From Issue 30.1, March 2020
by Noe Montez
As one of the two official journals of the Association for Theatre in Higher Education, Theatre Topics traditionally highlights moments from the previous year’s ATHE conference in its first issue of the year. Our hope is that organization members who could not attend the convening get some sense of the conversations taking place during our gathering. In 2019, ATHE returned to Orlando, Florida for the annual meeting themed “Scene Changes: Performing, Teaching, and Working through the Transitions.” The conference description created by Andrew Gibb and the 2019 Conference Committee stated,
Orlando offers to the visitor a panoramic background of troubled pasts and future visions, prompting us to consider the possibilities and consequences of our scene changes. The city’s various theme parks provide their own encapsulated representations of past and future, visions that are themselves constantly changing, both in their built scenic environments and in the ideologies that such scenery materializes.
Throughout the conference, scholars and artists explored the ways that the field of theatre and performance studies might reflect on the changes that our happening to the world, our universities, and theatre in order to consider how we might use this liminal moment to move toward a better future.
The first three pieces in this issue draw from the conference proceedings. The issue begins with Bill Rauch’s keynote address. Written during a moment of scene change for Rauch, as he transitioned from his artistic director role at Oregon Shakespeare Festival to the same position at the Ronald O. Perelman Performing Arts Center in New York City. With one eye turned to his previous work at OSF and Cornerstone and the other one looking toward the future, Rauch speaks openly about his life and career and the effort it takes to build relationships with communities and to assert theatre’s place as a vibrant and vital art form, even to audiences who may have imagined that they had no use for it. I am honored to publish this address and hope that Rauch’s words are received in the spirit of care that they were delivered with. As a companion piece to the keynote address, longtime Rauch scholar Sonja Arsham Kuftinec writes about her conversation with Rauch that draws on her previous research and the ideas espoused in the keynote. Her conversation is published in the online section of the journal.
In a similar spirit of advocacy, Joshua Abrams’s presidential address encourages the field to think beyond the United States to consider how ATHE might support our colleagues who are teaching across the globe. Abrams, speaking from his position as the first president of the organization based outside of the United States, put forward a vision for the organization that would move forward and speak up in advocating for the role of theatre in higher education, in advocating for those who are living in precarity or in political crisis, and for those who suffer at the hands of the “growing incivility” of our leaders on the global stage (12). An analogous message of collaboration and advocacy is also sounded in many of the ATHE award–winners’ speeches and in Patricia Ybarra’s response to those speeches, which are also posted on the journal’s website. The ATHE section of the print journal concludes with a brief note from Vice President, Conference 2019 Andrew Gibb, who outlines the vision that led to this year’s conference theme, in addition to the discussions that brought the conference to fruition. [End Page i]
Our content beyond the 2019 conference pieces offers a taste of the different approaches to theatre pedagogy and practice that we strive for in our publication. Michelle Liu Carriger’s “Teaching under Duress: Notes on the Pedagogy of Wildfire and Lockdown” explores the pedagogical ramifications of two tragedies that befell the UCLA campus in her early days as a tenure-track assistant professor. The first was an active shooter lockdown that occurred when an engineering professor was murdered by a PhD advisee; the second was a wildfire that threatened the campus and altered campus activity. In the wake of these experiences, Carriger reasserts the value of performance studies as a place from which to teach effectively about critical thinking. This is not a neoliberal “use value” argument about monetizing performance studies knowledge, but rather a philosophical defense of the importance of humanities-based thinking as a lens for navigating contemporary society. As I write this introduction in November 2019, Los Angeles is yet again threatened by wildfire that is affecting the quality of life of its residents.
In Dani Snyder-Young’s “Ownership, Expertise, and Audience Research: Developing Collaborative, Artist-Centric Methods for Studying Reception,” the author explores whether it is possible for a theatre company to develop low-impact methods for studying the complex and sometimes contradictory experiences of their audiences. Drawing from instances in which theatres are successfully engaged in this work, Snyder-Young develops a toolkit that will be of interest to scholars in reception studies, as well as to professional artists who may wish to better understand their audiences experiences with the productions their theatres stage.
Our note from the field section offers a moving and nontraditional piece of writing about Tangles and Plaques, an experimental theatre piece staged in 2019 by Chicago’s Neo-Futurists. Chloe Johnston’s “Beautiful Tangles: The Extra-Ordinary Mind Onstage” explores how the production draws ties between memory and theatre. I love how the note raises questions about the stakes of memory theatre, particularly when documenting a piece written about Alzheimer’s patients. Johnston cites several leading theatre and performance studies scholars drawing on cognitive neuroscience, serving as an example of the sort of artistry that I hope will inform more notes from the field in the future.
This issue marks my first as editor, as I move up from the role of coeditor. I am deeply grateful to my predecessor Lisa S. Brenner for her close mentorship and her incredible eye for structure and detail. She has built an excellent scaffold for both me and future editors of the journal, so that Theatre Topics can continue to produce scholarship at the forefront of theatre and performance studies pedagogy and practice well into the future. I am pleased that I will spend the next two years working alongside my incoming coeditor John Fletcher, incoming book review editor Jessica Del Vecchio, and online editor Margherita Laera. This team of scholars works with great enthusiasm, professionalism, and rigor throughout the year to make Theatre Topics as strong as it can be. I would also like to recognize editorial assistants Jennifer Herron, Kathryn Morris, and Jessica Pearson-Bleyer, as well as Vice President for Research and Publications D.J. Hopkins, and managing editor Bob Kowkabany. This issue also owes a particular debt of gratitude to the 2019 ATHE Conference Committee, particularly Vice President for Conference 2019 Gibb, who helped to coordinate the publication of the keynote and presidential addresses. Finally, I would like to extend thanks to the external reviewers and Theatre Topics’ board members, who diligently read the submissions that we send out for peer review in order to ensure that our contributors’ writing is as strong as possible. [End Page ii]