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Transcript
Performance, Utopia, and the "Utopian Performative"
Author(s): Jill Dolan
Source: Theatre Journal, Vol. 53, No. 3 (Oct., 2001), pp. 455-479
Published by: The Johns Hopkins University Press
Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/25068953 .
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and
Utopia,
Performative"
Performance,
"Utopian
the
Jill Dolan
This essay is a rumination of sorts, the
which performance might provide us with
ance, in itself, be a Utopian gesture? Why
people labor on stage, when contemporary
in
of an inquiry into the ways
beginning
can
How
of
utopia.
experiences
perform
do people come together to watch other
culture solicits their attention with myriad
for social gathering? Why do people
and opportunities
other forms of representation
to seek the liveness, the present-tenseness
that performance
and theatre
continue
an expression of a Utopian impulse?
offer? Is the desire to be there, in the moment,
Certainly, people are drawn to theatre and performance by fashion and by taste, by the
need to collect the cultural capital that theatre going provides. Live theatre remains a
site at which
powerful
and
standards,
Yet I also believe
less
other,
to establish
to model
tangible,
fashions,
that people
more
and exchange
and
trends,
are drawn
emotional,
of cultural
to set
taste,
styles.
to attend
spiritual,
notions
or
live theatre and performance
communitarian
reasons.
for
Desire,
to the stark, ascetic "spaces" that house perform
perhaps, compels us there, whether
ance art, or to the aging opulence of Broadway houses, or to the serviceable aesthetics
are compelled
to gather with others, to see people
of regional theatres.1 Audiences
moments
that might
for
of
transformation
let them
live,
perhaps,
perform
hoping,
to its micro
the theatre, from its macro
outside
reconsider and change the world
is to reach
arrangements. Perhaps part of the desire to attend theatre and performance
for something better, for new ideas about how to be and how to be with each other. I
can articulate a common future, one that's more
believe that theatre and performance
just and equitable, one in which we can all participate more equally, with more
chances to live fully and contribute to the making of culture. I'd like to argue that such
at the University
is the Zachary
T. Scott Family
in Drama
Chair
Jill Dolan
of Texas
heads
the MA/PhD
She is the author
of Learning
program.
of Geographies
as Critic
Presence
and Desire
andT\\e
Feminist
1993),
(Michigan,
Spectator
She
is a past-president
at Austin,
where
she
(Wesleyan,
2001),
(Michigan,
1991).
of ATHE.
1
in theaters, whereas
art
As Holly Hughes
"Theater
tends to happen
says ironically,
performance
... as somewhere
a stage, some
a box
in spaces. A theater will be defined
tends to happen
with
lights,
room, head shots, and people who know how to run these things. A theater is a place
office, a dressing
a space has been
that has been designed
for theater, whereas
it's a
for some other purpose:
designed
an
a church basement,
art
and it's always better suited for
room,
station,
gas
gallery,
somebody's
living
than for performing"
and giving
oil changes
Clit Notes: A Sapphic
("Introduction,"
suppers
pancake
Sampler
[New York: Grove
Press,
1996],
15).
TheatreJournal53 (2001) 455^79 ? 2001 by The JohnsHopkins University Press
456
JillDolan
/
to be part of the intense
political then usefully emotional,
desire
of performance
offers us, if not expressly
what
of
expressions
utopia might feel like.
present
I offer here a series of experiences,
that moved
examples
in
come
from
utopia
my situation
performance. My thoughts
and
person
as
a writer.
I want
to
train
my
to use
students
me to begin to define
as an academic theatre
as
performance
a
tool
for
the world better, to use performance
to incite people to profound
making
responses
that shake their consciousness
of themselves
in the world. Perhaps that, already, is
the idea that theatre can do any of those things. Yet that's the
Utopian,
depth of
I long when
reaction for which
I go to the theatre?I
don't think we should expect
anything less. Theatre remains, for me, a space of desire, of longing, of loss, in which
I'm moved,
I'm startled by a confrontation
by a gesture, a word, a glance, in which
own
with mortality
I
and
to
theatre
and
to hear stories
others').
go
(my
performance
that order, for a moment, my incoherent
that
the
of
engage
longings,
complexity
and
cultural
and
a
that
the
of
social
personal
relationships,
critique
assumptions
system I find sorely lacking. Iwant a lot from theatre and performance.
In my new book Geographies of Learning: Theory and Practice, Activism and
Perform
ance, I argue for the ways inwhich theatre studies in the academy might be engaged as
a site of progressive
social and cultural practice. I urge students to be advocates for the
to creating performances
committed
of insight and compas
arts, to be theatre-makers
because they want to learn
sion, and to become spectators who go to see performance
about their culture that extends beyond
themselves
and the present
something
circumstances
of our common humanity.2 My argument is that theatre and perform
ance create citizens and engage democracy
as a participatory
forum in which
ideas
and possibilities
for social equity and justice are shared. Iwrite quite a lot about how
we might reimagine theatre studies programs
to meet these goals. Yet it occurs tome
that I didn't write much about theatre or performance
itself in that book. This essay,
then, takes the same beliefs, the same faith in theatre's transformative
impact on how
we
and
citizenship
as
performance
glimpses
in culture,
ourselves
imagine
is also about
and
looks
and subjectivity;
transformational
more
cultural
at
closely
it imagines
how
practices
This
performance.
a commitment
offer
might
us
project
to theatre
consistent
of utopia.
Dragan Klaic's book, The Plot of the Future: Utopia and Dystopia inModern Drama,
looks at modern dramatic literature that revives "interest in the future as a dramatic
theme and as a chosen time setting of dramatic action."3 But my contention
is that
performance?not
just
one
drama?is
the
of
few
a
where
places
live
as
experience,
well as an expression,
through content, of utopia might be possible. My concern here
ismore performative
and more technical. I'm interested in the material
conditions of
theatre production
and reception
to
that evoke the sense that it's even possible
a
that
boundless
that
where
the
social
scourges
imagine
utopia,
"no-place"
currently
plague
gender
2
See
us?from
poverty,
discrimination,
Jill Dolan,
Geographies
cancer,
famine,
hatred
of Learning:
Press, 2001).
University
Wesleyan
3
Klaic, The Plot of the Future:
Dragan
Press,
1991), 2.
Michigan
AIDS,
of lesbians,
Theory
Utopia
gay men,
and Practice,
and Dystopia
health
inadequate
bisexuals,
Activism
inModern
care,
and
and
transgendered
and Performance
Drama
racial
(Ann Arbor:
(Middleton,
University
CT:
of
"UTOPIANPERFORMATIVE"/
457
the grossly unequal distribution
and resources globally, religious
of wealth
people,
in
intolerance, xenophobia
expressed
anti-immigrant
legislation, lack of access for the
a
course
and
of
host
of
be ameliorated,
disabled, pay inequity,
cured,
others?might
us
never
to
I
in
haunt
faith
have
the
that we can
redressed, solved,
again.
possibility
imagine such a place, even though I know that we can only imagine it, that we'll never
achieve it in our lifetimes. But that knowledge
doesn't prevent me from desiring a
theatre in which an image of a better future can be articulated and even embodied,
however
fleetingly.
Utopia means,
literally, "no-place"
century by Thomas More. As political
more
construed
widely
as well
...
is not
and was of course first coined in the sixteenth
scientist Lyman Sargent says, "Utopian thought
restricted
to
fiction
and
includes
visionary
. . . and
to envision a
writings united by their willingness
a
as
or
either
form
of
social
its negative
society
dramatically
ideal-type
a vision of a radically different
inversion."4 Scholars point out that while
(and
with utopia,
coercive
better) future drives experiments
presumptively
something
can be enforced at the expense of liberty, general
lingers about the term. Utopias
consensus achieved by limiting choice. Fascism and utopia can skirt dangerously
close
apocalyptic
as constitutional
different
to each
other.
But idealism draws me here; as Roland Schaer says, "Utopia, one might say, is the
measure
to feign what
it wants
of how far a society can retreat from itself when
it
would
like to become."51
find this notion very rich, the idea that in order to pretend,
to enact an ideal future, a culture has to move farther and farther away from the real
in which
into a kind of performative,
in this case, doesn't necessarily
the utterance,
make it so but inspires perhaps other more local "doings" that sketch out the potential
in those feignings. As Sargent notes, in his extensive taxonomy of the genre of Utopian
frustration
literature, "Utopias are generally oppositional,
reflecting, at the minimum,
with things as they are and the desire for a better life."6 These definitions
all point to
the future, to imaginative
territories that map themselves over the real. The utopia for
I yearn takes place now, in the interstices of present interactions,
which
in glancing
to be together as human beings. Quoting
moments
of possibly
better ways
Ruth
Levitas, Rustom Bharucha says, "What is needed are not better 'maps of the future,'
but more
of
of the present,'
maps
'adequate
the desire
for a more
humane
activating
which
can
can a utopie promise
or possibility
in
what
Richard
Schechner
describes
performance,
motion
the
whole
event?
of
dispersing"
performance
he
says:
length;
How,
then,
inspire
the most
effective
means
world."7
in the space
be advanced
as the "gathering-performing
It's worth quoting Schechner
of
at
4
and Lyman
Tower
The Utopia Reader
eds., "Introduction,"
(New York:
Gregory
Claeys
Sargent,
New York University
Press,
1999), 1.
5
Roland
and Lyman Tower Sargent,
Schaer, Gregory
eds., "Introduction,"
Claeys,
Utopia: The Search
the
in
the
Western
World
Ideal
Press, 2000), 7.
(New York: Oxford
for
Society
University
6
8.
Schaer, Claeys,
"Introduction,"
Sargent,
7
on
Rustom
Reflections
Theater 26.1/
the Present,"
Bharucha,
"Contextualizing
Utopias:
Remapping
2 (1995):37.
458
JillDolan
/
When
times
that
are
that theatre
at special
takes place
"go to the theatre"
people
they
acknowledging
a show
are
in
and rituals
observances,
special
places.
Surrounding
special
practices,
lead into the performance
and away
to the theatre district,
from it. Not
but
only getting
the building
itself
involves
the gates,
ceremony:
ticket-taking,
passing
through
... frames
a
to
from
which
watch:
all
this
and
defines
the
rituals,
performing
finding
place
or some
the show
and going
also involve
away
ceremony:
performance.
Ending
applause
to conclude
re
formal way
the performance
and wipe
the reality
of the show,
away
in its
the reality
of everyday
life.8
establishing
place
entering
Seen through the lens of performance,
the possibility
for utopia doesn't only happen
the lights go down and the "play" begins. For instance, utopia can present itself
when
in rehearsals?director
Anne
Bogart,
in fact,
"I often
says,
see
rehearsal
my
as
situation
is a possibility
for the values I believe in, the politics I believe in, to
Utopian. Rehearsal
exist in a set universe which
iswithin
the room."9 She suggests that rehearsals are the
moment
in theatre, when a group of people repeat and revise
of utopie expression
incremental moments,
trying to get them right, to get them to "work." Anyone who
considers herself a theatre person knows when
when
the
"works"?it's
something
of
magic
theatre
when
appears,
the
the pace,
the
expression,
the
gesture,
the
emotion,
light, the sound, the relationship between actor and actor, and actors and spectators,
all meld into something alchemical, something nearly perfect in how it communicates
in that instance. We all rehearse for the moments
that work, and critics look out for
them, when they're still idealistic enough to believe in them. Through an itinerary of
performance, we can enlarge the potential territory inwhich something might "work"
to the whole
glimpse
frame
gathering-performing-dispersing
of utopia.
and
look more
for a
widely
in his book,
Some critics debate
this premise.
for example,
Philip Auslander,
a
as
Liveness: Performance in Mediatized Culture, explicitly
sentimental
the
critiques
notion that performance
remains the domain of the live, that intimacy and immediacy
are possible
in other media,
there in ways unavailable
such as film or television.
Auslander
says,
... I
live performance's
cultural
valence
became
with what
quickly
impatient
to
in their
unreflective
that
fail
much
further
traditional,
get
assumptions
to explicate
of "liveness"
than invoking
the value
clich?s
and mystifications
like
attempts
"the magic
of live theatre,"
that supposedly
exists between
the "energy"
and
performers
in a live event,
and the "community"
that live performance
is often
said to create
spectators
and
among
performers
spectators.10
Investigating
I consider
Ausl?nder
performance,
I must
because
to be
believes
one
admit
these
he
very
terms set up a false binary
persuasively
that I believe
as a one-time
actor,
and
proves
in all the things
as a director,
live and mediatized
between
exist.
doesn't
that Auslander
writer,
spectator,
disparages,
and
critic,
mostly
performance
them all. I've felt the magic of theatre; I've been moved
theorist, I've experienced
by
that
that "work" generate; and I've witnessed
the
the palpable energy
performances
formed when groups of people gather to see
potential of the temporary communities
can always
other people labor in present, continuous
time, time in which something
8
rev. ed. (New
Richard
Schechner,
Theory,
Performance
9
Theater 26.1/2
Anne
(1995):
Bogart,
"Utopia Forum,"
10
Liveness: Performance
in aMediatized
Philip Auslander,
York:
Routledge,
1988),
169.
182.
Culture
(New York:
Routledge,
1999),
2.
UTOPIAN PERFORMATIVE"/
But Auslander
go wrong.11
somehow
argues
sense
whatever
generates
the
"against
idea
one
of community
that
may
459
live performance
itself
experience_mediatized
performance makes just as effective a focal point for the gathering of a social group as
can promote
live performance."12
community. But Herb Blau
Surely any gathering
once said that watching
iswatching
the actor dying onstage; I think
live performance
confrontation with mortality.13
sharing that liveness promotes a necessary and moving
own and prompts us toward
our
The actor's willing
enables
vulnerability
perhaps
and
compassion
moved
emotionally
can
sentiments
Such
greater
understanding.
is a necessary
to
precursor
political
and
emotion,
spur
movement.14
Performer
being
and
Smith says, "The Utopian theatre would
playwright Anna Deavere
long for flesh,
It would
in a technical world,
be hopelessly
old-fashioned
blood, and breathing.
interested in presence, hopelessly
interested in modes
of communication
hopelessly
room
same
same
in
at
to
human
be
the
the
time."15
requiring
beings
By clinging to the
fleshy
primal emotion and presence, Smith's work spurs
that however
us,
live, our
by reminding
perhaps,
differently we
flesh-full cause is that in performance, we're dying together.
seductions
of old-fashioned
action
political
common,
As scholars who study it demonstrate, most historical writings
about utopia are
or the redistribution of wealth and
futuristic tracts that describe social reorganizations
cultural roles. Especially
the nineteenth
like the Oneidas
century socialist Utopians,
and the Shakers, like Charles Fourier, Samuel Butler, and Edward Bellamy, concerned
themselves with imagining and trying to implement societies founded on their own,
uniquely devised Utopian principles. My goal here is not to propose a "real" utopia, if
I'm not even sure I'd like to live in a utopia, a place without
that's not an oxymoron.
or that I'd like to see theatre that describes such a perfect place.
conflict or dissension,
Klaic notes, "Utopia is, by its very nature, without
state of stasis, harmony,
conflict?a
and balance. These are not ingredients for exciting theatre, which
is always based on
or
at
and
least
tension."
Klaic
contradiction,
conflict, opposition,
says, "Theatre
succeeds
rather
it presents
when
than depicting
its
Utopian
the consequences
as
arguments
a
11
Sarah Schulman
artist Jeff Weiss,
Playwright
quotes performance
to persist
the AIDS
and ethical obligation
in
crisis, "We have a moral
is the power
of theater. We're
all in this together,
'reel') time. That
in being human
as
the identical
instants
together,
engaged
sharing
unison"
Theater, AIDS,
(Stagestruck:
to
open
blueprint,
of their implementation."16
and theMarketing
of Gay America
who
said
opposition,
Some
to her
scholars
in reference
to
the living of real (as opposed
to
at the same time. We're
totally
our
time
[Durham:
in
advances,
parallel,
Duke University
Press,
1998], 61).
12
Auslander,
Liveness, 55.
13
comment
is actually,
Blau's
"When we speak of what
in acting, we
called Presence
Stanislavski
must
the dimensionality
also speak of its Absence,
of time through
the actor, the fact that he who
is
can die there in front of your eyes; is in fact
so. Of all the
arts, the theater
performing
doing
performing
stinks most
Herbert
of mortality."
Point
Blau, Take Up the Bodies: Theater at the Vanishing
(Urbana:
of Illinois Press,
me of the exact
reminded
1982), 83. I'd like to thank Amy
University
Steiger, who
thesis
quotation
by citing it in her MA
Texas at Austin,
Spring 2001.
14
See Ed Cohen,
"Who are 'We'? Gay
in Inside/Out:
Lesbian
84-85.
15
Anna Deavere
16
Klaic,
Dragan
Theories,
Smith,
"Utopia
Gay
in the Department
of Theatre
as Political
'Identity'
Fuss
Theories, ed. Diana
(New
of Lights,"
"Systems
Theater
Sustained,"
Theater
26.1/2
26.1/2
(1995):
and Dance
at the University
(A Theoretical
(E)motion
York: Routledge,
(1995):
61.
50-51.
Rumination),"
1991),
especially
of
460
JillDolan
/
wonder
if there
move
us
even
would
be theatre
in a
utopia.17
We'll
never
know.
But
theatre
can
toward
imaginations,
incremental
the possibility
of something better, can train our
understanding
our
our
dreams
and
fuel
desires in ways
that might
lead to
inspire
cultural
change.
I'm not
a utopia,
in constructing
interested
of us who
although many
engage
with
to
work
devise
such
politically
non-profit organizations
systems, through our
on boards of directors and
memberships
through the idealism of social service groups
that want
to do things
differently. My concern here is with how utopia can be
or
imagined
experienced
affectively, through feelings, in small, incremental moments
can provide. As Richard
that performance
Dyer says, in his chapter on entertainment
and
utopia,
"Entertainment
does
not...
present
models
of
Utopian
worlds....
Rather
. . .what
the utopianism
is contained
in the feelings it embodies.
It presents
utopia
would
feel like rather than how itwould be organized.
It thus works at the level of
I mean an affective code that is characteristic
of, and largely
sensibility, by which
a
mode
of cultural production."18 These
to,
in
specific
given
feelings and sensibilities,
performance,
give
rise
to what
I'm
calling
the
"utopian
performative."19
Let me give you a specific example of an event inwhich
for utopia were
possibilities
in and around a theatre,
a
women's
solo
art series I
performed
through
performance
curated with a local theatre company,
the Rude Mechs,
in collaboration with
the
of
in
Fall
a
I
2000.20
That
course
called
"Performance
Texas,
fall,
University
taught
Art." My goal was to introduce students to the wider
Studies/Performance
field of
to
studies
their
the
conven
stricter
limits
of
performance
expand
knowledge
beyond
tional theatre. We addressed various theoretical issues, such as those Schechner
poses
in his description
of performance
structures as framed by
gathering-performing
amodel that can
or performance
in
dispersing,
apply equally to dramatic performance
life.
We
read
also
Marvin
Carlson's
of
which
describes
everyday
survey
performance,
17
See,
in a special
issue of Theater, the Yale journal that she edits,
on
See her "Exiled from Nowhere,"
Theater 26.1/2
utopia.
out to me that itwould
to think about
be interesting
(1995):
utopia
to Aristotelian
in relation
a kind of static, conservative
resolution
catharsis, which
promotes
ultimately
not
I'm
death drive, given
that utopia
is a kind of stasis. See
(to which
here), and to Freud's
aspiring
also Lynda Hart
and Peggy
Than Thou: Being
and Deb Margolin,"
Theatre Journal
Phelan,
"Queerer
47.2
in which
their own desire
and wrestle,
(1995),
work,
they demonstrate
through Margolin's
the death
"I want
as
drive:
as
and precarious
performance,
through
against
something
flimsy
all the yelling
about mimesis
and realism and the tyranny of the
Because,
performance.
despite
couple,
Iwant
to match
the tentativeness
of the lives and loves I, and I
on the other
something
hope we, make
side of the death drive"
(280).
18
Richard
(New York: Routledge,
Dyer,
1992), 18. See also Fredric
Only Entertainment
Jameson,
inMass Culture,"
"Reification
and Utopia
Social Text 1 (1979), in which
he suggests,
"[T]he hypothesis
is that the works
cannot be
of mass
culture
without
at one and the same
time being
ideological
or
as well:
some
unless
offer
shred
implicitly
Utopian
explicitly
they cannot manipulate
they
genuine
as a
of content
about to be so manipulated"
fantasy bribe to the public
(146).
19
See Jos? Estaban Mu?oz,
Brown:
in Ricardo
and Affect
Bracho's
The Sweetest
"Feeling
Ethnicity
marks
for example,
Erika Munk,
who,
the absence
of theatre from writings
101-11. Ann Pellegrini
has pointed
(and Other
STDs),"
of feeling provide
"It is thus critical to
unpack
Hangover
structures
Theatre Journal 52.1 (2000): 67-79,
for a discussion
of the ways
new
for constructing
Mu?oz
utopie possibilities
subjectivities.
the material
as emotion
and historical
import of affect as well
understand
failed and actualized
of citizenship"
performances
20
I'd like to thank Rude Mechs
members
Sarah
company
and Shawn
Sides for their help in managing
Madge
Darlington,
(69).
Kirk Lynn, Lana
Richardson,
and producing
this series.
in which
suggests,
to better
Lesley,
UTOPIAN PERFORMATIVE"/
461
art as a resistant cultural form that allows opposition
and marginal
performance
identities to be expressed
and explored. Once we'd established
these concepts, we
looked at work by contemporary
artists such as Guillermo Gomez Pe?a,
performance
Robbie McCauley, Adrian Piper, Marga Gom?z, Luis Alfaro, Lisa Kron, Danny Hoch,
some of the ways performance
can be employed
and a host of others, that exemplifies
and experienced as politically activist as well as aesthetically new and invigorating, as,
perhaps,
Utopian.21
across the university,
Iwas able to invite
departments
to
three nationally known performers
campus. Their extended visits complemented
in class. I also worked with a local
the reading and video viewing we accomplished
are an Austin-based
to program performances.
theatre collective
The Rude Mechs
With
funding
from various
company who've worked
together for the last five years producing original work and
new
The Rudes had recently taken the lease
scripts
occasionally
by other playwrights.
on a converted warehouse
on Austin's East Side, which they use as their performance
space.
The East Side, across the interstate that bisects Austin, remains relatively untouched
that has exploded the growth in Austin's north, south, and west.
by the gentrification
This is the Latino side of town, where
taquer?as and small grocery stores line the
the
streets, butting against national fast food chains and liquor stores. This is where
in
is
most
Rude Mech's
the
Off
the
heart
of
Austin's
theatre,
Center,
located?squarely
marginalized
community. The experience of driving to the 100-odd-seat Off Center is
different from going to, for instance, the 3,000-seat Bass Concert Hall in the Performing
Arts Center on the UT campus or driving around Austin's
small downtown,
trying to
find parking to see a touring performer or a play at the Paramount Theatre.
cultural capital circulates in Austin,
and its structure within
the city's
movement
mirrors
its
of
derive
course,
geography,
nationally. Many performances,
their cultural capital by virtue of their location, or from how closely they mirror the
of high or middlebrow
culture, and/or by how enthusiastically
proprieties
they're
as "must see" events. The
the
sanctioned
critics
and
theatrical
by
marketplace
The way
Producers, for example, the theatrical adaptation of Mel Brooks's film, draws people
success and
(despite or perhaps because of its $100 top ticket) through its Broadway
critical approbation
for its satiric irreverence toward "political correctness." When and
if it tours to Austin,
it will play the Bass Concert Hall, which
stands as the city's
venue.
season
A
to
the
premier producing
subscription
Performing Arts Center in
which it's housed is a status ticket inAustin.22 The PAC's series develops
its own brand
more
of cultural capital, mixing
with
touring Broadway productions
highbrow music
and
dance
and,
to
its
credit,
a multinational,
eclectic
array
of world
performance
genres.
21
The
texts
for the class
others, Scheduler's
among
Performance
Theory; Carlson's
Perform
from Jo Bonney,
ed., Extreme
(New York: Routledge
1996); and selections
Texts From the 20th Century
(New York: Theatre Communi
Exposure: An Anthology
of Solo Performance
cations Group,
ed., Out of Character: Rants, Raves, and Monologues
2000); Mark Russell,
from Today's Top
(New York: Bantam,
1997); C. Carr, On Edge: Performance Art at the End of the 20th
Performance Artists
CT: Wesleyan
and David
Press, 1993); and Holly Hughes
(Middleton,
Rom?n,
ed.,
Century
University
O Solo Homo: The New Queer Performance
1998).
(New York: Grove,
22
at the Madison
See Stacy Wolf,
and Selling
Audiences
Civic Center,"
"Civilizing
Spectators:
Theatre Survey 39.2 (1998): 7-23, for an analysis
of how cultural
capital works within
city arts centers.
ance: A Critical
Introduction
included,
462
JillDolan
/
The Off Center
Salvage Vanguard
elite, centered sites of culture
Salvage and the Rude Mechs)
garde,"
like the Vortex or
theatres in Austin
from their difference from these more
in Austin. These are theatre companies
(in the case of
or spaces to which people come to see edgy, "avant
and other community-based
accrue their cultural capital
"non-mainstream"
work,
or
performances
that
break
through
the
enforced
or constrictive
or presumptive
of hegemonic
whiteness
decorum
heterosexuality
notions about gender or race or ability or ethnicity. The Off Center's reputation made
it a likely place to launch a women's
series. The crowd it draws
solo performance
to find in the work ameasure of fashion, style, or trendiness, as
would be predisposed
toward community,
well as (and most importantly, for me) a gesture of commitment
progressive
politics,
and
non-mainstream,
resistant
art.
the divide of the city moves you into a place of subaltern culture, outside
Crossing
constructs as its cultural center. Cultural
of what even a mid-sized
city like Austin
accrues
from
here
setting that's
seeing performance within a Latino community
capital
even
in
to
Austin.
the
invisible
Despite
marginalized
culture-mongers,
typically
white. The
geography of the theatre, the audiences it attracts tend to be predominantly
are determined
to do local outreach
Rude Mechs, however, as the space's producers,
into the Latino/a
the space is not a large, prestigious
community. And because
aren't
Rudes
considered part of Austin's
and
because
the
cultural
site,
production
a
as
in
East
Austin
can't
be
read
of
their
establishment
elite,
harbinger
gentrification.
the contrary, the Rude's aesthetic and their politics mean that their choice of local
allegiances and theatrical coalition building should inevitably diversify their audience
base. Pulling into the grass and gravel lot where spectators and performers park their
cars outside the theatre, finding the outdoor ticket kiosk, beside a table where you can
buy candy and a beer before you head into the theatre, or hang outside and talk and
that huge Texas sky
smoke and catch the breeze in Austin's warm night air while
is a different experience of theatre
darkens into pinks then purples then blues?this
to what transpires inside. There's a landscape to Texas that's
going, and it matters
rather
than
hidden, at the Off Center, by the lack of downtown
revealed,
lights or
white
its
distance
culture.
its
from
elite,
traffic, by
uniqueness,
by
On
at the Off
I collaborated with the Rude Mechs
series on which
The performance
Center was called "Throws Like a Girl: A Femme, A Butch, A Jew," and it showcased
in September, Peggy Shaw in October, and Deb
solo performances
by Holly Hughes
and to the campus were
in
Their
visits to Austin
November
1).
(Fig.
Margolin
came
to UT to speak to my class, to
structured identically: each month
the performer
a
answer
and
session to which
the community
and the
free public question
do
that was also
university were invited, to do a free three-hour performance workshop
open to the community, and to present three evenings of their work at the Off Center,
one of which was followed by a talkback, another by a reception.
I'm describing
the location and structure of the series at some length, because these
are the material
that I believe
fostered a sense of Utopian possibility
conditions
our
last
fall.23
And as I noted when I began, utopia, I
collective
experience
throughout
23
See David
for a "sociology
here
argument
Savran's
"Choices
of theatre"
are indebted
Made
that would
to his work.
in which
he argues
Theater 32.1 (2001): 89-95,
and Unmade,"
at materialist
Parts of my
modes
of production.
look closely
LIKE
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1. Throws Like A Girl: A Femme, A Butch, A Jew performance
Figure
at the Off Center
with
the Rude Mechs
in Austin,
Texas. Photo
series
curated
Courtesy
by Jill Dolan
of Jill Dolan.
464
/
JillDolan
includes energy,
think, is in the details. Dyer's
taxonomy of utopia in entertainment
means
which
he
and
abundance,
intensity, transparency
sincerity),
community, all
(by
the affective reach of the UT performance
of which organized
series.24 The structural
a framework on which
a ritual-like atmosphere,
regularity of these events provided
energy and funnel their curiosity.
people could rely, could hang their anticipatory
art and were
Some of my students had no prior experience
seeing performance
as its unbridled fierceness. Others had
somewhat suspicious of what they understood
art but had never crossed 135 in Austin,
let alone gone to a
perhaps seen performance
a
seem
that
didn't
like
conventional
theatre.
series allowed
The
space
performance
students to acclimate to a genre with which many of them had been unfamiliar and to
in style, content, and address.
among the performers
quickly learn to see differences
and solo perform
The series was also thematically
linked by its focus on women
and each of the performers
shared a common history. All three began their
careers at the WOW Caf? in New York, a community
theatre on the
performance
Lower East Side that became a hotbed of irreverent lesbian and feminist performance,
much of which borrowed popular forms like television sitcoms and variety shows and
infused them with new and hilarious meanings.
All three performers
had worked
now
at
at
tour
various
times
WOW
and
similar
spaces across the
together
performance
ance,
their solo careers.
country and internationally. All three performers have solidified
This sense of affinity among them also threaded through the three-month event.
I curated the series intentionally
to showcase solo performance
by feminist women
a
a
me
to
of
certain generation,
share with students
strategy that allowed
pedagogical
the "Performance
my own urgent sense of feminist performance
history. Although
Art" course was broad-based
and diverse, I felt keenly my own
Studies/Performance
to honor women whose work had been foundational
to my own
desire publicly
me
in
This
criticism.
desire
to
feminist
motivated
performance
writing
bring Hughes,
toAustin forweeklong
residencies. I performed, as amiddle-aged
Shaw, and Margolin
teacher, my own identification with these women, my own pride in the history they
I took part as a spectator and a critic. I also demonstrated
formed and in which
my
artists takes hold, we honor the
insistence that as a new generation
of performance
women whose work inmany ways founded the genre.25 Still, I knew that my choices
were a window
into my own desires and my own web of historical
identifications.
in their mid-forties
to honor my own generation of women
I also wanted
and early
fifties and older, who came of age at a time when we couldn't take for granted feminist
or lesbian representations
in the public sphere. Feminist and lesbian performance
24
Dyer,
25
There
Only Entertainment,
a vast
is, by now,
20-21.
on
and expanding
critical
and theoretical
archive
of feminist
work
own
as
Feminist
Critic
for
several
(Ann
my
only
performance.
key examples,
Spectator
on Gender,
Arbor:
and Desire:
of Michigan
Press,
1991) and Presence
Essays
Sexuality,
University
and Theatre
of Michigan
Press,
Case, Feminism
(Ann Arbor: University
1993); Sue-Ellen
Performance
Feminisms
collection,
1988), and her edited
(Baltimore:
Johns
(New York: Routledge,
Performing
feminist
See,
Press,
(New York: Routledge,
1990); Elin Diamond,
1997);
University
Unmaking Mimesis
a Spectacle
Unmarked
Phelan,
ed., Making
(Ann
(New York: Routledge,
1993); Lynda Hart,
and Peggy
of Michigan
Press,
ed., Acting Out
Phelan,
(Ann
1989); Lynda Hart
University
the Stage: A
Arbor:
of Michigan
Press,
ed., On and Beyond
1994); and Carol Martin,
University
Sourcebook of Feminist Theatre and Performance
1996).
(New York: Routledge,
Hopkins
Peggy
Arbor:
"UTOPIANPERFORMATIVE"/
465
carried so much weight when
it first began to appear, bravely and insistently,
in
subcultural
around the country. Women
spaces in New York and in communities
created it because
it to survive; it remains even now marked
they needed
by this
Sarah Schulman
urgency, especially for lesbians, gay men, and queers. As playwright
writes so poignantly,
are a confused
at stake
is principally
We
of
[T]he gay audience
my
group
generation.
are the ones who
we
In many
have
the most
and
dramatic
queers.
ways,
experienced
traumatic
of homosexuality.
We
had
such profound
shift in public
depiction
oppression
as trauma. We
are the last of the
in childhood
that they qualify
experiences
dirty-dark
are the last group
secret generation.
We
that came of age in a time in which
homosexuality
was
never mentioned,
had no public
have
that
representation_we
experienced
changes
we walk
to
too huge
to digest
too confusing
into
and often
when
So,
fully comprehend.
a theater
on
and see two women
been humiliated
and vilified
stage after we've
kissing
by
our own
families
for doing
the same
thrilled.
But in the context
of contempo
thing, we're
... that kiss does not have
we once dreamed
the meaning
itwould.
It does not
rary culture
are
mean
the
that we
selection
are
of
full human
lives
beings
that make
up
whose
lives
the American
can now
be
truthfully
represented
among
experience.26
sense of arrival and disappointment,
This generational
tinged with the memory
and your politics
material
for
desires
very real, very
oppression
aligning your
or
me
women
to
to Austin.
invite
of
this group
feminist, lesbian,
queer, prompted
of
as
residencies at UT and at the Off Center affected all of us in poignant ways.
was
Hughes
eloquent in her meeting with my class and in her public interview. She
an issue that already
to the converted,"
the notion of "preaching
deconstructed
concerned my students, who feared that political work reaches a too narrow audience
to think progressively. How, they wondered,
of people already persuaded
could more
so
and
its
be
that
for
social
people
persuaded,
performance
potential
change wouldn't
Their
far from the notice of those who perhaps need to see
to shake
and Tim Miller's work, Hughes
proceeded
is always unstable, that people
that "conversion"
notions, suggesting
converted to anything; there's always ambiguity, ambivalence,
and
ance, she insisted, is a renewal of faith, and progressive
politics
be ghettoized
David Rom?n
itmost? Quoting
up some of these
are never, finally,
doubt.27 Perform
are always faith
based.28
At the Off Center, Hughes
her most
recent piece, Preaching to the
performed
Perverted, which addresses her ten-year court battle with the NEA over the rescinding
of her individual
artist grant and the decency
clause the agency
subsequently
26
149-50.
Schulman,
Stagestruck,
27
and David
See Tim Miller
Rom?n,
88. See also Vicki
Patraka's
to the Converted,"
Theatre Journal 47.2 (1995): 169
in Carol Martin,
ed., On and Beyond the
McCauley,
to the converted,
"I think that criticism
is a
says about preaching
the converted
know? And
things resonate,
ripple out. This is not to
we need
for audience
to grapple with finding ways
development;
interview
"Preaching
with Robbie
in which McCauley
205-38,
First of all, how much
do
cop-out.
say that you do not work
constantly
to expand
But we don't need
audiences.
Stage,
work
clear
281was
for our
to put that problem
in the way of doing
the work,
issue is just a block"
The whole
(234).
making
our
audiences.
to Hughes
the term
struck, listening
talk, about how vital it is that progressives
recuperate
from the ways
it's being pressed
into service by the Bush administration.
The notion
of
to me, detached
it seems
in its affect on political
from religion,
is undertheorized
commitments.
"faith-based"
faith,
and beautiful
'Judge Judy did NOT prepare me for*
PREACHING
THE
TO
PERVERTED
written & performed by
BEGINSOctober 30!
2-for
iune &
the
'r'HFWB.L
"NEA Four." hu? h or
1 tickets with
this card (see reverse)
or www.tickets.com
Tkts: 703-218*6500
Grps: 202*393-3939
OF HORNiNFSS;
Figure
2. Holly Hughes's
of the Woolly
Courtesy
Preaching
Mammoth
to the Perverted
Theatre
flyer.
Company.
"UTOPIANPERFORMATIVE"/
467
is invested with
to its funding awards (Fig. 2).29 Hughes's
performance
appended
a
on
wit
from
that
makes
cut
of
the
and
meaning
presence
sharp edge
intelligence,
a
but
full
With
series
and
of
props?cardboard
rough
iconically
political pain.
personal
boxes, evoking the soap box on which political artists are always accused of standing;
a series of small American
celebrates and
and discards,
flags that Hughes waves
confetti and streamers and the detritus
through the course of the performance;
litter the floor as her performance winds down?these
of political campaigns, which
and her body, dressed simply in black Capri pants and a wrinkled white shirt tell a
so many of its citizens. The
difficult story of how American
democracy marginalizes
as
one
NEA Four (or, as she says
of
the
her
experience
piece exorcises, for Hughes,
and
the
three
homosexuals"),
detailing the censorship by the
ironically, "Karen Finley
to
lose
her
radical Right that prompted her first
grant, then win it back on its first and
to the Supreme Court by the Clinton
to
be
second court appeals, and then
dragged
to
administration
argue the decency pledge. By interweaving her own family history
as
a
reveals the lies uttered in the
with her future
pariah at the Supreme Court, Hughes
name of democracy and the ways it keeps its dark side flapping on the back of the flag
mourns
where
can't
you
always
see
it.
The piece has a pedagogical
function, teaching spectators how the Supreme Court
to hear her
the proceedings
of the "bad" girl attending
from the perspective
works,
own
case
argued.
In
Hughes's
hands,
the
"Supr?mes"?as
she
calls
them?become
patriarchs (regardless of their actual gender) who punish bad children. She represents
into their
rubber ducks, stuck with toothpicks
them, though, as identical, miniature
stature
for
the
sake
of her
their
cardboard
bench, symbolically diminishing
corrugated
an
a
in
I'm
institution
of a
not
citizen
"I'm
because
here
/
Participating
argument.
I
bad
been
here
"I'm
because
have
democratic
/
very very
says.
country," Hughes
she
bad / And I am so lucky to be sitting here at all."30 The court's architecture,
seem
in
their
and
the
and
intimidation
fear,
justices
predisposed
suggests,
inspires
judgments,
rather than truly open
to argument.
External voices drive Hughes's movement
through the piece, from commentators
names are familiar from national radio and television spin shows, to friends, to
or to describe it back to her as a good
agents, to editors calling to exploit her notoriety
no
while
"There's
bad
chortle,
grows more and more
Hughes
they
publicity,"
thing.
across
as
own
it explodes
the media, put to use according
image
helpless to control her
whose
29
For
on the NEA
see, for example,
Dolan,
debacle,
of Learning-,
commentary
Geographies
to the Supreme
Court?':
the One About
the Lesbian Who
Goes
"'Have
you Heard
Theatre Journal 52.4 (2000); Peggy
and the Case Against
Phelan,
"Serrano,
Censorship,"
Holly Hughes
The
TDR 34.1 (1990): 4-15; and Wendy
and You:
the NEA
Steiner,
'Money Talks,'"
Mapplethorpe,
of Chicago
Scandal of Pleasure
Press,
1995).
(Chicago: University
30
to the Perverted,
references
2000. Subsequent
manuscript,
unpublished
Hughes,
Preaching
Holly
to Hughes
in the text. I'm very grateful
for giving me a copy of this
will be included
parenthetically
our current
text. If Preaching
of utopia,
culture as intensely
the opposite
presenting
clearly describes
on numerous
which
I've seen her perform
"The
short
Mystery
clip,
Spot,"
Hughes's
dystopic,
as one of her more
moments.
In this piece,
she
be addressed
occasions,
Utopian
performance
might
car to travel alone to "the Amazing
billboards
leaves the confines
of her parents'
Mystery
Spot, where
Richard
selected
Meyer,
we could witness
that defied
the laws of nature"
phenomena
promised
the allure of this tantalizing
11). As she follows
place, her road takes her,
in New York, where
artist begins.
her career as a performance
Clit Notes,
(in "Introduction,"
to
the
WOW
Caf?
eventually,
468
JillDolan
/
to ideological necessity
and rarely matching
what any of her performances
truly
meant or intended. There's a disjuncture between
and the person who (as she
Hughes
tells us in Preaching) then-head of the NEA John
called "the self-avowed
Frohnmayer
lesbian whose work is very heavily of that genre." This separation grows
larger as the
and
her
alienation
from
the
of
that litter the stage
piece proceeds,
symbols
democracy
becomes
more
to watch.
painful
to the Perverted describes
a world very much out of
joint, so blatantly
so
in
its
and
cold
white
and
to the needs of all
discriminatory
practices,
unresponsive
of its citizens. Hughes's
not
is
of
heterosexual
dominant
male,
critique
only
power but
also of hegemonic
whiteness.
She describes
the court's architecture as imposingly
remote and marbled white,
its racial biases written
into its facade. The piece informs,
the audience to a kind of righteous anger not just
editorializes,
entertains, and moves
on Hughes's
behalf but on behalf of all of those whom
the flag waves
away from
from
artists
to
the
African
American
in
mother
the
queer
democracy,
piece who tells
her daughter the flag isn't hers and not to salute it in school.
Preaching
Richard Meyer, in his analysis of Hughes's
says, "Hughes extends the
performance,
narrative of her defunding
into that of the culture wars more generally and from there
into a free-wheeling
rubs up against public
story of the ways inwhich private memory
and her reading of the controversy, and
controversy."31 The force of Hughes's memory
in which
it offers points of personal or social identification
the ways
for spectators,
reminds us that performance,
provides what Meyer believes is a call to action. Hughes
while a "space apart," is an active space, one tied to a public
the
sphere in which
mutual agency of performer and spectator might have meaning.
writes,
Meyer
Each
time I see Preaching
to the Perverted,
in a
a conference
whether
classroom,
university
or a
I visit
this "space
In
the history
of
hotel,
theatre,
community-based
apart."
reenacting
her own
defies
the
of art and
that
censorship,
Holly
Hughes
silencing
sexuality
history
to enforce.
And
she invites
with
else in her audience?to
do
sought
everyone
me?along
the same.32
The experience of watching Hughes's
vulnerable,
emotionally
insightful perform
ance galvanized
on opening night,
spectators at the Off Center. After the performance
most of the audience remained for a talkback. Staying in the theatre after a perform
ance
and
is a moment
spectator
of what
have
a
Schechner
chance
calls
to
relax,
"cool
to
when
down,"
shift
from
the
together,
"ecstatic"
the performer
moment
of
back into the grooves of more prosaic life. Staying together in that space
performance
can be a time of shared
still under the aura of her
subjectivity. The performer,
now
the
of
her
theatrical
charisma,
afterglow
performance
infusing her performance
in everyday life, can look back, can speak directly to spectators, and can be addressed
in kind. Each of the performers was unstintingly
in these moments.
generous
They
worked
to answer questions honestly
hard to connect with people,
and openly. In
these exchanges,
the performers,
of an
too, were
fed, buoyed
by the responses
audience
educated
about their work and committed
to providing
it a responsive
cultural context. The talkbacks and the public question and answer sessions at UT
31
"Have
Meyer,
32
Ibid., 552.
You Heard,"
552.
"UTOPIANPERFORMATIVE"/
469
the performer shared insights not only into her
inter subjective moments, when
and her larger body
the performance
into
the
of
also
but
process
meanings
multiplicity
of talking, the spectators'
of work might generate in cultural history. In these moments
labor, their gesture of what David Rom?n has called "critical generosity,"
opened a
for the performers.33
onto utopie possibilities
window
were
we invited, there was no separation
Perhaps because of the tendencies of the artists
their art and their
their theory and their practice, between
in their remarks between
and public lives. They embodied
politics, or even, inmost cases, between their private
an artistic practice when
a resolution of the vexations
that dog us all: how tomaintain
an academic vocabulary; how to stay attached to your most
you're learning or using
in a form that sometimes
culture when you're working
beliefs
about
felt
deeply
the
create
work
of your own when
to
how
their
militates
expression;
against
closes off
of culture, and the lack of an alternative counterculture,
commodification
conventional work.
avenues of access for all but the most formally and politically
and their
their
and
Deb
Shaw,
experiences
by sharing
Margolin,
Peggy
Hughes,
to
at these awkward dualities,
beliefs, inspired me and my students to keep working
believe that they can be resolved, however fleetingly
For instance, Shaw captivated us all during her visit to our class by spinning an
tale of how she became a performer. With all the easy charisma that makes
hour-long
Shaw told us the story of her life, one full of hope and
in performance,
her magnetic
and happy accidents that lead her to be briefly married, very young, to
coincidences
the drag
to stumble upon
a
have
child who has now born her a grandchild,
to tour
in
in
Greenwich
Sheridan Square
Village,
troupe Hot Peaches
performance
Lois
and
then
with them to Europe, to hook up with Spiderwoman
Weaver,
Troupe
and then to form the Split Britches Company with Lois and Deb Margolin. Hers is a
faith, freedom, and possibility.
story of making something out of nothing, of unbridled
a
Shaw's Utopian vision is of world where people commingle, where there's plenty for
which
she calls "theatre of
everyone. And that vision starts in her performances,
The danger
transformations
presence
charisma
although
from the depths
culled
necessity,"
of theatre,
it makes
she says,
possible.
of what
her soul has to say to others.
is in the power
Against
Auslander
of presence,
and
other
in the power
critics,
who
of the
discredit
as a function of a metaphysics
they no longer value, Shaw inhabits her
want to mystify
I
don't
the notion of presence,
Like
Auslander,
seductively.
evoke and use it
I believe in its influence.341 think that certain performers
33
See David
Indiana
and AIDS
Rom?n, Acts of Intervention:
(Bloomington:
Gay Culture,
Performance,
in
that sets out to intervene
is a practice
he says, "Critical generosity
Press, 1998), in which
University
we
theatre and perform
and
discuss
AIDS
to
understand
the limited perspectives
currently
employ
therefore
forces us not only
ance
forms of analysis. Critical
conventional
generosity
by looking beyond
are made
the ideological
evaluations
but also to acknowledge
to rethink
traditional
criteria by which
. . .Critical
can be
that criticism
understands
that promote
canonical
generosity
systems
prejudice.
can also be
Criticism
for qualitative
than simply a procedure
of critique or means
much more
analysis.
a
a
with
and collaborative
(xxvi-xxvii).
engagement
larger social mission"
in a dualist
is as complicit
notion
of 'presence'
"A reified
writes,
subjectivist
an
in the
account
the
as is the Cartesian
of
'mind.' Neither
'body'
adequate
provides
are a discursive
the signs read as 'presence'
'mind' in the body, or of the process
by which
cooperative
34
As Phillip
metaphysics
the
mind,
construct"
15). I'd once
endeavor
Zarrilli
ed. Zarrilli
to Part I," in Acting
(Re)Considered,
[New York:
("Introduction
thesis recalled my attention
Steiger, whose MA
again like to thank Amy
1995],
Routledge,
to this quotation.
470
JillDolan
/
better than others, but it's through technique and precision that presence gains power,
can
comes to point us toward those other, better worlds.
If utopia, in performance,
an
the
action
makes
it
then
that
appear,
only happen through
performative,
through
In Peggy Shaw's presence,
is quite important.
technique
through her
performers'
a
as
In
she
reveals
her
human
that
charisma,
being.
generosity, I see utopia.
generosity
It comes from the transparency, or sincerity, that Dyer marks as Utopian in enter
tainment.
Shaw's
details
Gentleman,
Menopausal
performance,
her
as a
experiences
53-year-old
as a 35-year-old man
is full of such
passing
(Fig. 3). The piece
grandmother
as
and
she
describes
the
contradictions,
ambivalences,
tiger of hormones
ambiguities,
in
sweat
her
skin
that
her
becomes
her "own
veins,
pacing through
breaking through
summer."35
private
text
non-linear
the
She
a more
that marks
coherence
arc. Like Hughes's
works
more
conventional
in a
gesture
accumulation,
full of conflict
included,
Margolin's
and
piece, Shaw's builds
and
accretion
by
typical narrative
through
three performances,
movement
each
choreographs
and physical
emotional,
incisive,
sharp,
through association?
than
rather
progressing
In fact, each of the
of narrative
closure and
and resolution.
refuse
theatre.
the kind
Instead,
anecdotal
tions, and political
critique through vignettes,
momentum.
that
force
their
images
gather
through
they
share
evidence,
emo
insights,
and
exquisite
inMenopausal Gentleman call attention to Shaw's handsome,
aging,
in her glorious
suit, cut in a
body, as she stands center, posing
hormonally-crazed
1930s retro style, double-breasted,
graced by a sharply folded handker
pin-striped,
the piece,
chief angled out of her breast pocket. The suited pose recurs throughout
marked
her
her
her
the
crotch,
cuffs,
neck,
by adjustments?of
simulating
always
a
into
the
that
adorn
that
of
male
clothes
his
settling
body
masculinity.
Knowing
the artifice are the bindings
that hold Shaw's breasts, and the flesh of a
underneath
Those moments
woman
stage
who's
born a child,
in a multitude
poignant,
of ways,
full of desire,
and performed
loved other women,
makes
longing,
the
image
of
Shaw's
gender
gentleman
on and off
and
compelling
and loss.
of the piece is
Only a low wooden bench shares the stage with Shaw; the movement
with
that
isolates
her
her
her
hands, accompanied
face,
by
accomplished
body,
lighting
a soundtrack of Nina Simone, Toni Childs, Screamin' Jay Hawkins,
and Frank Sinatra.
is haunted by the sounds of dominant power, invading her private world
IfHughes
the noise of her body,
Shaw's ears ring with
with
their public pronouncements,
into
Her
heart
beats noisily, like an
her
sounds
private
making
public nightmares.
in the dark, with
out
its
Nina
while
she
dances
hold.
Simone
of
engine echoing
plays
to
wrists
and
her
ankles, shining pointed light on her hands
mini-flashlights
strapped
light makes her skin translucent, shining on the lines of her skin and her
in the dark like an apparition with no body, only limbs, Shaw isolates
In her choreographed
she
evokes the absence of the whole.
physicality,
the labor of gender, even if she insists she's "so queer [she] doesn't have
it."What she performs is the sweat required not only to flush hormonal
a gentleman
in
through an aging female body, but the hard work of "being
and feet. The
veins. Dancing
her parts but
demonstrates
to talk about
changes
menopause."
35
Peggy
grateful
Shaw, Menopausal
to Shaw for giving me
Gentleman,
unpaginated,
a copy of this text.
unpublished
manuscript,
1997.
I'm
very
UTOPIAN PERFORMATIVE" /
Figure
3. Peggy
Shaw
inMenopausal
performing
Gentleman.
Courtesy
of Peggy
471
Shaw.
Menopausal Gentleman is full of grief, replete with images of leaving, loss, opportu
and not turning back, where
nities missed
and irretrievable,
lovers saying goodbye
once they stood and waved until distance robbed them of visibility. The piece attempts
to incorporate such losses, to feel them as present, even while the ghosts recede. "I fall
to pieces in the night," Shaw says. "I'm just thousands of parts of other people mashed
into one body. I am not an original person. I take all these pieces, snatch them off the
the bed by the light, and I
floor where
they land before they get swept under
on
"I
the body:
wish I could hold time still,
manufacture myself." Time passes, written
I'm going to feel
just lift it up to that tube of bright fluorescent light to examine it...
so
far
in
I'll
there's
time." Shaw's
all the emotions I've postponed
my life.
just go slow,
reassurances
are
rueful,
lingering
in
the
space
between
us
as
questions,
not
truths.
inMenopausal Gentleman when Shaw talk-sings to Sinatra's My
There's a moment
left wall, then slowly moves out into
She
Way.
begins leaning against the downstage
the audience, up the narrow aisle of the small space, shaking people's hands, speaking
they
directly to them, patting them on the back. This is an intersubjective moment;
Shaw leaves the space marked off for perform
often become Utopian performatives.
ance to approach the audience,
to mingle
for
greeting, allowing
freely, empathizing,
472
JillDolan
/
moments
of identification,
curiosity, desire, even love to extend through the audience.
Her presence moved
through the house like a current; she electrified the audience,
bound her to us, brought us close to the complexities
of her longings and our own. Is
a
this not
glimpse of utopia, the generosity of the performer in sharing her hands, her
heart, her desire, with an audience of friends and strangers? Shaw moves
through the
as though she knows everyone,
leaving the comfort of theatrical distance to
who
have been watching her, some, no doubt,
up,
among
house-lights
people
mingle,
with desire and longing. In this moment,
she makes herself attainable as the object of
such desire, and shares her own longings as a desiring subject, wanting
the connec
that shaking someone's hand, looking into
tion, the temporary break with anonymity
audience
their
allows.
eyes,
a similar, but different,
scene in Preaching to the Perverted when Hughes
a "dreaded moment
in which
of audience participation,"
she invites two
different spectators to read hate mail she received during the height of the culture
wars. Yet Hughes's
into the audience, hailing them
and Shaw's moments
of venturing
into the space of performance,
aren't coercive or ridiculing, as is so much of what
in more mainstream
creates of her
theatre. Hughes
passes for audience participation
There's
announces
in the
co-participants
spectator-assistants
of her
production
meanings.
performance's
tone, but
invariably read the hate mail with the proper self-righteous
are
is
the
with
that
is,
among,
"per
affinity
clearly
Hughes
(they
and join her in undermining
its threat. Shaw's
verted").
They perform bigotry
likewise levels the performance
field. By pressing
the flesh, she
seductive mingling
humanizes herself, brings herself down to size, and refuses the awe her own charisma
The spectators
their personal
inspires.36
Partly what appeals tome here is Shaw's romanticism, an affective address that, like
or
too long from our discussions
of performance
love, has been perhaps banished
in defense
is a
this time writing
of disco, notes,
"romanticism
research.37 Dyer,
particularly
art
of
quality
paradoxical
to come
to terms
with.
Its
and
passion
intensity
and every
embody or create an experience that negates the dreariness of the mundane
our
us
a
means
at
it
to
and
of
emotional
It
of
what
live
the
day.
gives
height
glimpse
our experiential
routine
down
the
of
banality
organized
capacities?not
dragged
by
life."38
This
intense,
in
communion
36
This
is also
partly
what
allows
Shaw
project.
Hilary
in which
by the way
heteropatriarchy
in an anti-racist
size. Shaw participates
scale.
of Respectability,"
37
See Virginia
361-93.
See Hilary Harris,
Theatre Journal 52.2
R. Dom?nguez,
Dom?nguez
ed. Corey
moments
of
magic
and
K. Creekmur
love
that she might
the image of the "White Man"
women
are
in
white
supremacist
complicit
at twice his natural
the "White Man" back to himself
that white
they
reflect
by, among other things,
'White Womanhood':
"Failing
(2000): 183-209.
project
"For a Politics
that
argues
is writing
discourse.
Dom?nguez
for love and affection
necessity
38
"In Defense
Richard Dyer,
Culture,
those
to undercut
writes
Harris
prosaic
creates
performance.
otherwise
a more
is what
romanticism
utopie
and
cutting
the white
Interrogating
man
down
to
the Performance
of Love
and Rescue,"
Cultural Anthropology
15.3 (2000):
a
in scholarly)
in cultural
(even
place
on the
to scholars
in anthropology,
but her comments
affection
specifically
in our discourse
have
resonate
here.
usefully
in Out in Culture: Gay, Lesbian, and Queer Essays on Popular
of Disco,"
and Alexander
Press,
1995), 413.
(Durham: Duke University
Doty
"UTOPIANPERFORMATIVE"/
473
a notion of "communitas"
in social
Victor Turner has developed
Anthropologist
in
drama that very much describes what I'm calling Utopian performativity
perform
ance.
He
says,
"Spontaneous
is
communitas
and
immediate
'a direct,
total
confronta
interaction. It
tion of human identities,' a deep rather than intense style of personal
a
in
it
there
is
has something
feeling of endless
"magical" about it. Subjectively
us
who has not known this moment when
power.'" Turner asks, "Is there any of
a flash of lucid mutual understanding
congeners?obtain
compatible people?friends,
on the existential level, when they feel that all problems, not just their problems, could
be resolved, whether emotional or cognitive, if only the group which is felt (in the first
as
'essentially us' could sustain
which
of communitas,
rippled
offer
residencies,
springboards
performers'
person)
moments
illumination?"39 These
its intersubjective
and the
all
three
performances
through
to utopia.
of art and desire. In her talk in class and in her
Deb Margolin
spoke eloquently
that "desire is our dramatur
that passion matters,
insisted
public interview, Margolin
a woman,
in
is a radical
front of people
that
for
She
said
force."
standing up
gical
moment
as
to
At
that
of
it
the
desire
does,
speaking,
speak.
political act, expressing,
she says, you're one point at which the universe expresses itself, at which you "grab a
is
she believes,
fistful of experience and redistribute it through theatre." Performance,
a
no
with
her
feels
alone
in
which
she
the last communal
longer
experience,
place
no longer has to feel that she's the only one who's noticed something?
observations,
something vital. As Lynda Hart notes in her
strange, something moving,
something
to
of
her edited collection
introduction
Margolin's work, "[T]his is what you can seek
in
these most innocent
to
find
Deb
and expect
Margolin's work, these small moments,
are
and woof
the
of what
nonetheless
that
and ordinary exchanges,
very warp
our
our
deaths
makes
and
constitutes
lives,
performance, O
meaningful."40 Margolin's
is
all
about
noticing, witnessing
together
Wholly Night and Other Jewish Solecisms,
that might signal, if you
moments
that otherwise might pass into oblivion, moments
comes
the Messiah
forMargolin,
look at them properly, the advent of a utopia when,
(Fig. 4).
infuse daily
O Wholly Night, evoking as it does the Jewish Messiah whose mysteries
content
three
in
most
of
the
the
life, presents perhaps
performances
overtly Utopian
she's
the series. Deb is an elegant storyteller, never losing sight that the people
our presence by a
addressing are those in the theatre with her, always acknowledging
look, by a knowing "take." As Hart says, "[S]he holds us. The
nod, by a conspiratorial
in rooms that she is in."41 She begins the piece by telling the story of
present happens
She
the torn and beautiful silk dress that hangs upstage throughout the performance.
acquired
it from
a Mrs.
Friedman,
a
friend
of
her
on
parents',
the
occasion
of Mr.
that at some point, the
Friedman's
death, and holds onto it longingly, knowing
a
to
in
When
she's commissioned
totemic
function
will
fulfill
performance.
garment
she calls Mrs. Friedman to ask her again about
write a piece for the Jewish Museum,
39
Victor
to Theatre: The Human
Turner, From Ritual
1982), 47-48.
Journal Publications,
40
in Of All
the Nerve:
"Introduction,"
Lynda Hart,
1999), 5.
41
Ibid., 8.
Seriousness
Deb Margolin
of Play
Solo,
(New
York:
ed. Hart
Performing
(London:
Arts
Cassell,
iSHillf^^
Figure
4. Deb Margolin
Photo
in O Wholly
Dona
credit:
and Other
Night
Ann McAdams.
Jewish
Solecisms.
"UTOPIANPERFORMATIVE"/
475
the dress's origins. But the older woman denies the garment and its history. Exasper
ated, she says, "Look, Debbie, Inever gave you a dress. And if you need a story, MAKE
one that instantly rubs fiction
IT UP!"42 This is the benediction
for her performance,
in
into
stories
that
their
doubt
against truth, that throws
fantasy, their phantasmatic
true.
fullness, ring utterly
Margolin's
performance
utopia he or she will bring
Halloween
party," Margolin
forward from behind amask
know who or when, it's best
is about waiting
for the Messiah,
the
trying to summon
a
a
is
"It's
The
Messiah's
like
mystery.
identity
big
along.
says. "Life is a costume party inwhich anyone may come
and reveal themselves as Moshiach. And since you never
to be as graceful as you can to everyone and to try to dress
for utopia to reveal itself requires grace, provides an ethic
(143). Waiting
reasonably"
in performance.
Her emotional
for living that Margolin models
generosity, Shaw's
intellectual and political generosity, and the
seductive physical generosity, Hughes's
these rehearsals for utopia, in a gesture, in a
all these acts entail?aren't
vulnerability
an
an
in
to
that converts strangers into community?
of
address
audience
way
living,
in Austin,
it rained, much harder than
first performance
The night of Margolin's
that didn't stop for hours. The Off Center's roof is tin,
usual, a torrential downpour
a gathering
like cacophony,
of drummers who
and the pounding water
sounded
couldn't follow the beat. And because the space is essentially
jerry rigged, the roof
It
formed over the playing
that
the show couldn't
leaks; puddles
space.
appeared
at
and
But
the
the
noise
after
because
of
8:30,
begin
damp.
waiting
fruitlessly for a let
she wandered
up, during which
through the audience talking to people and taking
we
down stage center, acknowl
about
what
should
do,
Margolin moved
opinions
to
it
her performance,
and began
and
the
the
weather
challenge
might present
edged
O Wholly Night. She strained to project over the noise from the roof, and we strained to
that's all about
hear, and in the process, we were brought even closer, in a performance
as
we
watched
and
the
intimacy
night,
immediacy. Through
Margolin perform around
and cupped our ears to hear, the rain came to sound like
the growing puddles,
a
its
of the moment we shared and its
applause,
rhythm
recognition of the presentness
never
The
be
will
show
uniqueness.
probably
played quite that way again. Yet those of
us watching
that night were stirred by the intimacy, by Margolin's
vulnerability, by her
to
environment
and
silence
refusal
let
the
the
her,
courage
urgency of what she had
by
to say.
as a utopie moment:
describes holding her young daughter
"We are
Margolin
in each other, my daughter and I... her sleep is like Moshiach
tome: quiet,
Messianic
effortless, a true relief at the end of a long day ... as I hold her, I realize with certainty
that a part of what defines Messiah
forme is relief" (144). Perhaps utopia, too, is about
in
of clarity: Margolin
relief, presented performatively
gestic moments
holding her
the
from
her
wrists
and
Shaw
ankles, calling out to a
unbinding
flashlights
daughter;
to dance to the
the
rainbow
she
lover not to leave; Hughes
donned
removing
silly
wig
"I
all
that
her
Will
hand
could ever
Survive," finally dropping
gay anthem,
hope
wave
moments
aren't
but
moments
the
these
of
of
defeat,
flag; perhaps
genuinely
42
Deb
Subsequent
and Other Jewish
O Wholly Night
Margolin,
will be included
references
parenthetically
in Of All
Solecisms,
in the text.
the Nerve,
ed. Hart,
140.
476
JillDolan
/
moments
that herald the arrival of a new and better world. Or
relief, messianic
of
the
seeds
perhaps
utopia are only present at times of failure and apocalypse.
Michael Loewy, writing on Jewish messianism
and utopia, says, "[I]n many talmudic
texts the idea appears that theMessiah will only come in an era of corruption and total
.. .
a total
culpability.
Only the revolutionary
catastrophe, with a colossal uprooting,
destruction
of the existing order, opens the way to messianic
If
this is
redemption."43
in fact,
of loss, despair, grieving, absence, might,
so, then the performative moments
the new.
herald
"sees Messiah
where he refuses to see" her (150), in the quotidian,
Margolin
inwhich people are
unnoticed details of people's lives. She describes prosaic moments
called upon to "act asMessianic
stand-ins," moments when Margolin
says she's "lifted
out of [her]self into the soiled robes of Moshiach"
(155). It's this affective quality of
can draw for us?ordinary
utopia that performance
people being lifted from their lives
to form connections
that in utterly simple ways make the world better. This is Utopian
inwhich
the deed makes the doer the Messiah. And because, as Dyer
performativity,
notes, "everyday banality, work, domesticity,
ordinary sexism, and racism are rooted
in the structures of class and gender in this society, the flight from that banality can be
seen as a flight from capitalism and patriarchy as lived experiences."44
Such flights from banality into an intense, sincere, generous
romanticism pointed
in all three performances.
For instance, Margolin
and
toward Utopian performatives
in which
I felt
Shaw's performances
included moments
of utter silence, moments
utopia rising with the hairs on the back of my neck. InMenopausal Gentleman, two
after Shaw has finished a particularly
thirds of the way through the performance,
the
and
she
returns to the edge of the bench to
vigorous physical scene,
lights dim,
retrieve a bottle of water that's been there, waiting,
the whole
time. The blue light is
so that her face is in shadow, but the bottle, as she raises it to her lips, is
translucent, brilliant, bubbles moving
through a tube that seems crystalline under the
focused
theatre
lights.
background.
the
silence,
She
and
stands,
She drinks
she's
drinks;
she's
the
rest,
performer's
she
until
silent
sated. But
performer's
while
music
it's the moment
replenishment
that
plays
in the
softly
of the performer's
to
attention
draws
labor, her sweat, and the intensity of the hour we've
spent with her. The water,
out
her
the
almost
down
throat to cool her, is a
bottle
of
rhythmically,
draining
meet
and
its
That
her
needs.
she
could
her needs, take her
reminder
of
body
palpable
her
time,
take
her moment,
we
while
watched,
an
seemed
in a moment
and utter peace. I felt such yearning,
a yearning
to suspend
to be with,
this moment
Shaw drink.
together breathlessly, watching
ruminative
of utter
faith
and
utter
trust
in which she simply sits in the chair
there's a moment
a
and
she looks out at us with a pleasant,
story,
relating
InMargolin's
performance,
stage right. She's just finished
expectant,
act
that probably didn't last a minute,
out of time, while
100 people
sat
expression
on
her
face.
It's
a
pause,
a break,
a moment
inserted
of rest. Her silence was a moment
of exquisite
things, another moment
one
in
rather
unnerved
than
the
absence
of
which
be
by
speech, I felt the
vulnerability,
between
43
Michael
Loewy,
"Jewish
Messianism
Critique 20 (1980): 107.
44
Dyer,
"In Defense
of Disco,"
413.
and
Libertarian
Utopia
in Central
Europe,"
New
German
UTOPIAN PERFORMATIVE"/
audience
wanting
to take
care,
to extend
our
to her
presence
as
had
she
hers
477
to us. Hart
says, "One of the many ways that I experience the beauty of Margolin's work is in the
with rather than waiting for. A waiting without
the
feeling she creates of waiting
a
A
atten
of
forward
without
keen
movement,
about,
anxiety
projection.
looking
of communal,
almost loving rest, when
tion."45 Perhaps in these moments
the flesh
we
come
at
to
attention
and
the
soul
and
feel
relieved,
pauses,
stops
together,
utopia.
I'm not suggesting
that every spectator will find feelings of utopia in performances
or for that matter any feminist or queer performance
Shaw, or Margolin,
by Hughes,
artist. Their performances
inspire me, move me toward such feelings of possibility,
hope, and political agency. These three white women begin their address to the public
sphere from outside its enforced norms, and through the critical stories they tell, help
to dislodge
its assumptions. As Hilary Harris writes, "The imaging and the perform
ing of an anti-racist white womanhood"
requires rejecting the politics of respectability.
. . .
"Shaw and Hughes
and distinctly disreputable
'feminini
perform consistently
ties.'"46 Their queerness distances them from the politics of respectability,
instantiating
the "threat that a white womanhood
might actually choose distance over proximity as
its desired relation to the hegemonic public body and that itmight do so in the service
of an antiracist whiteness
the "Whitespeak"
that passively
specifically."47 Rejecting
and Shaw name
evades accepting
and the
agency for racism, Hughes
ideology
is
this
is
it
of
dominant
discourses.
how
works.
This,
whiteness;
say,
exclusivity
they
to white
talks too much,"48 is already marginal
the "brainy Jew who
Margolin,
a
mime
kind
her
of
that
womanhood,
performances
although
respectability
betrays it
too
and
such
from within.
much,
using
By talking
obsessively
elegant
language,
removes herself from white privilege
and power. She performs a kind of
Margolin
Her insist
Jewish excess, that marks her as affectively outside normative whiteness.
ence on charting her own desire, and on calling attention to her own body as a locus
of sexual, emotional,
and spiritual feeling, also rejects a respectability
that would
disallow her to speak in the first place.
All
three performers
school.
structurally
Storytelling,
to draw
could be accused of talking too much, of telling stories out of
in fact, lends all three performances
their power and works
the
themselves.
reigning
assumptions
and
to
them
offer
models
for
agency,
for
J.Hillis Miller writes, "The human capacity to tell stories
collectively build a significant and orderly world around
. . .Narratives
of
closer
audience
transformation
and change.
is one way men and women
are
a
given
a
relatively
culture
safe
can
be
or
innocuous
criticized."49
place
Hughes,
in which
Shaw,
the
and
in this dual function of storytelling,
all participate
creating order and
Their stories are Utopian performatives
because,
assumptions.
criticizing underlying
as Miller suggests, "A story is a way of doing things with words.
Itmakes something
of selfhood or ways of
happen in the real world: for example, it can propose modes
Margolin
45
8.
Hart,
"Introduction,"
46
'White Womanhood,'"
Harris,
184, 204.
"Failing
47
Ibid., 202.
48
7.
See Hart,
"Introduction,"
Of All the Nerve,
49
in Critical Terms for Literary Study,
"Narrative,"
J.Hillis Miller,
of Chicago
Press,
1990), 69.
McLaughlin
(Chicago: University
ed. Frank
Lentricchia
and Thomas
478
JillDolan
/
are
that
behaving
then
in
imitated
To
real world."50
the
see women
alone,
onstage,
one I can't (orwon't) take for granted.
telling stories is still, forme, a political moment,
out
utter
"a
she
stories
of
tells
need,
says
craving to tell a story, that's balanced
Hughes
a
to
listen."
She
says,
by
hunger
I can
as I
At least one pair of eyes are on me
I've got an audience.
God,
I can tell
the story
of my
life (lives). And
attention.
(stories)
paying
they're
a
even
I'm
out of
there's
me,
lost, because
they're
following
though
plainly
light shining
I make
I'm
in an
their eyes.
this
Not
watched.
my way
along
light, knowing
being
All
think
stumble
Orwellian
audience
helping
is: thank
through
an
sort of way
in the sense of
but watched
over, guarded.
being watched
Having
the light of a hundred
is a form of protection.
It's like having
tiny private
me
to the next.51
find my way
from one side of the story
suns
are so
I once asked Hughes why she needs to perform, given that her performances
so
on
read
it's
that
well
the
She
insisted
that
the
social
page.
space of
they
writerly,
see
to
that
that
her
motivates
her
the
desire
others
forward,
performance
gives
hope,
to
Her
be guided by that light shining from their eyes.
stories, she writes,
listening,
also offer the audience maps, ways of answering their questions, showing them where
says, "everyone
they've been and where they might go. "As far as I can tell," Hughes
can
always
use
a
story."52
and would
to see a story
I agree with Hughes,
only add that everyone needs
us
as
to
live.
This
need
Sarah
Schulman
says, theatre
performance;
performed,
propels
is raw,
in front of you,
[r]eal people
theatre has a better
reputation
their
something,
showing
it deserves.
The people
who
desire.
make
I think
that's why
so vulnerable.
it are
no one
Their
is so palpable.
lives are filled with
Almost
gets
struggle.
we
think of it as a place
for progressive
ideas, as a progressive
why
at
and somewhat
the culture
large, something
hopeful
pure.53
Their
desire
the theatre.
on
wanting
than
Schulman
description
rich
That's
describes
suits
that
the community-based
the
context
and
theatre work
contours
of
that she most
Shaw's,
Hughes's,
on
force
admires,
and
a
Margolin's
she bemoans
the lack of grants, the lack
work over the last twenty or so years. While
and
of professional
the
lack
of
facilities
technical
expertise, the grueling lack
training,
of money, and the insulting lack of attention from powerful presses, Schulman boasts
Iwould
that what "precommodified"
add, feminist?
gay and lesbian theatre?and
work
had
was
a
"passionate
audience."54
The
passion
of
the
audience
explains
why
in its world-makings
the desire to see it, to participate
live performance
continues;
must
in
in
instill
such
desire
my generation
persists. People
people in the next. Iwant
to perpetuate experiences of utopia in the flesh of performance
thatmight performatively
hint at how a different world could feel.
I know I'm risking sentiment here; I know that community
and theatre, like utopia,
can be coercive, that nothing
is ever, truly,
is outside of ideology, and that nothing
50
Imean
the power
of a narrative
also says, "By 'performative'
Ibid., 69. Miller
as
to give, or to appear
to give, knowledge"
to its power
(78).
opposed
happen,
51
2-3.
"Introduction,"
Hughes,
52
Ibid., 9.
53
91.
Schulman,
Stagestruck,
54
Ibid., 69.
to make
something
UTOPIAN PERFORMATIVE"/
479
in the politically
in
I believe
of romanticism
possibilities
progressive
... and the
contacts
what
calls
"the
of
emotional
intensity
Dyer
fleeting
performance,
a
exquisite pain of [their] passing."551 believe that during the Throws Like Girl series
perfect.
we
But
achieved
a matter
of
moments
'grace.'"56
of
"Communitas,"
which
communitas,
spontaneous
he
says,
"tends
Turner
to be
says
"is
inclusive?some
sometimes
might
call
it generous."57 This, for me, is the beginning
(and perhaps the substance) of the utopie
in
in
the
audience's generosity, in the lucid power
the performer's grace,
performative:
however fleeting. These are the moments when we
of intersubjective understanding,
can
believe
in
utopia.
These
are
the moments
55
"In Defense
413.
of Disco,"
Dyer,
56
Turner, From Ritual, 58.
57
Ibid., 51.
581would
like to thank Stacy Wolf, David
Rom?n,
on earlier drafts of this article.
comments
helpful
theatre
Susan
and
Bennett,
performance
and Ann
make
Pellegrini
possible.58
for their very