2019 Session: "Migrations"

Mellon School 2019

June 24 - July 5, 2019


In 2019, the Mellon School of Theater and Performance Research will focus on migration. Combining perspectives from the social sciences and the arts, we will explore migration as a human condition, as a historically specific phenomenon, and as an urgent crisis. Dancers, theater makers, and performance artists have responded to the recent increase in migration in different ways, from work in refugee camps to the production of new plays and performance events centered on the enforced and voluntary movements of people from one culture to another. At the same time, performance artists have also drawn on the migratory history of their own profession, learning from the experiences of traveling troupes and vagrant performers, among others. This summer session will aim to detail what role the performing arts can play in a future in which migration will likely increase. In doing so, we are extending the themes from previous years, including activism and public humanities, both of which will also play a role during the ninth session.


Debra Caplan (City University of New York)
Lizzy Cooper Davis (Emerson College)
Helena de Bres (Wellesley College)
JuYon Kim (Harvard University)
Carrie Preston (Boston University)
Martin Puchner (Harvard University)
Andrew Sofer (Boston College)
Gabriela Soto Laveaga (Harvard University)
Patricia Ybarra (Brown University)


Ziad Abushalha
Patty Argyrides
Dasha Chapman
Doria Charlson
Po-Hsien Chu
Carolyne Clare
Brice Ezell
Marissa Fenley
Laure Guilbert
Misha Hadar
Zainabu Jallo
Rebecca Kastleman
Manpreet Kaur
Dominika Laster
Marina Lazetic
Tova Markenson
Gabriela Minden
Taarini Mookherjee
Patricia Nguyen
Christa Oliver
Julija Pesic
Ivan Ramos
Anandi Rao
Vassiliki Rapti
Christofer Rodelo
Verónica Rodríguez Morales
Hanife Schulte
Lea Luka Tiziana Sikau
Aktina Stathaki
LaRonika Thomas
Felipe Vieira Valentim



What can theater and performance artists and researchers do in the face of the fact that 68.5 million people are forcibly displaced globally by wars and persecution? In a 2018 American Theater article titled “The Refuge of the Stage,” Simi Horowitz offers the subtitle: “What roles can theatre play in the global refugee crisis? Healing, representation - and diversion.” Many theater lovers/researchers would want this to be true, but this seminar will take the question marks in its own title very seriously: The Role of Theater and Performance in the Crisis of Forced Migration??? We will consider some foundational historical texts (Brecht’s Refugee Conversations, Genet’s “Four Hours in Shatila” and The Screens) but primarily read contemporary plays by and about today’s refugees in Lebanon, Myanmar, Uganda, the southern U.S. border, and the protracted Palestinian diaspora (Corinne Jaber’s Oh My Sweet Land, Liwaa Yazji’s Question and Question, Ismail Khalidi’s Sabra Falling, Josefina Lopez’s Detained in the Desert). We will look closely at groups like the Bond Street Theatre practicing in Kuala Lumpur, efforts by the UNHCR and other NGO’s to use theater therapy as aid in refugee camps, the contrasting efforts of documentary filmmakers, and the practices and theories of “applied theater.” We will attempt to analyze both the aesthetics and the efficacy of these projects and productions, while keeping ethical questions and dilemmas foremost in or mind: What ultimately does it mean to make theater, write papers, and even teach seminars about an unprecedented global crisis of forced displacement?


This seminar will explore points of contact between studies of migration and performance studies, asking how key theoretical texts on borders and displacement might inform our engagement with performances and performance theory, and vice versa. During the first week of the seminar, participants will read a range of theoretical works that reflect on various forms and figures of migration, including the exile, the immigrant, and the refugee. Readings will include Giorgio Agamben’s “Beyond Human Rights”; Sara Ahmed's “Affective Economies”; Gloria Anzaldua’s Boderlands/La Frontera; Hannah Arendt’s “We Refugees”; James Clifford’s “Diasporas”; Lisa Lowe’s Immigrant Acts; Viet Nguyen’s Nothing Ever Dies; and Edward Said’s “Reflections on Exile.” During the second week, participants will collaboratively set these works next to performances and performance studies texts of their choosing. This seminar will define performance broadly to include, for example, performances of the state to secure borders and everyday performances within diasporic and immigrant communities, as well as theatrical productions.This is a workshop in Public Humanities meant to explore how we can use our research to reach different audiences. What forms, media, and genres—existing and emerging—from podcasts and social media to experimental humanities--are suitable for this task? What existing outlets and opportunities are there to be used? How to write in ways that communicate our ideas effectively to different publics? The workshop will include research and readings, but also practical exercises in how to pitch ideas, how to write book proposals for a general audience, and how to structure essays, performance reviews and book reviews. Participants are asked to contribute their own experience as consumers and (if applicable) producers of public media. No prior experience required.