MLA 2024: Special Session - Theatrical Performance in Literature

deadline for submissions: 
March 20, 2023
full name / name of organization: 
Alexia Mandla Ainsworth / MLA Special Session 2024
contact email: 

This special session panel, for the 2024 MLA in Philadelphia, PA, will reflect on how performativity, acting, and theatre appear in writing. When we consider the novel, especially, how does theatre show its impact on authors and how do authors invoke theatrical performance or acting in a non-visual form? For texts with visual components, such as manga or illustrated stories, how do the images interface with the text to create an experience of performance for readers? When we see the theatre itself appear in literature, what is its role? When we see an amateur performance, such as Lovers' Vows in Austen's Mansfield Park, what does that say about how theatre is constructed in Austen's understanding of society? When we see Lucia di Lammermoor in Flaubert's Madame Bovary, what does this grand opera represent for Emma, who is so consumed by reading? And, perhaps most fundamentally, when we are shown a theatrical performance in literature, are we able to imagine it as a visual object? Thus, from eighteenth century novels to speculative fiction, from manga to short stories, this panel will ask how works of literature reflect upon, or criticize, performance.

As the MLA presidential theme is Celebration: Joy and Sorrow, special consideration will be given to papers on the following topics

  • Theatre as cause for celebration in literature
  • Representations of theatre as based on racial or ethnic context
  • Plays and performance used as conduits for healing sorrow
  • Theatre as arm of empire and colonialism
  • Performances of theatrical monologues during parties in literature
  • Queer theatricalities
  • Play choice as demonstrating the emotional landscape of a text
  • Theatre as represented in autobiographical or biographical texts
  • Theatre as religious act
  • Other mediums of performance - dance, music, circus - as represented in literature
  • Postcolonial approaches to performance within literature
  • Any other topic focusing on emotions, pride, celebration, repression, joy, or sorrow as relevant to the representation of theatre within literature

Please submit a 300-word abstract and a short bio by March 20th, 2023, to Alexia Mandla Ainsworth at For more information about the MLA conference, please visit