Radical Sondheim (Online Symposium)
In the wake of his death in 2021, tributes emphasised how Sondheim’s creations were not only a postmodern challenge to the hummable tunes of traditional musical theatre and conventional simplicities of staging and plot, but also to expected ideas of the musical theatre protagonist. Writing in The Atlantic, Sophie Gilbert expressed the audience’s love for Sondheim as a response to how his work ‘takes the typically unseen… and forces them into the spotlight’.
In critical discussions of Sondheim’s work, this focus is read as a preoccupation with the marginalised and the underrepresented. In his essay ‘Stephen Sondheim and the Musical of the Outsider’, for example, Jim Lovensheimer identifies Sondheim’s work with the emergence of the figure of the socially excluded as a point of audience identification in twentieth century musical theatre from Carousel onwards. Presenting a survey of Sondheim’s work, Lovensheimer argues that Sondheim’s recurring use of both pastiche and musical motive are strategies that illuminate his commitment to the outsider across his varied and diverse productions.
In this one-day online symposium, we aim to explore this facet of Sondheim’s work in greater depth, examining how his inspirational presence as a composer and lyricist is interwoven with an enduring relevance to questions of otherness, difference, and inclusion. Recognising Sondheim’s interdisciplinary importance, we consider how his contribution to music, writing, theatre studies, and popular culture offers unique opportunities to emphasise the radical potential of the Arts as a force for social justice and transformation.
We invite proposals for 20-minute online presentations that speak to the theme of the symposium. Subjects might include, but are not limited to:
- Sondheim and queer culture
- Gender in Sondheim production
- Class and race politics in Sondheim
- Sondheim, disability and chronic illness
- The HIV crisis in Sondheim’s work
- Sondheim and ageing
- Adaptations of Sondheim works and creative intertexts
- Production design including costume and makeup
- Sondheim’s role as mentor and teacher
We welcome diverse presentation styles, including traditional academic papers, creative responses, and video presentation, and from any disciplinary perspective. Alongside panels, the event will include opportunities for participants to share ideas in more informal forums, and will conclude with a discussion of potential dissemination possibilities including publication or online exhibition.
This event is hosted by Kingston School of Art in conjunction with the Writing Cultures Research Group and is part of the group’s focus this year on ‘Para-ability’, which aims to draw attention to the power of neurodivergent, chronically ill, and disabled voices in contemporary culture.