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This seminar aspires to spark and to sustain new scholarship in drama, theatre, and performance studies, recognizing that such research frequently spans disciplines. The seminar features the full spectrum of research in drama, theatre, and performance, while focusing particularly on three areas of scholarship: first, critical methods in the study of drama, theatre, and performance; second, work that probes the intersection of performance and literary or textual practice; and third, theatre and performance cultures in and around New York City. We aim to facilitate critical engagement among scholars from multiple fields — including cultural studies, dance studies, history, anthropology, sociology, and classics — and to support generative, cross-disciplinary encounters with current research. The seminar also connects issues of concern to theatre and performance artists and critics with emerging scholarship on these subjects.

Shonni Enelow

Rebecca Kastleman

Derek Miller

Adrian Guo Silver

Meeting Schedule

09/28/2023 Faculty House, Columbia University
5:00 PM
Roundtable and welcome event
Sebastián Calderón Bentin, New York University

María José Conreras Lorenzini, Columbia University

Derek Miller, Harvard University

Hillary Miller, Queens College, CUNY

11/30/2023 Faculty House, Columbia University
5:00 PM
Mass Performance: Systems and Citizens
Kimberley Jannarone, Yale University


This talk introduces the modern phenomenon of mass performance systems: political systems that, at their height in the era of nationalization, trained thousands of people to perform the same physical movements at the same moment in time. This lecture concentrates on how Soviet-era leaders sought to give ideological shape to the energy generated by thousands of coordinated bodies. Performance videos will illustrate how multiple choreographies of mass gymnastics reveal different approaches to shaping citizenship in the Czech Republic and beyond.

02/29/2024 Faculty House, Columbia University
5:00 PM

Julia Jarcho, Brown University

03/21/2023 Faculty House, Columbia University
5:00 PM
The Tawdry, Terrifying but Totally True History of the Casting Couch
Brian Herrera, Princeton University


In January of 2018, one of Harvey Weinstein’s former assistants filed a lawsuit claiming sexual harassment. By then, the former Hollywood powerbroker had been accused of sexual harassment, exploitation, and assault by scores of accusers, both famous and not. The former assistant’s legal claim, however, contained one particularly sordid detail. The claimant alleged that, as part of their employment, they were obliged to clean bodily fluids from the couch in Harvey Weinstein’s office. After months of scandalized reporting on Weinstein’s cruel, callous, and criminal exploitation of women employees (many of whom were actresses), this was perhaps the first mention of that rarest of objects: an actual “casting couch.” In this talk, I excavate the history of the “casting couch” as a cultural construct. Drawing from an archive that includes the illegitimate press (gossip rags, gentlemen’s magazines, “sleaze” paperbacks) and “under the counter” entertainment genres (party albums, joke books, stag films), I explicate how the “casting couch” became one of the twentieth century’s most efficient discursive devices for referencing the reality of sexual abuse and exploitation that “everybody knows about” while simultaneously concealing the actuality of that abuse from public scrutiny. As a titillating catch-all (neither so real as the fainting couch or the analyst’s couch but related to both), I argue that the peculiar metonymic power of the “casting couch” collapsed the complex transactional intimacies, collaborative proximities, and material realities of the entertainment industry within an enduringly evocative narrative scenario of the actress as a readily compromised worker.

04/25/2023 CANCELLED
5:00 PM
Past and Present in the Post-WWII British History Play
Jean Howard, Columbia University


Drawing on history plays by Howard Brenton, Caryl Churchill, and especially Edward Bond, I argue that British playwrights of the second half of the twentieth century continue to write state-of-the-nation history plays of a particularly bleak but dialectical cast in which the past is always intensely in dialogue with present concerns. My focus for this paper will be partly Bond’s Bingo, engaged through the lens of J.K. Barret’s Untold Futures, but with sections on Brenton’s Romans in Britain and Churchill’s Light Shining in Buckinghamshire. I will welcome feedback on this material, which is looking for its final form, but will also explain the larger frame for the book which moves between British and American history plays and posits quite different lineages and functions for each.