Performance Studies international conference represents a Canadian first

The power of performance to intervene in, reshape and reinvigorate the public sphere at the beginning of the 21st century is the central theme of PSi 16 – Performing Publics, the 2010 edition of Performance Studies international’s (PSi) annual professional conference. The conference, co-produced and presented by York University’s Graduate Program in Theatre Studies and the Ontario College of Art & Design (OCAD), will take place at OCAD in downtown Toronto June 9 to 13.

The question of what constitutes a “public” and how performance helps to shape this idea will be explored in over 400 papers and performances delivered by presenters from more than 20 countries. Over 500 delegates from around the world will be attending.

York theatre Professors Laura Levin and Lisa Wolford Wylam are jointly directing PSi 16. Both are also chairing sessions in the conference.

“Performing Publics is the first official performance studies conference to be held in Canada,” says Levin. “Our goal is to foster the development of national and international research networks for Canadian performance researchers.”

Right: Laura Levin

A former Fulbright Scholar, Levin is a performance theorist and historian whose research focuses primarily on contemporary North American theatre and performance art. She is associate editor of the Canadian Theatre Review (CTR) and has recently edited a special issue of CTR on performance art, as well as an issue of Theatre Research in Canada on space and subjectivity in performance. In 2008, she was awarded a Social Sciences & Humanities Research Council of Canada (SSHRC) Standard Research Grant for “The Canadian Performance Studies Project: Mapping the Field”, the first major research study to theorize and map the field of performance studies as it has emerged in Canada.

Wolford Wylam, the director of York’s Graduate Program in Theatre Studies, was the founding vice-president of PSi, working alongside performance studies pioneers Peggy Phelan, Richard Gough and others to establish the organization in the 1990s. She is currently completing a study commissioned by Cambridge University Press, titled “Studying Live Performance”, which re-examines intersections of performance and ethnography, and for which she was recently awarded a SSHRC Standard Research Grant.

Wolford Wylam notes that York has a strong presence in the Performing Publics program. “We will be showcasing the work of a large number of York professors and graduate students from different departments and disciplines, confirming York as a leader in the interdisciplinary practice and study of performance,” she says.

Left: Lisa Wolford Wylam. Photo by Kris Salata

York’s Faculty of Fine Arts is well represented at all levels of the conference. Visual arts Professor Jennifer Fisher, dance Professor Danielle Robinson and theatre Professor Marlis Schweitzer are serving on the Program Committee. York students comprise more than half of the 17-member graduate student organizing team. Numerous York alumni are participating as presenters, moderators and discussants.

More than 20 conference papers and presentations are by fine arts faculty and graduate students. They include Professor Janine Marchessault, Canada Research Chair in Art, Digital Media & Globalization, who will address her recent experiences curating a contemporary art show on the suburbs in her talk “Situating Leona Drive: Experimental Communities and Anonymous History”; visual arts Professor Anna Hudson, who will chair a session on urban storytelling and the spoken word; and fine arts cultural studies Professor Alberto Guevara, who will speak on “The Embodied Protests of Pesticide Workers in Nicaragua” and chair a session titled “Racial and Sexual Interventionism in Latino/a US, Mexico and Panama”.  

Other sessions cover such diverse topics as “Computer Communities and Network Neighbourhoods”, “The Cultural Economy of Collaborative Art”, “Interventions in Public Amnesia” and “Disability, Performance and Public Space”.

Several papers from the conference will be published in an upcoming issue of Performance Research, one of the discipline’s flagship publications. The issue will be co-edited by Schweitzer and Levin, with Melanie Bennett, a PhD candidate in theatre studies at York. 

Information on registration – which is open to the public on-site at the conference when it opens June 9 – is available at the PSi 16 Web site.

A number of performances, curated by a team including York theatre Professor Judith Rudakoff and organized especially for the delegates, will take place throughout the conference. Fine arts alumna Shawna Dempsey (BA Spec. Hons. ’86) and her collaborator Lorri Millan will perform their tongue-in-cheek slide presentation, titled Lesbian National Parks & Services Wants You! at OCAD on June 9. Film Professor John Greyson is one of 10 artists in the Tallulah’s Cabaret showcase at Buddies in Bad Times Theatre June 10, followed by performances by alumni Nina Arsenault (BFA Spec. Hons. ’96, MFA ’00) and Keith Cole (BA Spec. Hons. ’89) June 11.

PSi 16 is scheduled to coincide with the Luminato Toronto Festival of Arts & Creativity, one of the city’s premiere venues for international theatre, dance, music and public art. Performing Publics delegates have the opportunity to purchase discounted tickets for two Luminato performances: the world premiere of Volcano Theatre’s The Africa Trilogy (featuring set design by York theatre Professor Teresa Przybylski) and One Pure Longing: Táhirih’s Search, a multidisciplinary show created and directed by theatre Professor Erika Batdorf, which includes a special Q-&-A session for conference participants following the June 12 evening performance.

PSi is a professional association founded in 1997 to promote communication and exchange between scholars and practitioners working in the field of performance. The organization has staged numerous international conference and festival gatherings moving between the discourse and practice of performance. PSi conferences have been held across the United States and the United Kingdom and in Germany, New Zealand, Singapore, Denmark and Croatia. This year’s conference – the 16th – is the first to be hosted in Canada.