Comedies of Capitalism: Theatre History and the Future(s) of Happiness [DEADLINE: May 30, 2011]

full name / name of organization: 
ASTR 2011 [Montreal, Canada, Nov 17-20, 2011

CFP: Comedies of Capitalism: Theatre History and the Future(s) of Happiness (ASTR 2011)

We are seeking participants for a hybrid roundtable/reading group on comedic representations of capitalism and Liberalism in theatre and drama, as well as economic self-interest as the precondition for the production of theatre since the Renaissance.

In his 1966 study Modern Tragedy, Raymond Williams defined classical Liberalism as an irremediably tragic political outlook. In the self-interested individualism of Ibsen's protagonists and the ideology of the free market more broadly, he found guilt, debt,
alienation, and the loss of the communitarian ethos of classical tragedy: "Liberalism, in its heroic phase, begins to pass into its twentieth-century breakdown: the self-enclosed, guilty and isolated world; the time of man his own victim."

This working session aims to reconsider the "genre" of economic and philosophical Liberalism—to chart an alternative genealogy of theatrical modernity, in which individual economic enfranchisement and its representation in drama and performance might be imagined as comic and liberating. Debt, for instance, could be envisioned less as a condition of absence or loss and more as a primary social bond and as a prerequisite for
exercising agency. In addition to taking comic optimism seriously, and to tracking self-interest as a sustainable and even ethically laudable form of theatrical conduct (both on stage and behind the scenes), this session will investigate the following topics:

-Economic aspiration in/as performance
-Comic types (e.g. the Machiavel, the coney-catcher, the adventurer, the raisonneur) and
the viability of their pursuit of freedom through economic self-promotion
-The compatibility or incompatibility of "restored behavior" and comedy
-Success, especially commercial success, as a criterion for evaluating artistic value
and/or moral action in performance
-Commerce as a collective enterprise and its (analogical, metonymic, antithetical)
relationship to collaborative theatrical practices
-Happiness as the shared affect of comedy and Liberal ideology, and the status of "the
pursuit of happiness" within institutionalized theatre studies
-Variations in national and regional responses to the generic classification of capitalism as comic; can capitalism only be perceived as "comic" in North America, for instance?

We will pre-circulate several theoretical texts, including (though not limited to) excerpts from Raymond Williams' Modern Tragedy (1966), portions of James Livingston's Pragmatism, Feminism, and Democracy: Rethinking the Politics of American History (2001),
and one play (a "Comedy of Capitalism" that will be offered as a sample of the genre for the group's evaluation). Each member of the group will be asked to prepare a short formal response to the readings, and then we will open the session to a moderated debate on the topic. As this working session's topic is intended to be exploratory, we prefer the format of a reading group/roundtable as it will provide each participant with a common set of terms and references without necessarily pre-determining positions (as a presentation of lengthy prepared papers might).

Please submit a brief application (100-200 words explaining why you are interested in joining the group) and a CV to Lawrence Switzky ( or Alan Ackerman ( by no later than Monday, May 30th.

Participants must be members of ASTR and must register for the conference. For more information on the guidelines of ASTR working sessions, please consult