BY: LEIGH FONDAKOWSKI
DIRECTED BY: CAITLIN KANE
CORNELL UNIVERSITY, FLEX THEATRE
APRIL 26 - MAY 4, 2019
RESEARCH-BASED PERFORMANCE AND
THE CULTIVATION OF CIVIC IMAGINATION IN THE POST-TRUTH ERA
Most critics and scholars describe post-truth as a new phenomenon, characterized by a rejection of factual evidence in favor of emotions and belief. As a feminist scholar of theater and performance, I am troubled by these accounts’ inattention to post-truth’s historical precedents and reification of the false binary between emotion and reason. In my dissertation, I analyze research-based performances produced in the last forty years by US-based artists, including Anna Deavere Smith, Leigh Fondakowski, Albany Park Theater Project, and Sojourn Theater. I contend that these artists’ work helps us to understand the social, political, and epistemic forces that led to what many now consider to be the “post-truth era.” Moreover, I argue that the methods that these artists use to theatricalize their research offer us powerful tools for navigating the tension between factual evidence and affective, embodied, and experiential ways of knowing in ways that are attentive to power and difference.
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.