This March, the Department of Theatre and Drama will host its second annual Graduate Symposium on Theatre and Performance Studies, a two-day event where young scholars from all over Europe and the Americas will convene in Bloomington to present their research in progress. This year’s conference is titled (corpo)realities and will feature academic paper presentations, demonstrations, actor-training workshops, and short performance pieces that actively question the role of embodiment and presence in art.
The conference is hosted by the Association for Research in Theatre at Indiana University, also known as ART@IU, a newly minted organization formed to foster a scholarly community for graduate and advanced undergraduate students to share their work in theatre and performance studies. With plans to host future conferences, guest speakers, and practice-as-research performances, ART@IU hopes to provide opportunities for Indiana University students to expand their professional networks by developing connections with other theatre researchers within the college and beyond.
Second-year Ph.D. students Sara Taylor and Eric “C” Heaps serve as the president and vice president of ART@IU and co-chaired this year’s conference with faculty support from Assistant Professors Ken Weitzman and Amy Cook. Their idea for the 2013 symposium grew out of a year-long conversation among students and faculty about the importance of attending to the physical reality of the actor’s body on stage and how that body can affect both the actor’s experience in playing a role and the audience’s understanding of it.
“Advances in scientific research continue to indicate that experience and cognition are bodily mediated,” Taylor noted. “That is to say that
the way that way we think is not just related to our individual physicalities, but is fundamentally structured by our experience of living in our bodies.”
Most scientists today do not consider the human mind and body to be separate, distinct entities and, according to Taylor, “When we take this into account, it becomes clear that the sensorimotor capacities of individuals, their size, shape, and ability to move through space can have a profound effect not just on what they feel, but how they know and understand the world.”
The project of the symposium’s participants is to relate this revelation to the theatre. How can innovations in artistic, scientific, and philosophical perspectives concerning the somatic structure our worldview in an age when technology infiltrates and organizes both the mental and physical tasks of daily life? The participants confront these questions from a variety of angles, presenting their work informed by current scholarship in theatre praxis, cognitive science, cultural theory and gender and disability studies.
This posits theatre and performance as a powerful tool for moving people at the cellular level, a happy idea shared by IU Theatre’s March mainstage productions in the new works series, At First Sight, which serve as the keystone of the symposium.
“We planned the conference to begin with a performance of second-year M.F.A. Playwriting student Kelly Patrick Lusk’s new play (a love story), so that the presenters, who are from a variety of disciplines and cultural backgrounds, would have common ground,” Taylor said. On the morning of Saturday, March 23 the public portion of the symposium begins with a conversation featuring Lusk and Weitzman discussing the writing and revising of (a love story) and the process of new play development as an embodied experience.
Coming from more than a dozen universities in the United States, Canada, Europe, and South America, the participants in this year’s symposium truly fulfill ART@IU’s mission to expand professional networks. “It was important to us to extend an invitation to people studying performance acts from many different perspectives,” Taylor said. “We wanted theatre scholars, practitioners, and critics, but we also wanted to meet with people who read performance as a new literature, or as rhetoric, or as a physiological function of the body.”
The keynote speaker for the symposium shares interdisciplinary interests as well. Dr. Petra Kuppers is Professor of English, Theatre and Dance, and Women’s Studies at the University of Michigan. As a performance maker and community artist as well as a self-proclaimed witnessing critic, theorist, and a disability culture activist, Kuppers cites her journey as an artist as emerging from a “passionate exploration of performance ethics and community building.”
“What we call ‘art’ is up for grabs, needs to be re-thought, re-created, every time we step into the river of practice,” she notes. “I know this because as a disabled dancer living with pain and fatigue, I have to subvert the ordinary, have fun in unusual spaces, and find time out of time.” For over twenty years, Kuppers has engaged community participants gently and with thought-in-process work. Some of these workshops happened in women’s centers, hospices, mental health self-help groups, youth groups, traditional Weavers and Knitters Guilds, with politicians, with people labeled as ‘developmentally disabled’, with cancer survivors, in National Parks, in abandoned buildings, and on the beach.
In addition to teaching, Kuppers is also Artistic Director of The Olimpias, a performance research project that investigates intersections between community art, identity politics, and (new) media. Some of her past works include Disability and Contemporary Performance: Bodies on Edge (Routledge, 2003), The Scar of Visibility: Medical Performances and Contemporary Art (University of Minnesota Press, 2007), and Community Performance: An Introduction (Routledge, 2007). Her most recent book, Disability Culture and Community Performance: Find a Strange and Twisted Shape (Routledge 2011) won the American Society for Theatre Research’s 2011 Sally Banes Prize.
(corpo)realities will convene at the Lee Norvelle Theatre and Drama Center with an evening performance of (a love story) on Friday, March 22. The student presentations will commence in the morning on Saturday, March 23 and continue through the keynote speech in the late afternoon. All events are open to the public, though seating is limited.