Performance, Nation and Globalization Summer School at NUI Galway

We’ll be running a Summer School on Performance and Globalization at NUI Galway later this week. We’re going to be looking not just at theatre (David Greig, Conor McPherson) but also at such performances as the Eurovision Song Contest, Mad Men, and more.

The event is intended for postgraduate students of theatre, but if anyone would like to attend, just drop me a line on patrick.lonergan@nuigalway.ie

Performance, Nation and Globalization Summer School

Funded by the Irish Research Council

National University of Ireland, Galway

17-18 July 2013

This two-day Summer School explores the interrelationships between performance and nation in an era of increasing globalization. We will consider major international dramatists such as J.M Synge and David Greig, but the discussion will also take in other forms of performance, including the Eurovision Song Contests, recent American TV drama including Mad Men and Breaking Bad, and new devised work from Ireland by such companies as Brokentalkers and Anu Productions.

The event takes place at National University of Ireland, Galway, and coincides with the Galway Arts Festival (www.galwayartsfestival.com). Participation in the event is free.

PROVISIONAL TIMETABLE

Wednesday 17 July

14.00: Introduction and Welcome

14.15 – 15.45 – Session 1

  • Shaun Richards, ‘Were You Off East, Young Fellow …?’: The International Playboy of the Western World
  • David Clare “Irish Writers, Ally Croker, Bridget and the Countess of Sligo: Hibernian Presences in Goldsmith’s She Stoops to Conquer

16.00 – 17.30: Session 2

  • Karen Fricker “Terry Wogan, Melancholy Britain, and the Eurovision Song Contest”
  • Erin Hurley, “Subjects and Objects: The Personal is Political”

Thursday 18 July

9.30 – 11.00: Session 3

  • Shannon Steen, “Pacific Neoliberalism: Foxconn, Mike Daisey, and the Performative Imperative”
  • Vicky Angelaki, “Global Products and Local Targets: Reception, Perception and the Internationalized Audience”

11.00 – 11.30:Coffee

11.30 – 13.00: Session 4

  • Clare Wallace, “Performing, processing and resisting—the nation and globalization in the work of David Greig”
  • Charlotte McIvor “Ireland, China, Belgium, Finland: Brokentalkers and the Transnational Connectivities of Post-Celtic Tiger Performance.”

13.00 – 14.00 – Break.

14.00 – 16.15: Session 5

  • Patrick Lonergan, “Faust and the Credit Crunch”
  • Aoife Monks, “Virtuosity, Mobility and Homesickness in Performance”
  • Brian Singleton, “The Routes to Memory: Site-Specific Performance in Ireland and Global/Social Capital”

16.15– conclusion of workshop

ABSTRACTS

Vicky Angelaki, “Global Products and Local Targets: Reception, Perception and the Internationalized Audience”

The talk will explore the factors determining our identities and sensibilities as spectators (on an individual basis) and audiences (at the collective level). Much has been said about globalization and its effect on aspects of quotidian life as well as artistic production and consumption. My paper will probe to what extent there has genuinely been an impact on our viewing and responding habits. It will also explore the question of whether we have moved beyond cultural stereotypes and into an era of rigorousness and agility, reaping the benefits of mobility, the wealth of information and educational possibilities available, but also of the artistic border-crossing that characterizes our time. The paper will interrogate to what extent the internationalized art product has served to liberate us in a certain way, or whether we are essentially reproducing the old familiar national and classed perspectives. Can it be argued that we are experiencing a new, hyper-aware state, or are we forever bound to local frames of reference and what are their respective benefits and pitfalls? Ultimately, the talk will seek to problematize exchange and reception, addressing the question of how issues of perception are especially urgent today.

Suggested Reading:

Bourdieu, Pierre. ‘The Sense of Distinction’. Distinction: A Social Critique of the Judgement of Taste. Trans. Richard Nice. London and New York: Routledge, 1986. 260-317.
Merleau-Ponty, Maurice. ‘The Crisis of Understanding’. Adventures of the Dialectic. Trans. Joseph Bien. Evanston: Northwestern UP, 1973. 9-29.
Wickstrom, Maurya. ‘Introduction’. Performing Consumers: Global Capital and Its Theatrical Seductions. Abingdon and New York: Routledge, 2006. 1-12.

David Clare, “Irish Writers, Ally Croker, Bridget and the Countess of Sligo: Hibernian Presences in Goldsmith’s She Stoops to Conquer

When critics discuss the ways in which Oliver Goldsmith’s Irish background influenced the writing of She Stoops to Conquer, they usually focus on two aspects of the play. First, the plot is built around an incident (mistaking a country gentleman’s home for an inn) that allegedly happened to Goldsmith himself while he was still living in Ireland. Second, in the play, Goldsmith (like later, London-based, Irish writers) attempts to portray hypocrisy as a peculiarly English vice. While these ‘Irish’ aspects of the work are certainly important, there are other, more explicit, references to Goldsmith’s native country in the play. I will carefully analyse them in this paper, since they are routinely ignored by critics.

Among these Irish references are the moment when Goldsmith has a character allude directly to Farquhar’s The Beaux Stratagem and when his depiction of the character of Hardcastle betrays the influence of Sterne’s Tristram Shandy. The Irish song, “Ally Croker”, is used in a way that links Ireland to the Orient, a connection that Goldsmith and other Irish writers have frequently made over the past two and a half centuries. The Hardcastles have a cook maid named after the Irish St. Bridget, thereby placing a (possibly) Irish servant in an English home. Finally, the Countess of Sligo is one of the ladies name-checked by Marlow during his courtship of Kate, one of a series of reflections on the Anglo-Irish in the work.

In this paper, I will also consider the ‘Irish’ elements that have been either accentuated or imposed upon the play in recent Dublin productions (The Gate Theatre’s in 1995, The Abbey’s in 2003, and Smock Alley’s in 2012).

Karen Fricker, “Terry Wogan, Melancholy Britain, and the Eurovision Song Contest”

‘Europe’s favourite TV show’ (as its producers brand the Eurovision Song Contest [ESC]) has much to tell us about the relationship between nation, identity, feelings, and politics in the expanded, 21st century Europe. Founded in 1956 to test the newly-created capacity to share live television signals between countries, the ESC has become a significant symbolic contact zone between European cultures: an arena for European identification in which both national solidarity and participation in a European identity are confirmed, and a site where cultural struggles over the meanings, frontiers, and limits of Europe are enacted. This presentation focuses specifically on the United Kingdom’s fraught relationship to the ESC, arguing that this relationship reflects deep-seated British anxieties about the place of the UK in the context of the evolving Europe, but is also symptomatic of a particular strand of postcolonial melancholia (after Paul Gilroy) and a nostalgic mode of engagement with the British colonial past and imperial supremacy. I focus in particular on Sir Terry Wogan’s increasingly conservative ESC commentary for the BBC over several decades, showing how it mediated and constructed a particular vision of Europe and the UK’s place in relation to it. If we shift our perspective from the UK’s nostalgia and look at its participation in the ESC in its own right, however, we can see that its recent Eurovision entries offer a portrait of a lively and diverse society attempting to adapt to a cultural showcase whose codes and conventions are rapidly changing.

Erin Hurley, “Subjects and Objects: The Personal is Political”

It is a commonplace, and a truism, to say that “Quebecois theatre” began in the late 1960s with the politically engaged, nationalist dramaturgy of Michel Tremblay. Contemporary Quebecois theatre, however, seems to be marked by a turn away from the political or collective, an orientation that marked its birth and efflorescence. Of late, critics and scholars have remarked a clear turn toward the personal or individual. Louis Patrick Leroux and Hervé Guay itemize the “subjective affirmations” of contemporary Quebecois theatre both within the dramatic universes presented by playwrights and in institutional discourses of theatre culture. They suggest that such subjective affirmations – that is, critical affirmations of the theatre’s own success, performative affirmations of the particularized subject (especially in solo performance), and institutional and dramatic affirmations of playwrights’ personal aesthetics and singular imaginaries – have multiplied in recent years.

And yet, we might remark another, seemingly contrary turn in contemporary performance: a turn toward the object, the subject’s presumed “other”. Consider, for instance, the following protagonists from productions in recent Montreal theatre seasons as featured in venues ranging from a children’s theatre to an experimental house to a puppet festival to a fine arts museum: A child’s white dress. A drawing of a birthmark on a stick. Three life-sized automata. Animated mannequins. Dancing kitchen utensils. A wax figure. Two school-desks. [1]

The shows from which these characters are drawn, and others like them that put the object in the position of the dramatic and theatrical subject, interest me for two reasons. First, by putting an object in the position of the “speaking subject” of a “character”, they evince a complex relation to the subjective affirmations and affirmations of subjectivity that are trending contemporary Quebecois theatre. Second, they allow us to read an occulted history of Quebecois theatre in which women’s performance is featured and assumptions around the political value of autonomy versus heteronomy are undone. How might we reconcile the incursion of objects – these things without speech, without voice, without subjectivity proper — into a theatre culture where “dramaturgies of subjectivity” seem in favour? What might these objets désincarnés tell us about artistic engagement, the shifting Quebecois collective, and it theatre history?

Three recent solo performances by women featuring performing objects will feed my analysis: Joseph-la-tache [Joseph-the-Birthmark] by Catherine Vidal (2010), La robe blanche [The White Dress] by Pol Pelletier (2012), and Le Salon Automate[The Salon Automaton] by Nathalie Claude (2008). Through these pieces, I explore the discourse of the object on the subject of the Subject. How are on-stage subject-object (that is, self-other) relations figured in contemporary Quebec theatre? What might these relations intimate about stage-audience and art-society relations? And what are their engagements with the world around the subject, beyond the theatre?

Patrick Lonergan, “Faust and the Credit Crunch”

A vareity of cultural responses to the global credit crunch (2008-) are already evident, from novels about banking (such as John Lanchester’s Capital) to revivals of plays that explore issues of wealth (such as a recent NT production of Timon of Athens). This paper explores how one of the defining charateristics of cultural responses to the credit crunch has been a significant increase in new performances that draw on the Faust motif, which is often directly taken from work by Goethe, Marlowe, Mann, Bulgakov and others. This paper explores the significance of this motif for contemporary performance. I briefly explore new work by dramatists such as Conor McPherson, Marina Carr, Mark O’Rowe David Mamet and David Greig, before analyzing in some detail the impact of the Faust motif on contemporary American television, particularly in Mad Men, Damagesand Breaking Bad. The aim of the paper is to consider those works as responses to our changing understanding of issues such as indebtedness, austerity, personal value and – in particular – the nation.

Suggested Reading/Viewing:

Conor McPherson, The Seafarer, David Greig, The Strange Undoing of Prudencia Hart.

Damages Season 1, episodes 1-3; Mad Men season 1; Breaking Bad (all seasons).

Charlotte McIvor ,“Ireland, China, Belgium, Finland: Brokentalkers and the Transnational Connectivities of Post-Celtic Tiger Performance”

This talk queries Dublin-based theatre company Brokentalkers’ focus on the role of transnational networks as the future of innovation in the Irish arts through an analysis of their works, In Real Time (2008) and Track (2006). In Real Time and Track present two overlapping stories of the role of the transnational in post-Celtic Tiger Ireland. In Real Time animates European networks via an act of artistic collaboration, while Track stages an encounter with Dublin that brings participants on an exploration of the City Centre through the perspective of the Chinese community, both long-term residents and recent arrivals, living in Ireland. In Real Time literally enacts an inter-EU network physically manifested through actors’ live and virtual bodies in theatrical time and space. Conversely, Track challenges discourses of Irish nationalism and forces recognition of transnational networks of migrants in Ireland that reach outside the space of the nation and the EU.

Aoife Monks, “Virtuosity, Mobility and Homesickness in Performance”

It was in the 18th Century that the virtuoso emerged as a category of performance (rather than a connoisseur and collector of fine art as in previous centuries). This was the moment in which virtuosity came to embody superhuman performance, emerging in a performer capable of apparently magical (if not demonic) transcendence of the material conditions of the stage. This paper investigates the relationship between the birth of the virtuoso and the emergence of the emotional category of nostalgia – homesickness – and suggests that they might both be viewed as symptoms of the disorienting affects of industrial modernity. Furthermore, I will ask whether virtuosity (as a category of performance, and later a quality ascribed to particular forms of work) and nostalgia might grow out of, and enable, global mobility. It may be no coincidence then, that the virtuosic performers that I will draw on in this paper – Dion Boucicault and Dan Bryant in the 19th Century and Michael Flatley and Jean Butler in the 20th Century – have all traded in nostalgia, wedding performances that inspire terror and awe with the longing for ‘home’. I will examine how the material conditions of labour in these two periods produce forms of virtuosity and nostalgia in performance.

Suggested reading:

Gabriele Brandstetter, ‘The Virtuoso’s Stage: A Theatrical Topos’, Theatre Research International, Volume 32: Issue 02 (July 2007), pp 178-195.

Paulo Virno, A Grammar of the Multitude: For an Analysis of Contemporary Forms of Life, Trans. by Isabella Bertoletti, James Cascaito, Andrea Casson (New York: SEMIOTEXT(E), 2004), particularly Chapter Four: “Labor, Action, Intellect : Day Two” [accessible at: http://www.generation-online.org/c/fcmultitude3.htm].

Svetlana Boym, The Future of Nostalgia (New York: Basic Books, 2001).

Shaun Richards, ‘Were You Off East, Young Fellow …?’: The International Playboy of the Western World

George Ritzer’s concepts of ‘something’ (indigenously conceived) and ‘nothing’ (centrally conceived) appears to duplicate simple ‘positive/negative’ binaries of the local and the global. However, he adds the significant qualification that even the most local product is touched by the global, so making it ‘glocal’. This paper will address the ‘glocal’ aspect of theatre through productions of Playboy of the Western World from the Abbey production in 1907 and its US tour in 1911, to the work of Druid Theatre, Galway, Pan Pan Theatre’s production in Beijing, the Roddy Doyle and Bisi Adigun adaptation, and Desperate Optimists’ play-boy.

Shannon Steen, “Pacific Neoliberalism: Foxconn, Mike Daisey, and the Performative Imperative”

This presentation examines how the inter-embeddedness of Foxconn’s labor structures, Mike Daisey’s theatrical monologue The Agony and the Ecstasy of Steve Jobs, and Apple Corporation’s attempt to shape advanced capitalism with a human face instantiates what we might term Pacific Neoliberalism – a set of political imperatives predicated on unique forms of economic and cultural flows within and across the Pacific Basin. I use this trio of objects to explore how neoliberalism in general is itself a performative project, and how its Pacific Basin variant instantiates particular ideologies of creativity and labor distinctive from those of its Atlantic counterpart.

Suggested Readings:

Wendy Brown, “Neoliberalism and the End of Liberal Democracy.” Theory & Event, 7:1.

Mike Daisey, The Agony and the Ecstasy of Steve Jobs. Downloaded from http://mikedaisey.blogspot.com/p/monologues.html.

David Harvey, A Brief History of Neoliberalism. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2005.

Catherine Kingfisher and Jeff Maskovsky, “The Limits of Neoliberalism.” In Critique of Anthropology, Vol. 28 (2): 115-126.

Lara D. Nielsen and Patricia Ybarra (eds). Neoliberalism and Global Theatres: Performance Permutations. London: Palgrave Macmillan, 2012 (see especially essays by Margaret Werry, Eng-Beng Lim, and Patricia Ybarra).

Brian Singleton, “The Routes to Memory: Site-Specific Performance in Ireland and Global/Social Capital”

Celebrated contemporary site-specific performance, most notably in the work of the UK’s Punchdrunk, has been branded by Michael McKinnie as ‘monopolistic’ as it trades on the theatrical efficacy of spatial disuse. Touring their work most recently to New York that monopolism has further begun to trade their theatrical efficacy/spatial disuse paradigm as global capital. Contextualising their work historically we place Punchdrunk among celebrated European companies such as Brith Gof of Wales, Dogtroep of The Netherlands and La Fura dels Baus of Catalunya, all of whom engaged similar global performance routes. But what of Irish site-specific performance? Certainly festivalised productions such as Playgroup’s Berlin Love Tour (2010), Junk Ensemble’s Bird with Boy (2011) and Wilfredd’s Farm (2012) operate within similar paradigms though arguably with less global potential. Anu Productions Monto trilogy (2010-12), however, resists the efficacy/disuse paradigm. The company’s site-specificity lies in their social capital of having emerged from and engaged with the lives and histories of an inner-city Dublin community’s spaces and places in very material ways. Rooted in the materiality of their social history, Anu Productions’ performances also address the issue of site-specific performance as speaking to but also resistant to the globalization of Irish theatre.

Clare Wallace, “Performing, processing and resisting—the nation and globalization in the work of David Greig

My proposed presentation derives from research I have been doing on the work of Scottish playwright David Greig. Since the 1990s Greig has produced an extensive body of work both as a writer and in collaboration with the Suspect Culture theatre company which he co-founded. As part of a new generation of Scottish writers whose work emerged at the end of the twentieth century, Greig has actively participated in the ongoing re-imagining of Scotland in the wake of devolution. However, critics at times have seemed slightly disgruntled at the apparent lack of familiar Scottish co-ordinates in some of his work. Greig is not alone in his ambivalence about signposting national specificity in his writing and theatre making. Nadine Holdsworth (2008) for instance has noted how relationships between place and identity are prominent features of Scottish playwriting more generally and contends that ‘there is a marked trend amongst many contemporary Scottish playwrights and theatre-makers to theatricalize multifarious sites, geological formations and landscapes as a way of articulating the diversity of Scotland’ (126). Yet, what makes Greig’s work a fascinating field of investigation is the way this ambivalence about national specificity is coupled with an ongoing attempt to address a wider set of economic and cultural conditions catalysed by globalization and broach forms of transnational identity within the amorphous context of the contemporary. ‘Theatre doesn’t change the world’ Greig has claimed, but ‘if the battlefield is the imagination, then the theatre is a very appropriate weapon in the armoury of resistance’ because it cannot be ‘globally commodified,’ since it is founded on possibility, contingency, changeability and is ‘accessible to everybody.’ With reference to selected plays and interviews, this presentation would chart how Greig’s ideas about how theatre can or should engage with questions of nation and globalization have evolved since he began writing and would attempt to position this work in relation to wider debates about theatre and globalization.

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From the Sopranos to the Americans

Like many others this morning, I’m sad to learn of the death of James Gandolfini, and shocked that he was only 51. As his recent performance in Zero Dark Thirty showed, he seemed on the verge of shaking off his associations with Tony Soprano – and of doing something that could match or even surpass his achievement in playing that role. And I understand that he became a father again last year. It’s terrible to see someone so young passing away.

I am sure that there will now be many articles reminding us that The Sopranos re-defined television – that, without that show, there would have been no Six Feet Under, Mad Men, Breaking Bad, or The Wire.

The Sopranos itself could probably not have happened without Twin Peaks, of course – but David Lynch’s show had always seemed anomalous, with its innovations misunderstood as mere Lynch-ian quirkiness. In contrast, The Sopranos managed to be trailblazing while operating within familiar TV conventions. Gandolfini’s performance was a key element in that achievement: we couldn’t help watching Tony Soprano – in fact, we couldn’t help liking him either (most of the time). Perhaps the show’s primary influence, then, is in spawning a series of TV shows about likeable anti-heroes, from Michael C Hall’s Dexter Morgan to Bryan Cransford’s Walter White in Breaking Bad to Don Draper in Mad Men – and so on.

I’d been thinking during the last few days anyway that the influence of The Sopranos is also detectable in more recent (and more accessible) shows. I’ve been watching The Americans on RTE 2 for the last few weeks: it finished its 13 episode run in the US last month but we  in Ireland are only up to episode 4. So it’s a bit early to reach a definitive judgement.

But so far I am struck by a couple of similarities with The Sopranos. One of the enjoyable features of the HBO series was that much of the action took place in suburbia: we got to enjoy watching how Tony’s neighbours felt about having a gangster in their midst – and his status as a kind of outsider often shone a satirical light on the materialism and vapidity of the people around him. Something similar is going on in The Americans, in which Keri Russell and Matthew Rhys play deeply embedded KGB spies who live in an American suburb in the early 1980s. Because the couple are both part of that world and outside of it (like Tony), the show is able to cast a mildly critical eye on such issues as consumerism and American attitudes to parenting.

And of course the duo at the centre of the show are (yet again) charismatic anti-heroes. This is particularly notable in the characterisation of Elizabeth (played by Russell), who in the first four episodes has already murdered two American men, both of whom were developed just enough for us to find her actions shocking.

Yet we care about what happens to her and her husband Philip: when they risk being caught, it’s assumed we’ll hope they escape; when they express anxieties about their kids or their marriage or their future, it’s assumed that we will be nodding along in identification. And part of the reason we are rooting for Philip and Elizabeth is that their main antagonist – an FBI agent played by Noah Emmerich – is himself morally ambiguous, and certainly not as likeable as the two Russians. So it’s a show that doesn’t feel the need to make things simple for its audience – again, something that we probably would not have had if not for The Sopranos.

I’m not sure how long the show will be able to sustain that kind of moral ambiguity, however. In The Sopranos, we always had Dr Malfi to act as a surrogate and safety valve for the audience: when she was appalled by Tony, so were we; when she liked him, so did we – and when in the final season she’d had enough and refused to see him any longer, we were ready to say goodbye too. There’s no-one quite like that (yet) in The Americans: someone who can give us permission to like the two protagonists, but also allow us to feel that our values are not being fundamentally threatened. So that could be very interesting, or it could quickly start to strain credulity.

Another issue is that the show doesn’t just remind me of The Sopranos, but of many other shows. It presents people who look like ordinary Americans but who for ideological reasons are dedicated to the destablisation of the USA. As such, it links up nicely with Homeland – and if it’s interesting to see how post-9/11 paranoia is not much different from Cold War paranoia, we have still seen some of these dilemmas before.

And, with its 1980s setting, it also shows some hints of the influence Mad Men – since both shows aim to use the past to explore matters about the present that might be too painful if tackled directly. And like Mad Men, it has some fun with our knowledge of how things turned out. I’m thinking here of simple things like Don’s line in the first episode of Season One in Mad Men – “It’s not like there’s some magic machine that makes identical copies of things” (apparently the photocopier had actually been invented in the late 1950s). In a similar fashion, some of the fun in watching The Americans lies in our knowledge that almost every dilemma the couple face would be much more straightforward if they’d just had mobile phones.

There’s one other resemblance that I’ve noticed already – and it’s not a very flattering one. But with its treatment of an early 1980s married couple who spend each episode solving a problem – often employing a stunning repertoire of funny disguises before concluding each episode by cuddling up together – I can’t help thinking of Hart to Hart, that show about a pair of millionaire amateur detectives. Of course there’s no real resemblance here, but there are elements of The Americans that could get pretty silly pretty quickly.

But where it’s most interesting, after four episodes anyway, is in its treatment of its female characters – not just Elizabeth, but also the couple’s KGB handler Claudia (played by Margo Martindale).

As stated above, Elizabeth is shown killing people where (so far) Philip has not; she’s also required to use her body to get information, sometimes with deeply unpleasant consequences for her. You can understand why she’s more committed to her cause than Philip is: she has to do much more of the dirty work than he, and thus has less room to entertain serious doubts. It’s also notable that (again unlike Philip) she has had a relationship outside of the marriage, with an African-American man whom she recruited as an agent.

The character of Claudia is also very interesting, played as an apparently harmless grandmother-figure who is in fact the most ruthless character in the series (so far).

I’ve been struck by the thought that this treatment of gender (and race) would never have found its way onto a TV screen in the 1980s. Think again of the opening lines of Hart to Hart: “This is my boss, Jonathan Hart – a self-made millionaire. He’s quite a guy. This is Mrs. H. She’s gorgeous. She’s one lady who knows how to take care of herself.” In that show, the man makes himself but the woman takes care of herself: he’s to be admired for what he does and she for how she looks.

In that respect, at least, we’ve come a long way since 1981.