Academic journal article Theatre Research in Canada

Canadian Performance Genealogies: A Roundtable

Academic journal article Theatre Research in Canada

Canadian Performance Genealogies: A Roundtable

Article excerpt

The following is an edited transcription of a roundtable conversation held on 3 June 2013 at the Canadian Association for Theatre Research conference in Victoria, BC.

The original blog referenced below can be accessed at

Heather Davis-Fisch: The idea for this panel came out of a series of conversations that the roundtable participants have had over the last couple of years. It became clear to us that there was interest in a focused conversation about how we understand and construct the pasts of performances taking place in and on the lands now known as Canada. There was particular interest in looking at historiographical and methodological approaches that operate in, and are appropriate to Canadian contexts.

We began with the idea of performance genealogies, taking as our starting point Joseph Roach's description of performance genealogies in Cities of the Dead. In Roach's words, genealogies "document--and suspect--the historical transmission and dissemination of cultural practices through collective representations" (25). This provides one theoretical framework for putting theatrical, extra-theatrical, and non-theatrical performances in conversation with one another and for describing "the disparities between history as it is discursively transmitted and memory as it is publicly enacted by the bodies that bear its consequences" (26). In preparing for this roundtable, one of our central concerns was problematizing the idea of genealogies and examining other frameworks for interpreting and connecting performances of the past. Beginning with the question of what theoretical models and methods of genealogies are appropriate--or inappropriate--to Canadian contexts, each of our participants has chosen a keyword to investigate, tracking out in a sense, the keyword's genealogy.

In blog discussions preparing for our panel today, Marlis drew our attention to Jill Lane's article on the merits of a keywords approach in Latin American performance, making the point that this approach emerges as a potential solution to several problems in Canadian performance history as well. Marlis wrote: "a keywords approach works against the unidirectional singular narrative approach of more traditional Western scholarship and brings ambiguity, contestation, and debate to light. In this respect, I see obvious connections to Foucault's use of genealogy to move away from singular, linear teleological narratives (i.e. A begat B begat C begat D but it all started with A)" (Canadian). In other words, this approach allows us to look for connections that might be obscured by national, or linear, or institutional approaches. Keywords also lead us to consider how language and vocabulary construct how we understand the past, particularly when we look at how language shapes or marks discursive and critical moves.

Before turning to our roundtable participants, I want to flag three meta-questions that run beneath our discussion. First, why have certain narratives of performance unfolded or prevailed in Canadian performance studies and histories and what investments--personal, institutional, regional, aesthetic or political-are preserved in these choices? Second, the genealogical approach and other alternative approaches to the performative past challenge binaries between theatre/performance, past/present, space/time, but attempting to disrupt these binaries often generates new binaries. One notable example of this is archive/repertoire. We want to identify when we wrestle with these binaries and to ask what our investments in these binaries symptomatize. Finally, we want to raise questions of ethics, concerning who decides which events, performances, or histories count, what violence we commit or repeat in representing the past, and what epistemologies or ontologies we privilege.

Each participant will begin by giving a short description of the term she has been working with and then we will address three questions that emerged from our online discussions. …

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