations. An eclectic range of topics includes an interrogation of Justin Trudeau’s promises, a program that offers free theatre tickets, and the impact of Vancouver’s real estate market. Financial literacy might seem like a subject reserved for mature adults, but this issue’s script—The Money Tree by Robert Watson—proves otherwise. Originally produced by Roseneath Theatre, the play has toured to hundreds of elementary schools, sparking playful ideas about money, greed, and responsibility.

The online slideshow documents some of the inventive methods used by artists and organizations to fund their projects despite challenging financial circumstances. Organized in three parts the slideshow focuses on creative approaches to performance venues, novel project-based fundraising techniques, and celebrates the artist-activists who’ve protested funding cutbacks and theatre closings across the nation.

Click here to view the full table of contents.

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Modern Drama 59:3 (Fall 2016) Now Available

by on September 21st, 2016


Modern Drama, 59:3, Fall 2016 is now available at MD Online and Project MUSE – Read the issue today!

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Please sign up for important news relating to Modern Drama. You’ll receive emails with peeks inside new issues, Tables of Contents, Calls for Papers, editorial announcements, open access articles, and special offers. Sign up here – bit.ly/mdalerts

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Now Available on Project Muse

by on July 27th, 2016


Modern Drama, 59:2, Summer 2016, “Aging and the Life Course

Also available online

This issue of Modern Drama brings together major scholars in the fields of age studies, theatre history, and performance studies to examine how theatre, as an embodied art that unfolds over time, can both model and challenge narratives, affects, and cultural understandings (and misunderstandings) about aging. Modern drama and gerontology echo each other most directly in their search for new structures that might accommodate the pluralism and specificity of the entire life course. According to the UN Department of Economic and Social Affairs, 12.3 per cent of the global population was aged 60 or over in 2015; by 2050, that figure is estimated to grow to 21.5 per cent. Each of the six new essays in this issue considers how theatre, as an art that grafts flesh to figures, helps us to imagine growing older, caring for an aging population, dementia, and “successful aging” in an era when more people will live longer than they ever have in human history.

Click here to view the full table of contents.

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Say No to Know Nothings

by on July 16th, 2016

While reading The Cherokee Nation and the Trail of Tears[1] by Theda Perdue and Michael D. Green, I found a footnote to the historic Know Nothing party of the mid-nineteenth century ensconced in a passage about the institutional history of U.S. slavery. The name of the party rang a bell in my memory, but I couldn’t come up with any particulars so I looked into it. After a few minutes of online research, I found myself wondering at the repetition of history, especially Marx’s (oft-cited) famous addendum, “…first as tragedy, then as farce.” Is not Donald Trump the new, more farcical version of John Bell who ran for president on the Know Nothing ticket in 1859, or, perhaps more accurately, the new Henry J. Gardner who became Massachusetts’s Know Nothing governor in 1854? What started off as a historical retracing of one trail of tears soon led to the recognition of another equally troubling road.

Several news outlets have posted articles and op-eds about the similarities between Trump, the current GOP, and the Know Nothings of the 1850s (see notes below and links/footnotes along the way). Such similarities include an overt racist-nationalist platform of exclusion, a party membership of mostly working class white men seeking personal economic improvement, and an honest (if not also ironic) embrace of ignorance (“I Know Nothing!”) as the party’s shibboleth. Indeed, the link between Trump and Gardner emerges from research into these similarities, specifically in the fact that, despite the party’s working class base, the eventual Massachusetts governor was a wool merchant who improved upon his already-considerable wealth thanks to his elite family’s connections. Like Trump, Gardner seemed to have had little in common with his constituents’ economic identities and needs.

My own addition to these publications comes in the form of a connection between Trump, the Know Nothings (past and present, official party members and merely like-minded), and that which Michel Foucault dubbed the “Ubus” of power. In the early lectures of the 1974-1975 academic year now published as Abnormal, Foucault links specific historical political leaders with the protagonist in Alfred Jarry’s Ubu Roi. What allows this link is Foucault’s observation of “the unavoidability, the inevitability of power, which can function in its full rigor and at the extreme point of its rationality even when in the hands of someone who is effectively discredited” (13). Nero and Hitler, for example, populate what Jana Sawicki calls this “tradition of vile and buffoonish sovereigns.”[2] Hesitant to facilitate any overly simplistic connections between Trump and Hitler, thereby allowing dialogue and debate to dissolve into platitudes, I do support adding Trump to Foucault’s category of Ubu Rulers. We are witnessing not only the farcical (and, therefore, post-tragic) return of the Know Nothings today but also an index of the racist-nationalist conditions that allow such Ubus to take center stage in the U.S. theatre of politics.

Sawicki underscores a similar point in her speculation on the whereabouts of Ubu-power’s many residences: “Perhaps it also resides in a lack of critical reflection on the historical conditions in which such forms of authority arose.” Indeed, when Foucault, in his 1978 essay “What is Enlightenment?” ends by calling for a “critical ontology of ourselves,” which amounts to a historiography of the present, he is asking us all to refuse Ubu government:

The critical ontology of ourselves has to be considered not, certainly, as a theory, a doctrine, nor even as a permanent body of knowledge that is accumulating; it has to be conceived as an attitude, an ethos, a philosophical life in which the critique of what we are is at one and the same time the historical analysis of the limits that are imposed on us and an experiment with the possibility of going beyond them.[3]

The only chance we have of out-maneuvering the vile buffoonery of the persona known as “Trump” is to create a series of conditions that excoriates pride in ignorance, the likes of which we see not only in the mass of Trumpeteers but also in the belligerent leftist supporters who instigate violence at Trump rallies. As the perspicacious George Saunders has recently outlined in The New Yorker,[4] the true damage of the current political fracas has become visible not as a divisive and sickeningly facile binary opposition between Right and Left ideologies but, rather, as a perpetuation of willful ignorance that keeps the U.S. electorate from participating in meaningful conversations dedicated to the nuanced weave of our country’s political fabric.

To my mind, the disaster that has given rise to the resurgence of Know-Nothing-ness is the evacuation of (yes, I’ll say it and mean it) critical thinking from the halls of Secondary and Higher Education. Given Foucault’s astute reference to Jarry’s theatricality, and my own predilection for performance theory and theatre historiography, I am confident that theatre education (both theory and practice) can thrive as a system capable of performing a critical ontology of ourselves, particularly through its recourse to the study of theatricality in everyday life and the performativity of language. Conversely, however, I am fearful that the ossification of theatre and performance studies in higher education, not to mention the almost complete absence of a fine-arts based critical vocabulary in primary and secondary education, can aid in the momentum of the Know Nothings. Without a self-reflexive and philosophical appraisal of the politics of representation, theatre can easily devolve into thoroughly commodified spectacle, and from there spectacle can be freed up to celebrate the Ubus of the world.

With the highly theatrical and absurd conventions of both the Democratic and Republican parties coming up, I urge us to attend to the conditions that make specific statements possible, to the representational practices that manufacture instrumental visibility, and to the everyday silences that create moral vacuums.

[Other notes]

From Encyclopedia Britannica online

“When Congress assembled on Dec. 3, 1855, 43 representatives were avowed members of the Know-Nothing party.”[5]

  • “The Kansas-Nebraska Act was passed by the U.S. Congress on May 30, 1854. It allowed people in the territories of Kansas and Nebraska to decide for themselves whether or not to allow slavery within their borders. The Act served to repeal the Missouri Compromise of 1820 which prohibited slavery north of latitude 36°30´.”[6]

“In 1849 the secret Order of the Star-Spangled Banner formed in New York City, and soon after lodges formed in nearly every other major American city. Members, when asked about their nativist organizations, were supposed to reply that they knew nothing, hence the name. As its membership and importance grew in the 1850s, the group slowly shed its clandestine character and took the official name American Party.”

“the American Party fell apart after 1856. Antislavery Know-Nothings joined the Republican Party, while Southern members flocked to the proslavery banner still held aloft by the Democratic Party. By 1859 the American Party’s strength was largely confined to the border states. In 1860 remnants of the Know-Nothings joined old-line Whigs to form the Constitutional Union Party and nominated John Bell of Tennessee for president.”

  • On Bell (from Wikipedia):[7]
    • “Planter,” or plantation owner; “Although a slaveowner, Bell was one of the few southern politicians to oppose the expansion of slavery in the 1850s…”
    • “During his 1860 presidential campaign, he argued that secession was unnecessary since the Constitution protected slavery, an argument which resonated with voters in border states, helping him capture the electoral votes of Tennessee, Kentucky and Virginia.”
    • Speaker of the House (1834–1835)
    • “briefly served as Secretary of War during the administration of William Henry Harrison (1841)”

“Two other groups that took the name American Party appeared in the 1870s and ’80s. One of these, organized in California in 1886, proposed a briefly popular platform calling mainly for the exclusion of Chinese and other Asians from industrial employment.”

From Ashefield Historical Society

“Although the Know-Nothing party or the American Party was a national political organization, it was strongest in Massachusetts. This party was based on nativistic beliefs and its members were native born male Protestants who were opposed to immigrants being able to vote or hold political office.”[8]

“One of the most influential party members was Henry J. Gardner who was elected as the Commonwealth’s Governor in 1854. Most of the party’s members were from the working class and wished for many reforms that would affect their lives. Gardner, however, was a wealthy wool merchant and a member of the so-called Boston Brahmins (a small elite group of families who were extremely wealthy and well-educated).”

  • Trump parallel??!

From Op-Ed in Baltimore Sun from July 13, 2016


“Eric Heavner taught political science at Towson University for 10 years and now works for a Baltimore real estate developer.”

  • …indeed…

“Perhaps Mr. Trump will skip the convention and go it alone. Such a move would appeal to Mr. Trump’s love of sensationalism, and it would it not be unprecedented. Teddy Roosevelt, for example, broke away from the Republican Party to run for president under the Bull Moose Party banner in 1912, and Strom Thurmond bolted from the Democratic Party to run as a Dixiecrat in 1948.”

“Despite the years that separate Mr. Trump and the Know-Nothing Party, they have much in common. […] their message is virtually the same: Immigrants take away jobs from true Americans and threaten the American way of life. There are other similarities. The Know-Nothings’ were anti-Catholic. Mr. Trump is anti-Muslim. The know-Nothings believed only native-born Americans should be allowed to vote and hold public office. Mr. Trump played the native-born American card by questioning President Obama’s birthplace.”

From HuffPo’s “The GOP: The New Know Nothing Part?”

January 18, 2016


John W. Traphagan, Professor of Religious Studies and Human Dimensions of Organizations, University of Texas, Austin

Conclusion: “When we look at the GOP of 2016, it seems very much as though we are witnessing a new version of the Know Nothings of the 1850s. One can only hope that this time it is equally short-lived.”


[1] http://www.penguin.com/book/the-cherokee-nation-and-the-trail-of-tears-by-theda-perdue-and-michael-d-green/9780143113676

[2] http://ndpr.nd.edu/news/23977-abnormal-lectures-at-the-college-de-france-1974-1975/

[3] http://philosophy.eserver.org/foucault/what-is-enlightenment.html

[4] http://www.newyorker.com/magazine/2016/07/11/george-saunders-goes-to-trump-rallies

[5] https://www.britannica.com/topic/Know-Nothing-party

[6] http://www.historyplace.com/lincoln/kansas.htm

[7] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/John_Bell_(Tennessee_politician)

[8] http://www.ashfieldhistorical.org/nothing.htm

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Why On TAP? Podcasting for a Scholarly Field

by , and on March 1st, 2016


On TAP is a new podcast dedicated to theatre and performance studies. Practically, it’s a downloadable audio chat show hosted by three professors, Sarah Bay-Cheng, Pannill Camp, and Harvey Young. Each episode looks at a variety of topics of field-wide interest, new ideas in research, trends in the profession, pedagogy, artist/scholar dynamics and recent events. In some ways this enterprise is very conventional in 2015. There are tens of thousands of podcasts, and after the success of programs like Serial, about half of Americans know what a podcast is.

In other ways, though, On TAP feels like a fun experiment. How will this non-traditional medium fit with the established modes of communication that permeate our field? Can we translate the pleasure of the conference hotel bar chat into a form that someone would want to listen to? Simply, if we build it, will they come?

Part of the initial impulse for creating this podcast was, unsurprisingly, the pleasure of podcasts themselves, which are steadily reaching more people. Pannill has been an avid podcast listener since 2007, when a handful of downloadable audio programs helped him pass a lonely year of dissertation research in Paris (very sad, we know!). About two years ago he began to imagine the possibility of adapting the Slate.com format (three co-hosts discuss three topics in a casual, hour-long chat) for the field of theatre and performance studies. Last summer he made his pitch to Sarah and Harvey, and was thrilled that they were willing to dedicate their time and energy to the project.

But more than just for fun, the podcast seems well-suited to our field; a dynamic, collaborative, social medium is a good match for theatre geeks of all types. It’s a little bit rebellious, too. Like those of many academic disciplines, most of our interactions are orchestrated within established institutions: universities and colleges, publishers of books and journals, and associations that organize conferences. These organizations create and disseminate high quality research, facilitate communication among people with overlapping interests, and advocate for the professional well-being of scholars, teachers, and artists. They work well, and Theatre and Performance Studies is a growing, dynamic field that is holding up relatively well against the economic and cultural forces that are decimating other disciplines in the humanities.

However! There are two patterns that can slow down and even stifle field-wide communication. First, it can be challenging for scholars to keep up with ideas that are circulating outside of our particular areas of interest. A great wealth of research is published year-round, but the pressures of specialization, and the mounting administrative, mentoring, and teaching duties typical of work in today’s academy make it hard to keep up with what is being written.

Second, the rhythms of field-wide communication are slow. We inherit our cycles of contact from the creeping pace of peer-reviewed journal and book publishing, from the quarter, semester, and year periodization of teaching, and from the yearly cycle of conference planning. Compared to the accelerated rhythm of mass communication in the digital age, this pace of work is positively glacial.

We thus offer On TAP as complement and corrective to the traditional ways we theater/performance academics interact and share ideas. Working on a comparatively short cycle (roughly monthly releases during the academic year; one or two days from recording to release) and with a broad field-wide perspective, we hope to offer a new mode of communication that is both immediate and more inclusive. We also aim to incorporate the best parts of theatre and performance into our work: dialogue instead of lecture; improvisation instead of carefully planned remarks; and the pleasure of a good joke or bad pun. We hope listeners will come to think of On TAP as a unique and sometimes irreverent way to gain both a bird’s-eye view of the field, and a sense of what is on people’s (or at least our) minds at the moment. We hope you’ll join us soon.

The next round’s on us!

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