With the fall semester up and running for most of us, let me wish all my academic colleagues, fellow faculty, and students a happy new academic year. I’m hoping to post more regularly this year, but no promises. In the meantime, the first On TAP (Theatre and Performance studies) podcast, episode 15, of this academic year is available at http://www.ontappod.com/. Episode 16 will be coming soon with a special artist interview in October. More soon.
Join me at Bowdoin College!
The Department of Theater and Dance at Bowdoin College is currently searching for 2 visiting assistant professors in Acting and Dance. Both positions are one-year, full-time positions in a collaborative and energetic department. Positions start July 1, 2017. Details and applications for both positions are as follows:
Spend the academic year on a beautiful campus with great students and colleagues. Any questions, feel free to get in touch.
Among other things, I currently maintain a blog on Digital Research and Scholarship (DRS) for the American Society for Theatre Research (ASTR). I typically aim for 2 posts per month: one focused on news and updates related to digital technologies in theatre and performance; and another featuring a project by an ASTR member. I’ve been pleased to feature the Digital Yiddish Theatre Project and the Harry Watkins Diary Project, among others and am always interested in suggestions. The blog is currently available through the ASTR members website. The most recent entry posted on February 5, 2017, but all past posts and information are archived and available. The group also offers shared Zotero libraries.
If you have a chance to visit the site or read the blog, I welcome any and all feedback and am always looking for new work to highlight on the site. Unfortunately, the site is only available to ASTR members, but annual membership is relatively accessible. See here to join.
I recently listened to the most recent episode (010) of On TAP: Theatre & Performance Studies podcast, which I co-host with Pannill Camp and Harvey Young. Listening to the last segment on social media, it occurred to me that I never answered Pannill’s central question about trends in social media use in theatre and performance studies. To address this oversight, I’ve written this post on trends in social media broadly with some thoughts and observations in social media among theatre and performance studies in particular.
For a broad overview of research and analysis on social media use, there’s no better resource than the Pew Research Center and its studies on the internet, science, and technology. The 2005-2015 report on “Social Media Usage: 2005-2015” is available here. The “Social Media Update: 2016” is available here. As Pannill noted, Facebook is by far the most commonly used social media platform with 79% of online adults (68% of all Americans) currently using Facebook. (Twitter is the least used overall at 24%.) According to Pew, social media is used more by those who have been in higher education with the most usage by those with “some college” (37%), followed by those with college degree or more (33%), and users with a high school diploma or less (27%).
More specific data are hard to come by, although researchers are able to access Pew’s raw datasets here. Most often, discussion of social media in higher education is focused on how to use social media in support of teaching, either in the classroom experience (i.e., how to integrate social media into specific assignments) or marketing strategies to attract students. That said, the Times Higher Education site has a nice overview of various digital media resources and tools for academics here.
On the theatre and performance side of things, attention has focused primarily on social media as content and context for specific theatrical productions (for example, the Guardian review of “The Radicalisation of Bradley Manning” from 2012) or as a rival for audience eyeballs, when it is also often blamed for declining decorum in the theatre itself (cf. Patti Lupone). Patrick Lonergan recently published Theatre & Social Media in the Palgrave theatre& series. Lonergan’s book offers a helpful overview, noting the connections between social media and performance, including “social media as performance space” and “social media in theatre.”
From my entirely unscientific and largely impressionistic perspective, it seems that every theatre performer, company, and academic is using some form of social media. (Of course, looking online how would I know if they’re not?) As the Pew Center report documents, nearly 80% of Americans use social media, and I would expect that performers and academics have even higher rates of use. After all, the essence of social media is performative (I’m looking at you, Jason Farman) so performance types have a logical affinity with the overtly demonstrative platforms of Facebook, twitter, YouTube, etc. (Perhaps, too demonstrative, if you’ve been following James Harding’s or Elise Morrison’s research on surveillance and performance.) Without looking at real data, it’s hard to make claims about trends. My personal social media bubbles are dominated by theatre and performance types, as well as artists of various media. As such, my feeds are typically filled with political commentary, small children, animals, and witty GIFs. Living in the US in 2017, it’s clear that my bubble is not the only bubble out there.
Writing this post, it occurs to me that social media may have become so ubiquitous in our daily performances that analyzing social media and theatre is a bit like talking about social media and space. It’s clearly present and there are numerous important works that critically evaluate its specific role in theatre and performance. But, even when social media is not the focus of our critical analysis, it’s still a major part of what’s happening on stage and there’s no getting away from it. Maybe it’s time we added a new criterion to Peter Brook’s famous requisites for theatre: a performer, an audience, a designated space, and social media saturating the experience.
I’m very pleased to announce the publication of my essay, “Digital Historiography and Performance” in Theatre Journal 68.4 (December 2016): 507-527. I’ve posted the last proof version in Publications, but the full text version with color images is available here. I’ve been working on this piece for a long time, so I’m very glad to see it in print. Many thanks are due to everyone who gave feedback on talks, drafts, and these ideas over the years of its development.
By far my favorite form of intellectual discourse is verbal. Perhaps it’s the repressed performer in me, but I would always prefer to give a talk or seminar and discuss and debate ideas than have to wrestle these ideas into coherent text by myself. (Research and writing are often lonely and dreary, however much I enjoy the topic or ideas.)
I was very grateful, then, to have had the chance to present and listen (mostly listen!) at a great symposium at Bard College last September: Spectatorship in an Age of Surveillance. Organized by Miriam Felton-Dansky and Jacob Gallagher-Ross, this event continued an ongoing discussion on digital dramaturgies among theater and performance scholars and artists. (See Theater magazine’s issues 42.2 and 44.3 for publications from this ongoing discussion.)
Next up this month, I’m excited to visit the University of Texas at Austin to talk about my ongoing work in digital historiography and performance and to meet with faculty and students investigating digital technologies in culture. We’re placing particular emphasis on gaming and since I’m still working my way through Total War: Empire (and have just downloaded Company of Heroes!) I’m delighted to continue this conversation with colleagues across disciplines (and pick up some ideas and tips along the way). If you’re around the Austin area October 20-21, stop by! Some of this research will be forthcoming in Theatre Journal the special issue: Theatre, the Digital, and the Analysis and Documentation of Performance edited by Joanne Tompkins. Looking forward…
Come work with me at Bowdoin College! Join a creative and collaborative group of people who are re-imagining dance, theater, and performance in the liberal arts of the 21st century. Join us! Any questions, please feel free to contact me directly.
Assistant Professor of Dance/Performance Studies
The Department of Theater and Dance at Bowdoin College invites applications to the position of Assistant Professor of Dance, with a specialization in dance and performance studies of Africa and/or the African diaspora, to begin July 1, 2017. As a collaborative and interdisciplinary department, Theater and Dance is committed to student achievement in the performing arts. As such, we encourage inquiries from candidates who will enrich and contribute to the cultural and ethnic diversity of our department and college. Specifically, we seek applications from those who can contribute expertise in either dance studies or critical studio practice, and who can connect the field of dance to other areas of study. The teaching load is two courses each semester. The successful candidate will offer a range of courses in critical dance or performance studies, as well as develop courses in areas of individual specialization. Courses will be cross listed with our Africana Studies Program, as appropriate. Contributions to the curriculum may include both studio practice and writing-intensive courses, depending on qualifications and interests. Teaching responsibilities could also include contributions to the Introduction to Africana Studies course in rotation with Africana Studies Program faculty. The successful candidate will possess effective collaborative skills, interdisciplinary adventurousness, and enthusiasm for teaching, mentoring, and advising a diverse population of students. Terminal degree (M.F.A. or Ph.D.) expected by time of appointment.
Bowdoin College accepts only electronic submissions. Please visit https://careers.bowdoin.edu to submit: a letter of application that describes a research agenda and approach to teaching performance in the liberal arts; curriculum vitae; writing sample; and the names and contact information for three references who have agreed to provide letters of recommendation upon request.
Review of applications begins October 1, 2016, and will continue until position is filled.
A highly selective liberal arts college on the Maine coast with a diverse student body made up of 31% students of color, 5% international students and approximately 15% first generation college students, Bowdoin College is committed to equality and is an equal opportunity employer. Bowdoin College does not discriminate on the basis of age, race, creed, color, religion, marital status, gender identity and/or expression, sexual orientation, veteran status, national origin, or disability status in employment, or in our education programs.
Bowdoin College offers strong support for faculty research and teaching. We recognize that recruiting and retaining faculty may involve considerations of spouses and domestic partners. To that end, where possible, the College will attempt to accommodate and respond creatively to the needs of spouses and partners of members of the faculty.
For further information about the college please visit our website: http://www.bowdoin.edu
Theatre Topics cfp: Special Issue: Latina/o Performance. Deadline July 15. https://www.press.jhu.edu/journals/theatre_topics/calls.html
I’m very pleased to feature a guest post by Phoebe Thompson, a student in my Theater as Social Media course at Bowdoin College (spring 2016). She wrote this piece as part of the class and I liked her ideas so much that I asked if I could post her response here. I’d like to say that she’s studying theater, but sadly she has some idea about doing research to save the oceans. Go figure.
The term “social media” is an oxymoron that describes a popular form of communication today in which information is transmitted from one receiver to another though the two are not physically together. The term is ironic, because although social media like Facebook allows humans to connect with one another and be “social,” the very act of staring into a screen to check Facebook is antisocial in a physical context. This is evident any time one steps onto a subway car—people are packed into a space, facing each other, but they are all staring down at cellphones, usually checking some form of social media. This effectively destroys the opportunity for physical contact between humans in that car, even though the environment lends itself to conversation. Social media creates presence in one place, but destroys it in another.
In Waiting for Godot by Samuel Beckett, it is possible to see this impact on society in its earliest form. At the time it was written (around 1949), the telephone had become a staple of communication. Beckett had served as a member of the Resistance in World War II, translating and typing information received about German troops. Communication had effectively changed from face-to-face into voice-to-voice. This impersonal, disembodied communication and the feelings it produces are translated in the character of Godot. He never actually appears in the play, but he does send several distorted messages to Vladimir and Estragon by way of a messenger boy. The cyclical quality of the plot created by this ineffective communication, combined with the paralysis of the characters and their feeble attempts to change make Waiting for Godot feel very similar to Twitter.com.
On Twitter, communication also produces seemingly endless cycles, just like the circular plot of Godot. Messages are limited to 140 characters, and sometimes become very distorted in an attempt to fit everything into a single tweet. When a person finds a tweet to be worthy of sharing with their followers, they can retweet it, for which the symbol is: .
Tweets can go viral, spreading much like a disease, and sometimes can bring fame to the person who thought them up. However, this fame is most often parasitized, because there is nothing stopping other accounts from copying the tweet exactly and using it as their own. This happens so much that specific tweets will “take over” Twitter for a day or two, and then disappear for a while, only to resurface months later once people find them funny again. This is very similar to the kind of humor and behavior seen in Godot, where Gogo and Didi seem to forget their repetitive actions, like looking in their hats or talking about suicide, only to restart them like they were new a little while later. In both Twitter and Godot, memory is short and patterns are cyclical.
There is also an existentialist element to Twitter like the one found in Godot. As Gogo and Didi sit idly and make pointless small talk, they make small attempts at leaving or even changing themselves, but it never results in action. This is very similar to the kind of superficial navel-gazing that occurs on Twitter, where users can build a persona based on their original content and retweets without ever actually following through in real life. Just as we see in Godot, this disembodiment and divide between people gives no motivation for real change.
~Phoebe L. Thompson
It’s been too long since I’ve posted here, but in my defense I have not been entirely idle. Pannill Camp, Harvey Young, and I have launched a new podcast, ON TAP. Released roughly once a month during the academic year (and perhaps during the summer theater conferences), On TAP (Theatre and Performance) aims to replicate the experience of the conference hotel conversation: academically oriented, slightly irreverent, and up-to-date on the current questions facing the field, its programs, and items of interest.
Our first episode introduced the podcast, discussed Joseph Roach’s Cities of the Dead on its twentieth anniversary, and covered the 2016 job market. Our second episode discussed the critical reaction to the musical phenomenon Hamilton, studio practice in doctoral theater and performance studies programs, and the online site “What is Performance Studies?” by Diana Taylor and Marcos Steuernagel. Every episode finishes with “On Draft,” quick notes on topics that we’re thinking about, reading, or discussing.
Episodes can be downloaded from our website, www.ontappod.com, on SoundCloud, iTunes. Since we’re just starting up, we welcome feedback, suggestions, and criticism from listeners. You can review the podcast on iTunes and elsewhere and post feedback via Facebook and twitter.
Our next episode will release toward the end of April. We’re sketching out the segments now, so please feel free to send us your suggestions and feedback. Join us for the next round. It’s on us.