It's a "Normal" World After All? Theme Parks and the Performance and Aesthetics of "Difference"

deadline for submissions: 
June 1, 2017
full name / name of organization: 
American Society for Theatre Research
contact email: 

It's A "Normal" World After All? Theme Parks and the Performance and Aesthetics of “Difference”

Jennifer A. Kokai, Weber State University
Tom Robson, Millikin University

Building on a legacy of pleasure gardens and World’s Fairs, the modern theme park draws millions of visitors a year to ride rides, purchase goods, enjoy carefully crafted vistas, and watch shows. The theme park always presumes an ideal spectator, against which heightened and spectacular displays are constructed for the “normal” visitors’ enjoyment. Rides, shows, and landscapes are crafted for a presumed normalized and natural body to enjoy. Tourist attractions are not simple entertainments, but have significant impacts on culture. Jane C. Desmond argues in Staging Tourism that "public display of bodies and their materiality… are profoundly important in structuring identity categories... And that, when commodified, these displays form the basis of hugely profitable tourism industries.” This working group seeks to examine the confluence of tourism, performance, and consumerism at the theme park and their reliance on notions of normal and spectacular bodies to do so. How have theme parks aesthetically relied on spectacular bodies to create their appeal? What ruptures have revealed their underlying notions of normality and who is invited to participate and who is excluded? How have these understandings shifted (or not?) over time?

Potential topics might include:

  • Depictions of race, class, gender, disability, and sexuality at theme parks
  • The use of animatronics or other technologies to depict “freakish” bodies
  • The presence and absence of bodies in ride dramaturgy
  • The use of non-human animals and “monstrous” others
  • Projects that further develop tourism and performance theories.

Papers (8-10 pages) should be distributed to all session participants by October 1. Leading up to the conference, the moderators will ask the participants to help organize themselves spatially into our own thematic “park” and to develop a “map” for how spectators at the working group might best experience the issues and ideas introduced by the papers through discussion, visual representation, and activity. The goals of the Working Session are to advance critical and theoretical conversations about tourism and performance and to develop the essays for publication.

For any specific questions, please contact the working group convenors at jenniferkokai@weber.edu and trobson@millikin.edu.

Please note that all submissions must be received formally through the ASTR website at http://www.astr.org/?page=17_WSSubmissions. The form will allow you to indicate second and third choice working groups if you wish; if you do so, note that there is a space for you to indicate how your work will fit into those groups. The deadline for receipt of working group proposals is 1 June 2017 and we anticipate that participants will be notified of their acceptance no later than 30 June. Please contact the conference organizers at astr2017@astr.org if you have any questions about the process.