All Kinds of Music is Pouring Out of Me: Living Large and Feeling Big in Musical Theatre Performance and Reception

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American Society for Theatre Research

When the eponymous Sweet Charity (1966) realizes somebody loves her, not only does the scene shift from dialogue into song, but she, self-reflexively, acknowledges the largeness of her emotional response, singing, "Now I'm a brass band," conjuring an ensemble of dancers, and proceeding to sing and dance in celebration. Such moments in musical theatre are at the heart of the form's appeal for many spectators (including but not limited to bullied, closeted, or marginalized spectators), allowing them to vicariously live large, and loud, for the duration of the musical, and sometimes beyond. Musical theatre performers, writers, composers, directors, choreographers and designers have thought big and crafted large elements in musical theatre for more than a century. This working session will explore the idea of "largeness" from a range of perspectives, including but not limited to: the work of creative teams, performers, audiences, and critics.

Song and dance have long been recognized as the logical outlet for characters whose emotions grow too large to be expressed or contained by dialogue, but we aim to explore beyond this established function of these two elements to investigate in greater detail how musical theatre expands, and what such growth accomplishes. We therefore welcome submissions considering characters' big emotions, but also performers' big emotions (and experiences) as professionals. Indeed the concept of the diva seems to account for the largeness of both the professional and performance experiences. Large formal elements are also worthy of examination, whether they be big dance numbers, big sound, or big sets.

David Sexton recently wrote in The Guardian about being amongst those "who are impervious to musicals," and suggested those who love the form "just want to be pumped up with emotion by any means" (14 Jan. 2013). This session is therefore also interested in engaging with musicals' potential to alienate spectators, whether through visual, aural or emotional largeness. Probing musical theatre's big moments and achievements, we will establish new connections between established approaches to musical theatre scholarship, and further grow the field.

Interested scholars should submit a 250 abstract to both session leaders by June 3, 2013. In the spirit of "largeness" and to encourage participants to think broadly about the topic, all participants will read and comment on each other's papers in advance of the meeting. Papers should therefore be submitted by October 7. The organizers will also suggest 2-3 relevant readings in advance, which may prove useful while preparing final drafts and as the basis for common ground during group discussions. To facilitate more in-depth thinking and discussion during the session itself, participants will initially be broken into several small groups and given guiding questions by the organizers. The group as a whole will then reconvene for the latter part of the working session in order to tie together different conversational threads and to consider avenues for future work. Proposals based on practice-as-research are welcome, and scholars might consider designing a practical exploration of "largeness" to conduct as part of the working session, with volunteers from our group.

The 2013 ASTR/TLA Conference, "Post-Thematic Conference," will be held in November 7 - 10, 2013 at the Fairmont Dallas Hotel. For more information: