The playwright Eugene O'Neill (1888-1953) produced a body of work—thirty-one full-length plays, and twenty-one one-act plays—that was ambitious in its stylistic innovations, and daring in its thematic concerns. As recounted by historians, biographers, and critics, O'Neill's private life informed his writing process, with his various ailments serving as prompts for the stage. Whenever the theme of addiction appears, as it does in his final plays The Iceman Cometh (1939), Long Day's Journey Into Night (1941), and A Moon for the Misbegotten (1943), scholars note the autobiographical aspect as generative for his artistic output. Painted as a depressive figure whose dysfunctional upbringing made a lifelong impression on him, current literature on O'Neill celebrates the playwright for his distinctly sincere expression of suffering and strife. O'Neill wrote his final plays during a period of renewed interest in addiction science in the nation following World War II. After the failed enterprise of Prohibition, scientists, politicians, and the public instated a new treatment paradigm that placed responsibility on the individual who drinks problematically. This approach helped solidify addiction as a biological—rather than a social or cultural—phenomenon. As a result, the disease model of addiction offered an identity that was receptive to addiction treatment. While the previous century saw the construction of the addict as a person with a weak will, the disease model of addiction constituted the addict's condition as an illness treatable through performative acts. O'Neill's final plays, then, reflect more than the playwright's direct experience with addiction. They reveal the nation's ambivalence towards the concept of addiction as a disease, and with the addict as a sick person. Spectators in post-WWII America labeled O'Neill's final plays as autobiographical not only because he drew from his personal experiences while writing them, but also because such an approach was seen as critical to the addict's recovery. As a result, theater scholars continue to position O'Neill as an artist who utilized the theatre as a transformative tool to address how addiction impacted his own life. Through his compassionate depictions of characters suffering from a disease, O'Neill's late plays showed how recovery depended upon theatrical acts of self-reflection, self-narrative, and self-actualization. They also reflect how spectators saw autobiography as the discursive mode for recovering from addiction. In this sense, I claim that it was not so much that O'Neill's plays were true to life and accepted as such, but that their content on addiction necessitated a search for disclosure in the first place. Rather than explore how the theatre allowed O'Neill to channel his suffering, I instead consider why live performance serves as a durable site for legitimating addiction as an illness. As O'Neill's late plays show, self-disclosure does not lead to an emancipatory experience devoid of coercion. Despite claims made by the medical field and mutual aid groups of its liberatory potential, these acts of recovery encourage self-governance, and trade on the morally inflected narratives about the addict circulating since the nineteenth century. As the first study to consider the collaborative relationship between Eugene O'Neill and the medical field, I consider how the playwright's representation of addicts directly influenced doctors and scientists who engaged with his work from 1939 until the present.
This project establishes durational performance as a cogent artistic medium by unearthing the work of under-researched female artists. Following Marina Abramović's 2010 performance "The Artist is Present" at The Museum of Modern Art in New York City, a trend toward "durational performance" erupted in the art world and the dance world. Its ripples were heard in mainstream music ventures and registered by Abramović's rapidly skyrocketing celebrity status. More than an emergent fad however, the aesthetic turn to duration has a robust history and politics. By tracing the historical development of standardized time, I anchor durational performance to the specific way clock-time is used to discipline the body. Extending this history to the present, I focus on the ways everyday untimely behaviors develop into a relevant artistic medium. This scholarship complicates dominant Western narratives about the development of performance art and contemporary dance. By the very nature of cultivating untimeliness, the untimely body revealed by durational performance is a body that resists being colonized by structures of time that make human activity predictable, profitable, and efficient. My intimate focus on the untimely body attends to the physical toll of mastering and deploying silence, repetition, and suspension as artistic mechanisms and political strategies. It also compels an intimate look at durational performance as doing more than staging a body that endures toward its limit of exhaustion. The shift from endurance to sustained discomfort and from exhaustion to fatigue on which this dissertation focuses considers the body as a site of creative resistance that is able to wrest itself from neoliberal structures of control that permeate aesthetic consciousness and artistic production.
Gigi Otálvaro-Hormillosa's dissertation, "Erotic Resistance: Performance, Art, and Activism in San Francisco Strip Clubs, 1960s-2010s, " highlights the contributions of women of color, queer women, and trans women who were instrumental at key moments in the city's history concerning the sex industry. Since the "feminist sex wars" of the 1980s, feminists have debated whether or not sex work empowers or victimizes women, a question that this dissertation takes up through a performance studies lens. Recent scholarship by and about women of color in the emerging field of "feminist pornography" studies has brought these debates up to date, such as Mireille Miller-Young's and Celine Parreñas-Shimizu's groundbreaking scholarship about black and Asian women in the pornographic film industry throughout the twentieth century. Other scholars in fields as diverse as anthropology, sociology, and dance studies (Frank, Egan, Liepe-Levinson, Berson, and Brooks) have examined the strip club industry to engage the "feminist sex wars" as they were once called. These scholars have significantly moved the debates forward, but have yet to explicitly examine the role of queer women and women of color in the context of live performance with regard to the question of victimization versus empowerment. How can perceptions about these women change in light of the previous "sex wars" as well as the wars between and among the sexes in the live encounter of strip club performances in which race, gender, and sexuality are improvised and power is exchanged? This project responds to this question with a focus on this triply marginalized demographic in the context of San Francisco's strip club industry. It investigates critical debates concerning the labor of sex work which Otálvaro-Hormillosa discusses in light of activist labor, artistic labor, and emotional labor—each of which are central themes in the fields of performance studies, as well as critical studies in race, ethnicity, gender, and sexuality. In the 1960s, topless entertainment became legal in San Francisco, although cross-dressing continued to be criminalized. For the first time in U.S. history, artist-activist-dancers in the city led successful class action lawsuits and efforts to unionize in the strip club industry in the 1990s. Using diverse methods including ethnography, visual and performance analysis, and historiography, Otálvaro-Hormillosa relates these phenomena through archival materials, artworks, and original interviews she conducted with three generations of women who have performed in San Francisco's industry since the 1960s. Through an analysis of materials by and/or about the San Francisco dancers she interviewed, the project seeks to open up the fraught relationship between sex work and "feminism." The performances examined took place in galleries, strip clubs, and on the street. As such, they call into question key terms such as "feminism" and "performance." Foregrounding the voices of the performers interviewed for the project, the dissertation resignifies stripper bodies to mitigate the stigma attached to their performances while trying to account for the power at the intersection of sex work, feminism, and race.
This dissertation construes cosmetic surgery as a mode of performing oneself in contemporary South Korea. Reimagining beauty as an incessant doing, partaking, and embodying oneself that is more "becoming" than "being, " I use cosmetic surgery as its performative measure to discuss the political economy of neoliberal self-management within the Korean media, popular culture, and everyday life. With case studies from reality television, performance art, photography, and K-pop, I locate the representational discourse of beauty as precariously imbricated within the social fabric interwoven by neoliberal, patriarchal, and heteronormative systems of power. Interdisciplinary in nature, this project renders the performance of beauty as an ever-shifting construct of subjectivity determined by race, gender, and sexuality. In the process of interrogating what lies at stake for not only the individual subject but for all parties partaking in the Korean cosmetic surgery industry, I hope to destabilize the rhetorical devices that choreograph, construct, and negotiate a particular image of Koreanness.
As many of the pioneers of American modern dance have passed away in recent years, the dance field has become intensely preoccupied with the issues surrounding the role of choreography in artistic afterlives. While contemporary concern with Legacy plans points to the desire to curate the history of the choreographer through the afterlife of the choreography, popular attention to the marginalization of women and people of color from artistic institutions also points to a contemporary effect of historical assertions of control over dancing bodies. This project focuses on the lowercase legacies; the legacies that have persisted invisibly, subtly shaping the landscape of possibility within performance. Shifting the popular orientation of our contemporary preoccupation with Legacy to include the assemblage of racist, sexist, and homophobic legacies that have contoured the Western canon, I focus on the violent imperial legacies that have become choreographically embedded within dance history. By the very nature of their embeddedness, these legacies circulate prolifically throughout dance history, across the genres of ballet and modern dance, to impact dance production across the globe. My focus on the transmission of these embedded legacies over more than a century of dance history and across three continents also attends to the persistent issue of dance's temporality. The debate surrounding dance's ontological relationship with ephemerality compels a necessary characterization dance not as a performance of disappearance, but of endurance. The shift from Legacies with a capital "L" to the embedded legacies on which this dissertation focuses invites a new consideration of legacy that is dependent on the medium of performance itself. These legacies prove dance's temporal endurance and influence within sociopolitical constructs that uphold the power of the dominant. This analysis of the temporalities of dance performance and afterlife points towards new considerations of dance's transmission and durability.
During the long nineteenth century, the capitalist world-system turned on the economic and affective investments of two Anglophone empires -- the British Empire and the United States of America. These far-flung empires were knitted together not merely through the circulation of commodities via transoceanic trade routes but also through the global itineraries of popular performers and performances and their circulations of affect. Transoceanic performance networks trafficked heavily in racial impersonation such as blackface minstrelsy and its cognate forms. Though much research has explored the racial politics of blackface minstrelsy in the United States, this study focuses on the broader circulations of racialized performance and its entanglements with global processes of colonization. Throughout the Anglophone empire -- and particularly in the Indian Ocean littoral -- blackface performance animated white, colonial affective publics, forging popular cultures around impressions of non-white subjects. Within this "theatrical public sphere, " white performers and audiences alike invested in "common sense" feelings and beliefs about "race, " tracing numerous color lines across the globe. These enactments were not strictly discursive representations; rather, they circulated within the repertoires of imperial whiteness to animate popular beliefs about the non-white peoples of the expanding Anglophone world. The transmission of these repertoires via transoceanic performance tours signal the interconnectedness of histories of performance, "race, " and politics, as well as the deep imbrications of colonization with global theater. Such transhistorical repertoires offer fertile ground for reconsiderations of globalization, world theater, and the cultures of imperialism.
Notarizing intimate relationships through performance techniques is an ancient tradition in the west, yet marriage initiation rituals in modernity are often considered sentimental matters, rarely examined critically as potent cultural choreographies of social belonging. This dissertation examines instances of "queer wedlock performance, " a term referencing not necessarily the union of sexual minorities, but rather those ceremonies and pseudo-ceremonies indexing intimate affiliations that diverge from the regulated expectations of civilized modern adulthood. This project traces a constellation of queer wedlock performances in various media: fictional oaths exchanged onstage in early modern England, extra-legal vows uttered in pursuit of same-sex marriage rights, acts of constrained consent in the writings of 19th century Black women, and the durational coexistence experiments of contemporary live artists. Through the deployment of "un/binding vows, " these diverse promises may fail to secure full legitimacy within extant systems of power, yet they succeed in other dimensions. The un/binding vows of queer wedlock performance function to unsettle norms governing kinship, rendering visible the imperialist inheritances of the marriage institution and the material inequities it maintains. Un/binding vows generate fugitive intimacies that can enable escape from coercive situations. Pursuit of such intimacies is a form of embodied ethico-aesthetic research in which gendered and racialized inheritances structuring relationality can be reworked. Close readings of the ephemera of fugitive intimacies reveal vibrant, temporary, heterogeneous assemblages urging the abandonment of established social hierarchies and offering alternatives to the givenness of love as a teleological project.
My dissertation, Performing [as] Bauls: Renegotiating 'Folk' Identities Through the Lens of Performance, examines the social life of Bauls (traveling folk performers from Bengal) in the context of a rapidly globalizing Indian economy. The cultural diversity within this community destabilizes the notion of a cohesive, unified homogenous group belonging to a pure and authentic past. Therefore, my project, while disentangling differences in representation of Bauls that have usually been tied together under a unified whole (often under the rubric of 'folk' being represented in the wider realm of 'world music'), also looks at discourses of authenticity that are commonly associated with the Bauls' relationship to spatiality. Recognizing their scope beyond the musical and cultural realm, I engage in discussing the subversive and transformational potency of Bauls and their performances, within this complex web of constantly shifting identities. The dissertation is divided into four chapters, as I look at different sites that produce heterogeneous Baul identities. The first chapter introduces the rich and complex oral history of the Bauls; the second looks at the relationship between Rabindranath Tagore and the Bauls, and how this relationship establishes Bauls more as socio-political actors rather than only idealized spiritual performers; the third chapter is an ethnographic exploration of the contemporary Baul festivals, how these festivals perform 'folk'-ness and how such festivals further rupture the notion of a homogeneous Baul identity; and the final chapter continues the discussion on authenticity, appropriation, adaptation and the ongoing exchanges with transnational cosmopolitan Bauls -- I examine exchanges between the West and the East, the global and the local, while troubling such categories, and what implications or ramifications cultural appropriations may have in the discussion of 'cultural purity' and 'authenticity' or their lack thereof. Their essential identification as a wandering minstrel characterizes Bauls as cosmopolitans owing to this fundamental philosophy of travel. However, the heritage industry considers this impulse both as a benefit and a threat -- while the Bauls' travels ensure greater outreach and recognition in the international music market, their formal and structural deviation from what is culturally defined, constructed and imagined as 'folk', ironically, question their purity. While looking at different sites that have produced varied Baul identities, my dissertation simultaneously looks critically at the limits of appropriation. In re-evaluating heterogeneous Baul identities, I look at performances of cosmopolitan Baul performers such as Paban Das Baul and Parvathy Baul. To present the flip side of cultural exchange, I analyse performances and appropriations of interculturalists such as Jerzy Grotowski, Eugenio Barba, and Lee Lozowick, looking at their practice of artistic collaboration with Bauls such as Gour Khepa, Chhayarani Dasi, Ramananda Das Baul, Parvathy Baul and Sanatan Das Baul. The heterogeneity within this group provides enough breadth to accommodate dissenting and polyvocal voices, and their unique positionality also aids in challenging hegemonic divisive forces against us as humans and/or the places which we inhabit, while upholding universal humane values through the songs the Bauls sing.
"The Afterwards of Blackness: Race, Time, and 'Post' Era Drama and Film" brings critical attention to the ways "post" era artists carry out examinations of blackness in their work by innovating and employing aesthetic practices and strategies that center, draw on, and/or explore tropes of temporality. I sharpen focus on plays by Eisa Davis, Robert O'Hara, and Tarell Alvin McCraney as well as films by Tanya Hamilton and Tyler Perry, in particular, to consider how their engagements with these practices and strategies not only engender representations of blackness that bring into relief its multivalences but also become a means by which to offer up important cultural insights and to advance vital critiques. At stake in this study is an exploration of the different tactics "post" era black artists deploy to invite further reflection on blackness, its complexities, its utility, and its time. This project also examines the ways the artists animating it make use of these tactics to comment on the "post" and to trouble some of the constraining discourses and norms that continue to circulate and dominate within the era.
Abstract: Considering the critical methods of performance studies, critical race studies, and sensorial studies, The Choreography of Jim Crow analyzes the creation of social identities through the rubric of touch—a tactile sensibility that provides a cultural foundation for the misperception of bodies as racialized subjects. This project approaches touch as a performative act that is both meaningful and with consequence. Specifically attending to the early 20th century historical period of Jim Crow because of its deeply held investments in the politics of separateness, this project asks: how do bodies become racially affirmed through the course of interaction? The 1896 landmark legal case Plessy vs. Ferguson, and the ensuing Supreme Court decision, upheld the constitutionality of individual states rights to racially segregate public facilities—under the now infamous "separate but equal" mandate—affirming the relationship between proximity and equality. Taking up tactility as a cultural system used to mark bodies as raced, The Choreography of Jim Crow employs literary and performance texts from the Jim Crow era to engage forms of power that have historically gone under-examined in relationship to racial politics. Through the tracing of a sensorial legacy of racial formation predicated on contact, The Choreography of Jim Crow grapples with the very present ways that American society underestimates the social, political, and cultural power that touch wields in our understanding of social identities.
La Mamelle: Bay Area Conceptual Performance Art and The Alternative Art Archive examines the La Mamelle/Art Com archive. This project frames the relation between conceptual performance art and the alternative art space movement of the 1970s as deeply co-productive in terms of aesthetic development, engagment with new media, and the advancement of collaborative and participatory art practices. I historicize La Mamelle's production of various sites for the exhibition of performance art. These sites include alternative print publications, video and televisual productions, social networks, and the archive. While tracing this relation between conceptual performance and its spaces of emergence, I redress the dominant focus on New York and European neo-avant gardes in performance art history through an inclusion of West Coast conceptualists. Ultimately, I argue for creative models of archival research through what I describe as 'performative archiving.'.
My dissertation is located within the field of performance phenomenology, with an emphasis on the practice of the performer. Examining the works of three contemporary artists in dance and theatre -- Claudia Contin Arlecchino, Virgilio Sieni, and Ann Carlson -- who make performance in conversation with visual arts, I focus on the phenomenon of the performer's gesture, or aesthetic movement, considering it as a bridge between performing arts and visual arts. By working on images, these artists establish a relationship between form and the act of perFORMing. The passage that I propose from the word performance to the word performing emphasizes the process of making as thinking -- that is, the role of the performer as the designer of her action and the perceiver of its processual phenomenon. Using images from distinct traditions to elaborate innovative techniques in acting and dancing, each of these artists presents a different approach to the image -- literal, structural, and reenacted -- and provides new methodologies for directing and choreography. Their practice, which I define as figural performing, constitutes an important subject of investigation for performance theory and phenomenology, for it locates the performer at the true center of thinking and making performance. Based on a formal use of the image, figural performing offers an alternative to methods of performing in dance and theatre based on the dramatic text or the body. My study's exploration of the figural builds on a minor lineage in need of further examination -- from commedia dell'arte and biomechanics, to Isadora Duncan and Oskar Schlemmer, to Happenings and action painting. By emphasizing gesture as a connection between performance and visual arts, my study also fosters an interdisciplinary analysis and historicization of performance.
Educated at top colleges and universities, Native American theater artists now hold mastery and authority over classic western theater texts. These individuals do not necessarily embrace western theater practice as the gold standard but, instead, combine remnants of their indigenous cultures with their sophisticated learned knowledge of European performance traditions. For generations, American Indians were targeted for genocide and cultural eradication, isolated by geographical and ideological boundaries specifically constructed to make European colonists feel comfortable with, distinct from, and superior to "The New World's" indigenous peoples. This dissertation is not intended to re-litigate the traumatic histories of Native America nor is it to chronicle the rise of the numerous stereotypical depictions that now dominate our current pop-culture imaginings. This project considers these to be self-evident phenomena. Instead, this dissertation offers a close investigation of the virtuosic mastery many American Indian theater artists hold over Euro-America theater making: an expertise that gives them the ability to transform narrow yet rigid ideas of Native American existence. Theatrical adaptations by New York City's Spiderwoman Theater, Los Angeles' James Lujan, and Honolulu's Taurie Kinoshita do not align with predictable non-Native cultural imaginings of American Indian existence. In fact, each of these artists has adapted a classic western theater work not as a simple homage and recapitulation of the famous source material but as a new theater work suited to a unique worldview and set of artistic inquiries. These new theater works challenge many long held beliefs of American Indian culture, experience, and identity.