Performance Philosophy Canada
Responses from some Canadian Scholars to the question of the way in which philosophy intersects with and contributes to their work in performance studies.
Antje Budde, PhD
Centre for Drama, Theatre and Performance Studies
University of Toronto
The networking website is very interesting and I'm happy to see that there is growing interest in the relationship between theatre/performance and philosophy. For me that always has been a natural fit. Theatre for me is applied and embodied philosophy as well as critical social practice. I think the modern culture of theatre making that influenced and shaped me most (German and East German, European) is essentially philosophical in its roots and hence there is such an emphasis on conceptual/dramaturgical practice. While german theatre culture is deeply rooted in practical (and not so practical) philosophy it still manages to be excitingly playful and provocative.
My Canadian experience in regard to theatre and philosophy has been a rather painful one because of the hysterical anti-intellectualism and the horrifying divide between sophisticated critical thought and artistic playfulness. It seems that there is a kind of castration fear playing out because theatre artists keep telling me how too much knowledge/reading/intellectual engagement would kill their creative drive. This is an inconceivable thought for me and reason for lots of discussion and frustration (extending into matters of how and why and what to teach our students).
Of course, my years in China also had quite an impact on my perception and practice regarding the relationship between philosophy and theatre but the discussion of that will just lead to another 600 pages book…
T. Nikki Cesare Schotzko
Centre for Drama, Theatre, and Performance Studies
Associate Member, Graduate Faculty, Faculty of Music
University of Toronto
In 2012 the Republican Party of Texas platform included the following prohibition on ‘critical thinking skills’:
Knowledge-Based Education – We oppose the teaching of Higher Order Thinking Skills (HOTS) (values clarification), critical thinking skills and similar programs that are simply a relabeling of Outcome-Based Education (OBE) (mastery learning) which focus on behavior modification and have the purpose of challenging the student’s fixed beliefs and undermining parental authority. (Strauss 2012)
When considering the broad relationship between performance (studies) and philosophy in my own work and through dialogue with colleagues and students in a variety of fields, I find myself first wondering if it isn’t increasingly necessary to be vigilant about the use of terms like ‘philosophy’ and its near-relations ‘theory’ and ‘critical thinking.’ This becomes especially significant as these terms that are so pedagogically central to our tasks as educators are also employed with an accumulating frequency in mainstream political contexts—and, as in the example above, in ways that would seem to be at distinct odds with those intentions within the more liberally minded classroom. (‘Performance’ in itself being a long, though most often productively, contested term both within and outside academia.) For instance, how one differentiates between philosophy and theory—Does the latter take an object while the former remains more intrinsically conceptual? Or is the distinction based in a disciplinary or historical context? Or in something else?—gains more than semantic import when juxtaposed with the issue of how the practice of any related discourse is informed by and informs the real-world events happening around it.
In my own research I frequently blend philosophical sources with more mainstream or alternative-mainstream contemporary commentary and criticism—both of which, in my mind, constituting critical thinking and operating within a theoretical apparatus, and posing a necessary challenge to the Tea Party’s insidious claim toward its students’ ‘fixed beliefs’. At times this takes a light-hearted tone—as in when Adorno and Horkheimer’s Culture Industry suddenly resonates through Carrie Bradshaw’s critique of performance art on HBO’s Sex and the City; more often, however, I am attempting to source perspectives on contemporary events within historical critical perspective. Both philosophy and performance offer the methodological possibility an active mode of critique, directly tied to the context from which such critique emerges and in relation to the ‘object’ to which it is applied. Philosophy then, like performance, is always ever a political, and, much to the distress of conservative pundits everywhere, always ever a subversive act.
Dr David Fancy
Associate Professor, Department of Dramatic Arts
Director MA Studies in Comparative Literature and Arts
Brock University, Niagara
I am particularly interested in how immanentist thought can contribute to the evolution of methodological pathways in performance studies. The dominant deontological approaches to performance studies of the past thirty years have generated significant insight and understanding, as well as contributed to a progressive politicization of the field of performance studies. Nonetheless, a careful engagement with ontologizing approaches to understanding theatre and performance and that are not ‘essentializing’ or ‘vitalist’ can provide the field with potent zones of political and aesthetic intensification as well as the significant pathways of communication and engagement between scholars and artists in the field.
Dr Laura Levin
Associate Professor, Department of Theatre
York University, Toronto
My work intersects with philosophy in a variety of ways. Two of my primary areas of research are contemporary performance art and performing gender and sexuality. Both areas have been strongly influenced by psychoanalysis, phenomenology, and feminist philosophy, so my writing and teaching have drawn on the works of philosophers like Lacan, Heidegger, Merleau-Ponty, Irigaray, and Butler. I am especially interested in the ways in which these philosophers contribute to thinking about questions of subjectivity in performance, and also the ways in which their texts can themselves be read as forms of performative writing.
Over the last few years, I’ve led a SSHRC-Funded study (The Performance Studies [Canada] Project) to examine the development of performance studies thinking in Canadian contexts. While carrying out this research, I’ve noticed two important trends:
1) There is a strong desire on the part of performance theorists in Canada to to draw on philosophical theories of space and place in their work. Space and place have loomed large here due to the vastness of Canada’s landmass and the relative sparseness of its population; due to its physical proximity with the US, the world’s leading superpower; and due to its historical displacement of Indigenous groups, who pose ongoing challenges to Canada as bounded geopolitical territory.
2) Many performance scholars in Canada take seriously the importance of incorporating Indigenous epistemologies into performance analysis, rather than always going back to continental philosophy for theoretical grounding. Indigenous understandings of the world significantly expand and revise the ways in which performance studies has conceptualized not only the relationship between self and world, but also more generally the inextricable relationship between performance and everyday life.
More information about The Performance Studies (Canada) Project can be found here: www.performancecanada.com
Dr. Megan Macdonald
Visiting Research Fellow
Centre for Studies in Religion and Society
University of Victoria, Canada
In some ways I’ve not been sure if what I do is performance philosophy or not. Yet, when I think about what I’m most drawn to, and how I approach the intersection of my interdisciplinary interests, I am certain that a large portion of what I do comes from philosophy. The influence of philosophy and theory played a huge role in my own academic training. At a small liberal arts university in Canada the module that changed how I would forever think of theatre started off with Aristotle’s Poetics. From then on there was no distinction in my mind – any text that led to the broadening of concepts and interesting discussions was invited. ‘Performance philosophy’ seemed like a given to me the first time I heard it, because it made sense.
Returning to Canada and coming back to the theatre and academic worlds has shown me that the concept of performance philosophy is not well known. Yet, I’ve come across innovative theatre companies and performers who create incredible work clearly indebted to philosophy as a starting point for great creativity. This has not been as evident in the kinds of courses I’ve seen offered by Canadian universities. The brining together of philosophy and theatre/performance in modules is not championed on the internet pages of theatre departments. The students I know experience a divide between practice and theory. But this was not how I was trained, and I hope that this will continue to change.
In terms of research, it is the interplay of philosophical ideas and the performance event that is the most exciting to me. I bring together research in spirituality/religion/rituals with contemporary performance and theatre. I depend on the tradition of philosophy in my work and find performance most exciting when the performance itself is clearly playing with philosophical ideas (overt or not).
Mia Perry, PhD
Assistant Professor, Applied Theatre, Performance, and Education
University of Regina
In my experience performance philosophy in Canada has undergone a similar journey to that of other more recent fields within the broad area of "theatre and drama and performance studies," as it is variously known. Like applied theatre, like devised theatre, like performance art, performance philosophy is considered a very specialised area in Canada, rarely granted the status of dedicated courses (graduate or undergraduate), rarely with more than one (if that) faculty member with that expertise in a department. Rather, the subject area is still dominated by traditional courses such as Canadian Drama, Theatre History, Acting, Directing, Management courses etc. etc. This seems to be changing, but slowly, and lagging behind the innovations of comparable departments in the UK for example. Even the names and organisations of "theatre departments" within Canadian universities reflect this slow response to the changing landscape of the field - the term "performance" is only slowly creeping into department titles, let alone cultural or creative production…..
One of the interesting things about the field of performance philosophy in Canada, is that it is a field very much informed by, and in touch with, international scholarship (largely because the scarcity of Canadian work in the field). I think PSi has done a great deal to facilitate and/or prompt that exchange.
I think a cohesive branch of Performance Philosophy in Canada would contribute to the growing understanding and delineation of the field….. perhaps moving it from something that lingers organically as a part of what many scholars incorporate to varying extents in their work, to something that merits focused and distinguished study and attention. Ultimately this promises to help all areas of the broad field, as well as the one in question, performance philosophy.