Profile: Agnieszka Matysiak is currently taking her Ph.D. at the Department of American Literature and Culture at John Paul II Catholic University of Lublin, in Lublin, Poland, and has previously completed her M.A. with Honours in American Literature at that same institution. She has also published and presented papers on Sam Shepard and notions of space, backstage and off-stage in Gothic dramas.
Paper Title: Beyond the veil of the untainted representation: Sam Shepard and the backstage in the NeoGothic Fool for Love
Abstract: The aim of this paper is to explore the concept of the diegetically meditated backstage space in Sam Shepard’s drama Fool for Love. The distinct dramatic voice of Shepard’s theatre proposes the extraordinary plurality of the redefinitions of the identity concept. That being so, the adoption of the backstage as the tool for literary analysis of the dramatist’s 1983 play enables a thorough exploration of the diversity of confrontations between two lovers’ seemingly innocent quarrel and the signs of the diegetically meditated illicit essence of their affair. Hence, I will propose to designate the visible onstage space as the “Outside”/the exterior that performs the function of the ostensibly “legitimate” representation, and the non-visible offstage space as the “Inside”/the interior that conceals the diversity of disgraceful phenomena epitomizing the real threat to the exterior’s pure vision of reality. While establishing the alternative definition of the backstage area as the numinous space re-presented onstage through the dramatic characters’ bodily manifestations, I will propose to recognize the Shepardian backstage space as the Gothic area, which signifies the whole range of undesirable human imperfections as well as socially disgraceful improprieties and illicit phenomena that are repressed from the allegedly untainted reality. Finally, I will show that Sam Shepard’s dealings with the offstage space are equivalent to Michael Issacharoff’s thesis according to which the invisible “invades and finally overcomes the visible.”
Profile: Sabrina Huettner (Wuerzburg University) is currently a Ph.D. candidate and assistant professor at Würzburg University, Germany, where she has been teaching since 2007. She studied American Studies, Cultural Studies, Pedagogy, and Economics at Wuerzburg University and the University of Teesside, Middlesbrough, UK, and received an M.A. in American Studies and Economics from Wuerzburg University in 2007. Her dissertation focuses on American playwrights such as Tony Kushner, Christopher, Shinn, Naomi Wallace, and John Patrick Shanley, and asks how popular theatre in the late-twentieth and early-twenty-first century does political work. She has presented papers at various national and international conferences and was awarded a Fulbright Fellowship at San Francisco State University in 2008 and a Bavarian Kluge Fellowship to conduct research at the Library of Congress in Washington, DC, in 2010. She has written several articles on contemporary American political drama forthcoming in prominent journals in the field.
Paper Title: “I have always depended on the kindness of strangers”: Female Dreamscapes in Tennessee Williams’s A Streetcar Named Desire and Tony Kushner’s Angels in America
Abstract: Tony Kushner has often been hailed as the legitimate heir to Tennessee Williams’s poetic theater. While the two playwrights share several biographical parallels such as their Southern background and their attraction to the magical world of theater, it is specifically Tennessee Williams’s (covert) homosexuality which is frequently used as a lens to interpreting the foregrounding of sexuality in his plays and to locating his works in the genealogy of gay drama in the U.S. which since the early 1990s is spearheaded by Kushner. Yet, it would be shortsighted to read the various intertextual references to A Streetcar Named Desire, which abound in Kushner’s epochal play Angels in America, solely in the light of the playwright’s indebtedness to Williams’s pioneering presentation of sexuality on stage. In this paper I will follow rather untrodden paths and explore the literal and/or figurative travels of female characters in A Streetcar Named Desire and Angels in America respectively. Blanche DuBois, Williams’s idiosyncratic Southern belle, not only lost the family estate Belle Rêve, but also her own belle rêve, i.e. the dream of a life characterized by youth, beauty, cavaliers and wealth. And yet, she desperately clings to this dream which not only collides with the harsh realities of Stella’s and Stanley’s life in New Orleans, but also leads to her eventual downfall and compulsory hospitalization in a mental asylum. By contrast Harper Pitt, one of the few female characters in Kushner’s play, tries to escape not only her dysfunctional marriage with the closeted homosexual Joe, the constraints of Mormon religion, but even also the earthly atmosphere by means of Valium-induced hallucinations. Her travels lead her to the “threshold of revelation”, a dreamscape which serves as a metalevel to the play’s reality. Since Sigmund Freud argued in On Dreams that the dream is a disguised fulfillment of a repressed wish, it will be shown that Blanche’s failed dream and Harper’s revelatory hallucinations, i.e. female dreamscapes, are pivotal to constructing the plays’ respective realities and, moreover, to understanding the strong relationship of imagination and identity.
Dr. W. Douglas Powers
Profile: W. Douglas Powers earned the BA in theatre from Southeast Missouri State University; the MA in theatre history and dramatic literature from the University of Missouri-Kansas City; the MFA in acting from Ohio University; and the PhD in Theatre from the University of Missouri-Columbia. Dr. Powers is currently Associate Professor and Chair of the Department of Theatre at Susquehanna University, where he teaches courses in acting, dramatic theory and criticism, and identity and representation in non-Western theatre; he is also a faculty member of Susquehanna’s programs in Jewish and Diversity Studies. Some of Dr. Powers’ publications include the monograph An Eliadean Interpretation of Frank G. Speck’s Account of the Cherokee Booger Dance; a midrashic study of Cat on a Hot Tin Room and Angels in America in the South Atlantic Review; an essay on Clothes for a Summer Hotel in the Tennessee Williams Encyclopedia, entries in The Encyclopedia of Multi-Ethnic Literature and in The Encyclopedia of American Indian Literature; and most recently an article on the racism and sexism of Irving Berlin’s Annie Get Your Gun. His primary research interest is Oklahoma playwright Lynn Riggs. He is a member of Wordcraft Circle of Native Writers and Storytellers and Actors’ Equity Association.
Paper Title: America the Bully: Williams’ Critique of American Nationalism in Orpheus Descending
Abstract: In the United States, 2010 saw a spike in suicides by young LGBT students, attributed to bullying. These unnecessary deaths compelled peers, educators and parents to address bullying in the public school system, often muddled by those desperate to assign or avoid blame. Too, gay activist Dan Savage initiated a project to assure LGBT and Questioning youth that “It Gets Better” (the title of the campaign), lauded by many and criticized by others are classist—as it is implied that once you have the funds you can choose your surroundings and community—and simplistic, offering a generalized message of hope without concrete suggestions to ameliorate one’s situation. No one, however, is comfortable suggesting that bullying defines American identity. Fierce Christian, Capitalistic nationalism cast as patriotism, performed in tropes of hypermasculinity and hyperfemininity, serves to inculcate American youth with the hegemony that its citizenry—firmly ensconced in gendered and racialized binaries—are the leaders and saviors of the world. Tennessee Williams critiqued this misguided and limiting identity in most of his plays, most arguably his 1957 work Orpheus Descending, an adaptation of his earlier work Battle of Angels. In a self-appointed Eden, the dying Capitalism embodied by the cancer-stricken merchant Jabe Torrance and his band of thugs eliminate all traces of the Other from their midst through violence or assimilation; Jake’s wife Lady is the daughter of an immigrant whose wine garden was torched and who was murdered by Jake’s mob in xenophobic retaliation for serving African-Americans. The town’s women, sexually repressed and corseted in fundamentalist Christianity, are consumed with gossip. Orpheus Descending is a haunting allegory about an America justified in using physical or verbal abuse because it is afraid of change and complexity. This is an America that eats its young.
Prof. Dr. Johan Callens
Profile: Johan Calles teaches at the Vrije Universiteit Brussel and has published widely on American drama and performance, with contributions ranging from Eugene O’Neill and T.S.Eliot to Gertrude Stein and Jane Bowles, from The Builders Association and The Wooster Group to Big Art Group and Joji Inc. Essays of his have appeared, amongst others, in The Journal for Dramatic Theory and Criticism, Modern Drama, The Drama Review, Theatre Journal and PAJ: A Journal of Performance & Art. His most recent books are Dis/Figuring Sam Shepard (2007) and Crossings: David Mamet’s Work in Different Genres and Media (2009).
Paper Title: The Wooster Group’s Vieux Carré
Abstract: Ever since its inception in 1975 The Wooster Group has demonstrated a profound self-awareness about its identity as a theatre collective that grew out of, and needed to define itself in opposition to Richard Schechner’s Performance Group and its more explicitly politically- oriented theatre. As a result the Rhode Island Trilogy and Point Judith (an epilog) derived its material from the private life and early career of co-founding member Spalding Gray, even if this meant an alignment with a wide-spread avant-garde practice that to some hypothecated the performance company’s relevance and survival as American culture became saturated with postmodern tenets (such as the fusion of high brow and low brow, artistic recuperation, irony, etc.). As director Elizabeth LeCompte subsequently developed her repertoire she has consistently questioned the identity and nature of the archival dramatic canon, often by tackling plays which in turn stage disindividuation, as in the interplay between private, social and racial identities (O’Neill’s The Emperor Jones and The Hairy Ape, La Didone), the composite or intertextual nature of “dramatic” characters (Marguerite Ida Helena Annabel in Stein’s Doctor Faustus Lights the Lights), the relative independence and connectedness of individual productions to subsets within the larger work-in-progress (the trilogies, the O’Neill and Chekhov subsets, the North Atlantic revival), or the ghostly nature of representation and mimetic desire underlying so-called individual actions (Hamlet, To You, The Birdie! (Phèdre)). Tennessee Williams’s Vieux Carré (1977), dealing as it does with the writer’s “coming out” as a writer and homosexual, can be shown to provide a new impetus to the Wooster Group’s protracted investigation, one that simultaneously illuminates the American dramatist’s and the American performance company’s complex artistic identities and methodologies.
Profile: Kristen Brill is a Ph.D. candidate at Cambridge. Additionally, I hold an MA from the London School of Economics (History of International Relations) as well as a BA from New York University (History and Gender Studies).
Paper Title: Performing Blackface On and Off the Stage: Free People of Color in the Antebellum Theatre
Abstract: Free people of color in the antebellum United States both physically and ideologically embodied the crux of the most urgent domestic issue of the mid-nineteenth century: the ascription of freedom to a black body. Free blacks were a visual representation of the evolving political landscape of the young republic; serving as a stimulus for both the abolitionist offensive drive for emancipation and the plantocracy defense of slavery. An intersectional examination confronting white racial superiority (in the persistence of a subjugated race identification) with more egalitarian constructions of citizenship and political authority (with their free as opposed to enslaved legal status) offers free people of color as a critical site to explore the metamorphosis of the American sociopolitical terrain. Restricting the geographic purview of this study to Washington, D.C., is advantageous considering its symbolism as the nation’s capital and its more ambiguous and malleable laws regulating African-Americans (both free and enslaved) than its neighboring states. Segregated from the deeply rooted slave economies and societies of the Deep South, yet still maintaining an official policy of slaveholding, Washington presents a context to explore notions of black freedom and servitude under more adaptable legalities. Engaging the medium of theatre – in both the minstrel and popular drama capacities- elucidates the embedment of municipal strands of white anxieties regarding free persons of color into a more regional framework. Minstrel shows, in their early itinerant touring of northern antebellum cities throughout the antebellum era, expressed a standardized content; much of this content focused on white economic distress. This uniformity in minstrel show content linked Washington, D.C. with the rest of the urban north in terms of racial ideology. Yet, its specific municipal regulatory conditions of free persons of color distinguish Washington from other antebellum cities.
Profile: Barbara Antoniazzi holds an M.A. in American Studies from the University of Venice Ca’Foscari. Since 2008 she has been a Ph.D. candidate at the Graduate School of North American Studies of the Free University Berlin where she is working on a dissertation titled Wayward Femininity: Progressivism, Prostitution and Performance in America. Her current research interests include cultural studies, American literature (19th-20th century) and feminism.
Paper Title: Harlots on the Stage: Gendered Identities and Social Anxiety in the Prostitution Plays of Crothers and Vogel
Abstract: The “obtruding harlot on the stage” began hitting the scene of American Drama before WW1, and it never left the theatre ever since. This paper will analyze two plays by authors who, at the two temporal ends of the 20th century, used the figure of the prostitute to articulate crucial issues of female identity within a challenging social context. With Rachel Crothers, who wrote a surprisingly uncensored white slavery play in the mid teens (Ourselves 1913), prostitution ceases to be a melodramatic pretext for the endorsement of common morality and becomes the site of an unapologetic, if sober, critique of middleclass gender roles. Furthermore, in addition to condemning the double standard and the class-dimension of sexual exploitation, Crothers acknowledges the cruciality of healthy sensual appetites on the part of women, both adolescent and more mature. Almost a century later, Paula Vogel reverts to prostitution for a novel bout of social criticism. In The Oldest Profession (1981), the 1998 Pulitzer-winning author turns to a group of octogenarian streetwalkers to denounce the feminization of poverty and for an elegiac meditation on the demise of a golden-times work ethic irremediably replaced by the raging neoliberal creed of the 1980s. Both authors turn to the subject of prostitution in order to underscore the gendered dimension of a socially critical moment. In Crothers the Progressive hysteria around white slavery is an epiphenomenon on whose margins she depicts the motifs of a renovated female sphere: the invention of adolescence, the demise of Victorian frigidity, the possibility and difficulty of female binding in the face of oppressive or emotionally distant males. Vogel, quite on the contrary, puts aside the psychological––often psychoanalytical––work that often characterizes her female portraits, and moves “women and economics” center stage.