ACTS OF WITNESS: RESEARCH-BASED PERFORMANCE AND

THE CULTIVATION OF CIVIC IMAGINATION IN THE POST-TRUTH ERA

In my dissertation, Acts of Witness: Research-Based Performance and the Cultivation of Civic Imagination in the Post-Truth Era, I examine how theater-makers use research to amplify the voices and experiences of minoritarian subjects. I argue that artists in the fields of applied, documentary, and ethnographic performance have developed techniques that can be used to resist the seeming irrefutability of post-truth claims. Post-truth’s resistance to criticism results from its reliance on extreme relativism, a quality that I contend cannot be extracted from the individualism of white supremacist thought. Drawing on feminist theories of witnessing and epistemology, I investigate how research-based methods used by artists like Anna Deavere Smith, Leigh Fondakowski, and Lynn Nottage model collective approaches to knowledge creation that combat these relativistic and individualistic epistemologies.  I conclude that, in addition to modeling alternative epistemic practices, these research-based methods establish spaces in which audiences can engage in the types of civic imagination that enable diverse publics to envision more just futures.

QUEERING THE HEARTLAND: LGBTQ+ PERFORMANCE IN THE MIDWEST

My second book project, tentatively titled Queering the Heartland: LGBTQ+ Performance in the Midwest, fills a critical gap in the study of LGBTQ+ theater and performance history in the United States, which has thus far focused primarily on coastal cities. Inspired by archival records of the Midwestern tour of one of the earliest AIDS plays in the United States (Jeff Hagedorn’s One), this project examines the impact that touring LGBTQ+ performers and productions had on the development of Midwestern queer cultures in the twentieth century. I conceive of the heartland as a dynamic space through which LGBTQ+ performances have long circulated across intersecting geographical, temporal, and cultural routes and argue that the movement of artists along these routes carried essential information and survival strategies to members of LGBTQ+ publics throughout the region. 

PRACTICE AS RESEARCH

Alongside my more conventionally conceived scholarship, I consider my artistic practice to be one of my primary modes of conducting research and producing scholarship for broader audiences. As a publicly engaged theater-maker, I develop new plays that center feminist and queer narratives, often using community-based, documentary, and ethnographic methodologies. This work shapes and informs my scholarship, as can be seen in my publication record. I have three additional articles in progress that similarly cross the theory/practice divide. In the first, I examine how documentary evidence is taken up across genres of performance, using my collaboration with composer Joshua Groffman and documentary poet Sarah Heady on their new opera Halcyon as my primary case study. In the second, my co-writers and I trace how graduate students at Cornell have used feminist models of collaboration to carve out space for new play development and devised work in our underresourced department. The third is an edited interview with my long-term collaborator Leigh Fondakowski about the process of reimagining nineteenth-century actress Charlotte Cushman’s life in the context of contemporary LGBTQIA+ politics. For more information on the development of these projects and the productions themselves, please see the section on artistic practice.