Interrogating the Romance of Community Theater and Performance - 2012 ASTR Working Group

full name / name of organization: 
Michelle Baron and Kate Duffly / American Society for Theatre Research

Interrogating the Romance of Community Theater and Performance
A Working Group for the 2012 ASTR Annual Meeting

This working group seeks to investigate the potential and problematics of "community" through an examination of theatrical forms and social engagements that that could be considered "community theater" in all of the various forms and guises that term has taken. This group, of course, borrows its title from feminist scholar Miranda Joseph's book, Against the Romance of Community, which launches a critique against community as a libratory category. Many scholars have joined Joseph in questioning the use of "community" as an organizing concept for certain modes of socially engaged theater, performance, and art practice. For example, art historian Miwon Kwon cautions against the essentializing tendencies of community-based art, in which "community" is reduced to "commonality," in turn closing down
political and aesthetic potential (One Place After Another, 2004). At the same time, scholars and artists continue to locate the political potential of theater and performance in its ability to bring people together in temporary community. Jill Dolan's Utopia in Performance (2005) argues that "live performance provides a place where people come together, embodied and passionate,to share experiences of meaning making and imagination that can describe or capture fleeting intimations of a better world" (2).

The goal of this working group is to investigate this tension, to think through ways in which artists might, as Grant Kester puts it, "define [themselves] through solidarity with others while at the same time recognizing the contingent nature of this identification" (Conversation Pieces, 2004, 163). Is there something about this particular historical moment that makes us
uniquely prone to seeking out community and/or convivial encounters? How might Occupy movement's public performances of interdependency shed light on athis discussion? What might historical examples of community theater have to say to contemporary manifestations and invocations of "community"? How can we historicize this term and its uses both in the past and in our contemporary moment? We will look at a range of performance sites, such as audience development by regional theaters, socially engaged performance, and amateur theatrical
productions. We seek participants whose work includes any of the following questions: is all theater intended for a community? Can theater define communities? Trouble definitions of communities? Revitalize communities? Participate in the shift of a community (for instance, by participating in the project of gentrification)? What types of ethical responsibilities are created by the formation of community? How are these communities defined and/or engaged?

Participants will be given a selection of common texts during summer 2012. Prior to the meeting in Nashville, group members will circulate papers (7-10 pages) that respond to the common
readings in connection with their own research projects. Participants will be asked to read and respond to these papers prior to the conference meeting. To apply to this working group, please send a 500-word abstract and a brief bio to and by May 31, 2012.