In Martin Puchner’s Seminar, “What Gets Performed” we delved into the shadowy figures and processes taking place where the interests of financial and cultural capital intersect. There we found the figure of the curator, who represented to us new trends in the theater world, moving away from institutions and toward globalized cultural diplomacy, toward one-time events and “tastemaking.” Ysabel pointed out the etymological connection of the word “curate” to cure — what sort of cure does a curator provide? Some of us thought the curator’s work destabilized innately conservative structures and cultural boundaries. The curator Hans-Ulrich Obrist captured our collective imagination with his ability to circulate effortlessly between arts institutions. Alisa pointed out that, interestingly, Obrist’s own book, Ways of Curating, seeks to historicize curation. Sebastian painted the overworked curator as Benjamin’s Angel of History, pinned between the past and the future.“Nowadays we’re living in an assemblage of parts,” mused Susanna, referring to Deleuze and Guattari’s damning diagnosis of modernity.
We also discussed theater patronage systems in different countries. But all these systems, from the socialist-influenced structures of public funding such as Russia’s or Cuba’s to India’s hybrid structure of government funding for local-language theater and corporate funding for English-language theater, seem poised to change. We tried to think about it in broader terms: How does canon formation work in the theater world? Ysabel attempted a diagram:
“I couldn’t figure out how to do time and space in the same dimension,” she fretted. But we were quite happy to have a visual. Andrew suggested that the curator’s function may be increasing with the rise of the archive.
In discussion with Clare Conceison Elizabeth C. asked whether scholars can be activist about canon-building, rather than just by canon-busting. Clare underscored that scholars should work from within the system to try and change it, suggesting ways of reframing Western drama syllabi by introducing even a couple of Chinese plays, for example, or by doing a unit on issues of translation, or even by changing a course name from the Western-favoring “Drama: Greeks to Renaissance” into “Ancient-1700s Drama.” Rebecca questioned how we can be expected to balance historical diversity with geographical diversity in our courses, the perceived remoteness of both being problematic. The consensus in discussion seemed to be that courses on the history of drama should favor history, rather than contemporary relevance, despite what our students might want. A conversation on China and censorship seemed inescapable. Clare wondered how we can move beyond paradigms of “the hot-button issue” in our classroom — such as censorship and propaganda in China — even when we continue to use it to justify studying our non-Western fields to potential funders and curriculum committees. But Isabel P. pointed out that even among European fields there seems to be a hierarchy of interest, giving an example of journals that will not publish a piece on playwrights from Portugal. We have to show them why they should care, Clare insisted, you have to fight for your field.