2021 Session: "The State of the Field"

2021 Session



The 2021 Summer Session of the Mellon School of Theater and Performance Research will examine new movements in performance studies, and will ask how our field can and should be remade in light of massive global changes. We will explore how COVID-19, the digitization of scholarship and of performance itself, racial justice protests and upheaval in the US, and a new and shifting sense of what constitutes “public” each contribute to the state of the discipline of theater and performance studies. We will focus on four main subjects of inquiry:

1. A quantitative turn. Just as the social sciences underwent a quantitative turn in the late nineteenth century, so too there is a quantitative turn in the humanities, based on the existence of databases and datasets that can, for the first time, be studied quantitatively. How do these approaches add to existing methods in performance research? 

2. Activism. There has always existed an activist dimension in humanities scholarship, but in the last few years, this dimension has come to the fore again, especially around climate change, inequality, gender, and race. What forms does performance-based activism take today, and how are they related to research and teaching in our fields? 

3. Post-Critique. A third group seeks to orient our analytic habits away from “critique,” understood primarily as a mode of scholarship that seeks to identify moments of oppression and subversion in works of art and performance. What are the proposed alternatives to critique? Or should we revive critique and adapt it to new purposes? 

4. Public Humanities. A fourth movement responds to the sense that we have lost our public. If we want to win back public backing for what we do, we need a strand of scholarship that is oriented outwards. What are the approaches that are most promising? And how would they inform specialized research?


Theatre, Digital Humanities, and De/Colonial Knowledge with Elizabeth Dillon

What kind of collective knowledge does theatre create? What difference does the digital make? What is the relation of performance and digital domains to the enduring histories and legacies of colonialism and decolonizing activism in both the past and our present moment? This course focuses on the digital turn in performance and in theatre history, particularly in relation to the coloniality of knowledge in Anglophone traditions of theatre, archival curation, literature, and scholarship. The course will focus on three areas: digital analysis or the quantitative turn and its limits; digital archives and theatre histories; and digital modes of creation and performance. Our work will involve hands-on engagement with DH tools (no prior DH work assumed), with an emphasis on critical engagement with the methods and epistemologies of DH as they intersect with theatre as a field of cultural production and knowledge creation. Primary source texts will range from Shakespeare’s Tempest to Branden Jacobs-Jenkins An Octoroon, with an eye toward iterative histories of race, colonialism, and revolution that take shape across media forms and in performance spaces and archives.

Critical University Studies in Theater and Performance with Noe Montez

How do we contend with issues of power, race, class and gender in higher education as a whole, but specifically as they relate to the complexities of a theatre and performance studies program? In this seminar we will seek to deepen our theoretical inquiry using an ethnic studies framework in order to better understand how to conduct ethical and research that critiques the university while mindful of our (supposed?) place in it.  We will explore the ways that the university commodifies minoritarian knowledge, tokenizes the arts, and reproduces inequality. We will also discuss strategic ways to build affirming communities that celebrate and build liberatory networks among graduate students and junior scholars focusing beyond on the completion of milestones such as the dissertation and navigating the academic job market and what we can do to envision futures within and beyond the academy. Our potential discussion topics include rethinking the terms of education at various scales, decolonizing the university; neoliberalism, “cancel culture,” and academic free speech; political economies of student debt, and the labor that women and people of color take on in patriarchal and predominantly white institutions. My hope is that we can use this focus on power, capital and the labor of historically marginalized people to encourage Mellon school members to deepen their engagement with departmental and institutional politics in the academy. 


Shamell Bell (Harvard University)
Elizabeth Dillon (Northeastern University)
Rita Felski (University of Virginia)
Derek Miller (Harvard University)
Monica Miller (Barnard College)
Noe Montez (Tufts University)
Carrie Preston (Boston University)
Martin Puchner (Harvard University)
Namwali Serpell (Harvard University)
Andrew Sofer (Boston College)


Talin Abadian
Bilal Akar
Kandyce Amie
Guillermo Aviles-Rodriguez
Trevor Boffone
Shelby Brewster
Carolyne Clare
Laura Dougherty
Kaitlyn Farrell Rodriguez
Rajat Nayyar
Amanda Pereira
Bethany Hughes
Elizabeth Hunter
Jewel Pereyra
Olivia Maria Schaaf
Christine Korte
Maria Tivnan
Sydney Erlikh
Marjan Moosavi
Sharanya Murali
Honglan Huang
Ariel Nereson
Florence Nweke
Christa Oliver
Oluwatoyin Olokodana-James
Beth Osborne
Kade Ivy
Jonathan Karp
Jiva Nath Lamsal
Brendan McCauley
Sebastian Samur
Elizabeth Perry
Michael Schweikardt
Sarah Ann Standing
Madeleine Saidenberg
Kai Tuchmann
Clara Wilch
Jennifer Williams
Samuel Yates