By Jan Parker-Starbuck
As I prepared to write this editorial, I participated in an editing forum sponsored by Contemporary Theatre Review around the peer-review process. There were many editors and former editors from theatre- and performance-related journals, such as CTR, RIDE, Theatre Research International, Performance Philosophy, the online journal Platform, myself from Theatre Journal, among others. This was part of a series of ongoing events here in London and also at the IFTR conference focusing on publishing and peer review, and those organizing it are planning to collect the materials and work on a protocol for peer review to be shared more widely. Being a part of these events has made me reflect deeply on the peer-review process and its importance to editorial teams. When preparing a general issue such as this one, I am grateful for the expert peer reviewers who assist journal editors, giving their time to support and help in the development of each published essay. As this is my penultimate issue, and my last general issue, I wanted to take a moment to thank the peer reviewers I have engaged with over the past four years.
I am aware of the increasing demands on our time as academics and researchers, and it is not easy to fit in the many requests made. Of course, there are times when we must decline, but over the years I have been impressed with the generosity, skill, and depth of the reports we have received. I have seen peer review be an act of mentorship, of building the next generation of scholarship. I have seen peer review be incredibly rigorous, but at the same time necessary, and in the end, always productive and useful. I have seen peer review make me understand that what I championed as a well-crafted original idea needed further research to reinforce it. Mostly, I have seen peer review add a considerable amount of revision to the essays published in this journal. I honestly could not do my job without the peer-reviewer process. As an editor I can assess the strengths of an essay and have a sense of how to work with an author to develop it for publication. But given the breadth of topics we receive at Theatre Journal, I cannot always assess the quality of the scholarship or the factual accuracy of detail that an expert in a given area can. For this I rely upon and respect the work done by our peer reviewers, and I would hope this extends to the field at large.
In this issue alone essays range from mass Czech and German gymnastic performance to global performances of The Vagina Monologues and the “One Billion Rising” campaign; another returns readers to 1964 and analyzes the characters in Adrienne Kennedy’s and Amiri Baraka’s plays, Funnyhouse of a Negro and Dutchman, while the final essay introduced me to the National Theatre Workshop of the Handicapped, an organization I was not familiar with. While each of these essays was selected by myself and coeditor EJ Westlake as an exciting possibility for publication, it was not until the peer reports were returned that we could officially invite them for publication. And then more work begins. Authors often face difficult decisions when confronting peer review, and I have been on both sides of this equation. One report wants to see the essay go one way, another one recommends a different direction. At times, authors argue vehemently with the reports or want to challenge an opinion within a report. Often, authors are made aware of other work they might consider to expand the essay’s direction. As a writer I have always found, sometimes once I have gotten past my frustration, that if I truly listen to the report and ask myself why this was the response, that my work is improved in the process. As an editor I am there to mediate between authors and readers when necessary, to help guide and shape, and decide which direction to go in if it comes to that. But time and time again, the peer-review process opens up a conversation that the author and I might not have predicted. It points to the strengths and areas of revision possible and always makes both authors and editors think. For this I value the process and the people who continually work with us. Thank you.
The essays in this issue, while vastly different in scope and content—something typical of a general issue—each struck me with their attention to questions around political performance. These essays contain echoes of people struggling, representing, fighting, working. In them are bodies—controlled by the apparatus of the state, attempting to work together for a cause, set in a politically charged time, or working to be visible—bodies that capture our attention and hopefully make us more attuned to others like them.
Kimberly Jannarone’s essay, “Confederation and Control: Mass Gymnastics and the Czech and German Bodies Politic,” evokes mass performance spectacle in the form of gymnastic displays as a model to illustrate a shifting political control over bodies in unified motion. The author takes readers on a historical journey through the development of mass gymnastics and “kinaesthetic solidarity,” from the early German nationalist “Turner” movement in the early nineteenth century to its transformation to more disciplined “Frei- und Ordnungsübungen” exercises (without apparatuses) that could be applied across thousands of mass moving bodies in more militarized fashions. Also building on a nationalist movement in the late eighteenth century, the Czech Sokol gymnastic movement developed physical training toward synchronized bodies in public performance. Jannarone’s detailed descriptions and images evidence how these awe-inspiring physical displays produced powerful emotional affects that were ready for political appropriation. It is easy to become impressed by the exactitude of these bodies and their movement, while at the same time realizing the political potential of such performances. I urge readers to go to the Theatre Journal website at https://jhuptheatre.org/theatre-journal/online-content/current-issue to view a “playlist” that the author has provided of a range of mass performance, including some of the work described in this essay.
Turning to a different form of political performance is Geraldine Harris’s “Performing Transnational Feminist Solidarity? The Vagina Monologues and One Billion Rising.” In this essay, Harris analyzes the trajectory from Eve Ensler’s The Vagina Monologues, to its simultaneous stagings since Valentine’s Day 1998 as “V-Day,” to its more recent 2013 offshoot, the One Billion Rising campaign. Across these events, the author analyzes—despite the success of V-Day for raising awareness and funds for women’s organizations—a shifting feminist critique of these events, from an essentialist (white) feminism centered on the bodies of women to a (colonizing but) inclusive transnational theorizing. In her examination of One Billion Rising, Harris shows how its different iterations attempted to respond to critiques and develop local and intersectional politics. However, as she concludes, “[w]hile it is crucial to acknowledge the effects of local political agency . . ., it is just as crucial not to gloss over the concrete material effects of unequal power relations in everyday reality.” Harris understands the power and potential of these embodied, globally networked events, while, at the same time, remaining ambivalent about their relationship to capitalism and globalization.
In “Expectation, Melancholy, and Loss: Funnyhouse of a Negro and Dutchman in the Year 1964,” David Krasner returns readers to a politically charged and vital year in which both Adrienne Kennedy’s Funnyhouse of a Negro and Amiri Baraka’s Dutchman were produced. Building on his own personal experience of white privilege in a changing time, Krasner reflects on the discrimination of a classmate to draw out three key themes—expectation, melancholy, and loss—that weave through the characters Sarah and Clay within Kennedy’s and Baraka’s plays. In the essay, the author focuses on the theme of black intellectualism that resounds in these plays and in the political climate of those early 1960s, as black Americans were too often caught between conflicting (white) forces. The analyses of these foundational plays reminds us that, as Krasner expresses, “[p]olitical domination is tethered to social hierarchy, where authority figures such as teachers, politicians, parents, and social peers use the benignly disguised altruism . . . to chip away at confidence, self-awareness, self-reliance, and the mobility required to advance socially, economically, and, in the case of Sarah and Clay, intellectually and artistically.” A reminder that resonates today.
Finally, the issue concludes with Patrick McKelvey’s “A Disabled Actor Prepares: Stanislavsky, Disability, and Work at the National Theatre Workshop of the Handicapped,” which also contains a political dimension—that of a specific theatrical history of actor training, the visibility of disability, and the laboring body. Framed around questions of work, McKelvey introduces readers to the National Theatre Workshop of the Handicapped (NTWH), an institution founded by Rick Curry in 1977 to promote jobs for actors with disabilities. Curry took Stanislavsky’s An Actor Prepares as the basis on which he developed his own handbook for actors with disabilities at his workshop. While the NTWH’s history is itself an important area of research, McKelvey critically interrogates its attention to the visibility of the disabled actor to better examine what he calls “crip antiwork politics.” In Curry’s attempts to train working actors with disabilities, McKelvey finds that he and his work at the NTWH instead offer complex questions for spectators about the nature of affective theatrical labor and the political imperatives to work.
From the peer-review process to publication, these essays are in conversation with many people, now opening out to the reader and the field at large. Perhaps an essay that is read in these pages will become a catalyst for a reader and the process will begin again. As I wrap up this issue, I also want to thank the other set of eyes reading these through the process, my assistant editor Season Butler, whose keen eyes catch things I do not and whose thinking expands my own in the process.