On To New Locations

We began with theatrical architecture, moved through digital spaces and landscapes, and ended with a return to the dramatic text and dramaturgy, which had been hovering on the sidelines.Elinor Fuchs’ talk on “Places of Theatrical Imagination” drew attention to invisible locations of theater, which take up “mind sight” or “spectral vision” (Andrew Sofer’s term) and exert “gravitational force,” ultimately composing what Elinor calls the “offset.” Like Heike’s shift from location to locating, offset implies a connectivity lacking in the term off-stage. Moving smoothly and impressively from Arthur Miller’s Death of a Salesman (with its primitive, pastoral, and utilitarian locations) to Ibsen, Heiner Müller, and contemporary ecological theater by PearlDamour, Elinor described the longing or sentimentality for the loss of landscape. Dramatic actions that directly invoke landscapes may be disappearing from the stage, and spectators themselves have now become actors. She concluded with a powerful question: Has going to the theater itself become a site-specific experience?

Our discussion was as wide-ranging as Elinor’s textual selections, which also included Witkiewicz’s The New Deliverance (Caryl Churchill’s Far Away was close at hand; and her Not Not Not Not Not Enough Oxygen was not not there, in Andrew Sofer’s terms). In what ways is this nostalgia for landscape different from the reverence of the Romantic landscape? Elinor reminded us that we have a very flattened idea of what a dramatic text is, reminds us that the text inspires richly complex and textured imaginary worlds.

After the final meeting of the faculty and graduate writing workshops—spaces that have and will continue to evade public documentation, but which nevertheless produce perennially cherished memories along with articles or monographs of the future—we returned to the Thompson Room for a Roundtable Discussion (the link to an audio recording is forthcoming.)  Rebecca directed a conversation with Debra Caplan, Ju Yon Kim, Derek Miller, Carrie Preston, and Andrew Sofer geared toward locating conversations we’ve had with respect to panelist research, and materializing and archiving the terms we’ve used throughout the session. The conversation was delightfully wide ranging, but some commonalities emerged, namely: theater as a place of nostalgia. As Carrie recounted the performance of Yeats' At the Hawk's Well at the end of Mellon 2013, we began thinking about the Thompson Room as a site of performance and reperformance, already becoming nostalgic for the future. Many of us extended the conversation by transforming Cambridge Common into a site of performance.

Today, “The Problem of the Ground” ended by bringing it all together with Wagner and the Gesamtkunstwerk. “Theater as a Field of Cultural Production” talked through an entire season of Broadway, from 1952-1953, when wife killing emerged as the theme of the year. We gathered for group photos before Andrew delivered his poem in couplets to thunderous applause (and enthusiasm far surpassing last Friday’s production of Pushkin.) In our farewell discussion, we reflected on our time at “drama boot camp” (per Carrie Preston) or “theater summer camp” (per Rebecca Munson) and looked ahead. For some, the question is not necessarily “where is theater?”, but rather, “what does thinking of theater afford me, and what am I furthering by studying it or using it as a methodology?” Everyone agreed that conversations and questions filled the Thompson Room and the Barker Center, and spilled out into Cambridge and the web, profoundly shaping our sense of the field and giving new direction to our own work. We continued to wonder about the relationship between text and performance, and also to negotiate between the political stakes of realism and spectacle. We wondered, also, if spectator consent is necessary or desirable for performance. We talked about the balance between scholarship and practice, reflecting on our visits from both academics and performance artists, and how this negotiation relates to our own practices. And we thanked one another for the intellectual generosity shared in this time together.

Stay tuned for more posts, photos, videos, and recordings in the days ahead. For now, safe travels! See you soon.

The Mellon School, 2014
The Mellon School, 2014
See also: Matthew Franks