“Indifference is Fruitless”: Art, Scholarship and the Drama of the Social
At a highly charged political moment in the US and in the world, this Fall 2016 session of Cross-Tisch examined how theater, cinema, spoken word, and performance reveal, express, and critique the real and fictional dramas influencing our actions, words, and behaviors. Whether experimenting with theatrical conventions that trouble the boundary between documentary and mythology; exploring sonic and melodic expressions that transform theoretical speculation into song and political-poetic recitation; or reassessing the ways cinematic and theatrical melodrama have shaped the social-political imaginary of the US, this session of Cross Tisch gathered three speakers whose deeply interdisciplinary works help us reassess the drama of the social in the 21st century: Associate Professor Barbara Browning (Performance Studies), Arts Professor Rubén Polendo (Drama), and the first TSOA Scholar in Residence, Prof. Linda Williams (UC Berkeley).
Convener and moderator: André Lepecki, Associate Professor and Associate Chair, Performance Studies, TSOA
Associate Professor, Academic Director, Performance Studies
Barbara Browning was studying, teaching and performing Brazilian dance during the period in which she was completing her PhD in Comparative Literature at Yale University, where she wrote her thesis on French ethnographic writings on Brazil. That bifurcated focus – between dance and literature – came together when she came to the Department of Performance Studies here at Tisch. She published Samba: Resistance in Motion in 1995, which quickly became a signal text in dance studies. While ethnographic in its methodology, the text employed many of the tools of textual analysis to perform close readings of several Brazilian dance forms. Her next book, Infectious Rhythm: Metaphors of Contagion and the Spread of African Culture, took a wider perspective, both geo-politically and in terms of the forms of cultural expression, but was asking some similar questions regarding the ways in which performance allows for political counter-narratives. As with her first book, she employed both passages of lyricism and personal narrative to push her critique forward. These experiments in performative writing – that is, writing that doesn’t merely describe or analyze performance, but enacts it – came to the fore with the publication of her ficto-critical novels, The Correspondence Artist and I’m Trying to Reach You, both of which tell “stories” of performing artists, but also enact a kind of meta-performance on the art they analyze. Both were accompanied by ancillary performances created by Browning and posted online. In her teaching, she encourages students to experiment not only with ethnographic and ficto-critical approaches, but also with creating their own intermedia performances in relation to their scholarship.
Arts Professor and Chair, Department of Drama
Rubén Polendo is a theater director and the founder and artistic director of the permanent group of collaborators, Theater Mitu. He and his company work towards expanding the definition of theater through experimentation with its form. Polendo and his company research and investigate global performance as a source for their training, work, and methodologies. This is all driven by what he calls, "whole theater," a theatrical experience that is rigorously visual, aural, emotional, intellectual and spiritual all in the same moment. In addition to his scholarly work, Polendo produces theatrical productions that bring these ideas to life. He has written and directed a great many works with his company that have premiered in theaters in New York City and around the world. Some of these include: Mansion (Beirut, Lebanon), Black Box (Ulaanbaatar, Mongolia), Visthar (Bangalore, India), Manarat al Saadiyat (UAE), Baruch, New York Theater Workshop, CSV, The Public, INTAR, Blue Light, Lincoln Center, A.C.T., McCarter, The Perseverance, NAATCO, Mark Taper, Alliance, ETC and South Coast Rep. His Awards and recognitions include the prestigious MAP Fund Grant, the CEC Arts Link Grant, the Rolex Protégé Arts Initiative, Company in Residence at New York Theater Workshop, New York State council for the Arts Grant, The Rosenberg Foundation Grant, Alpert Award, Greenwald Foundation Grant and The Mental Insight Foundation Grant, The Watermill Center Resident Artist, and a Sundance Theater Lab resident artist. He has been an invited speaker at performance hubs around the world, including Lincoln Center in New York, the Salzburg Festival, the New York Prelude Festival, The Year of Grotowski Festival and the Center for International Theater Development.
Tisch Scholar in Residence, Professor in Film & Media and Rhetoric, U.C. Berkeley
Linda Williams teaches courses on popular moving-image genres (pornography, melodrama, and “body genres” of all sorts). She has recently taught courses on Oscar Micheaux and Spike Lee, Luis Bunuel, David Lynch and Pedro Almodovar, melodrama, film theory, selected “sex genres,” and The Wire. Her books include a psychoanalytic study of Surrealist cinema, Figures of Desire (1981), a co-edited volume of feminist film criticism (Re-vision, 1984), an edited volume on film spectatorship, Viewing Positions (1993) and Reinventing Film Studies (co-edited with Christine Gledhill, 2000). In 1989 she published a study of pornographic film entitled Hard Core: Power, Pleasure and the Frenzy of the Visible (second edition 1999). This study of moving-image pornography looks seriously at the history and form of an enormously popular genre. She has also edited a collection of essays on pornography, Porn Studies, featuring work by many U.C. Berkeley graduate students (Duke, 2004). More recently she published Screening Sex (Duke, 2008), a history of the revelation and concealment of sex at the movies. In 2001 Williams published Playing the Race Card: Melodramas of Black and White, from Uncle Tom to O.J. Simpson (2001, Princeton)–an analysis of racial melodrama spanning the 19th and 20th centuries of American culture. Her most recent book is On The Wire (Duke 2014), a study of the HBO television serial.
With generous support from the Office of the Dean and the Tisch Initiative for Creative Research