By Tara Demmy, Arden Professional Apprentice
The American Society for Theatre Research (ASTR) is a U.S.-based professional organization that fosters scholarship on worldwide theatre and performance, both historical and contemporary. It had its annual conference Seattle this year (Nov 18-21), and I attended representing Arden Theatre Company.
My undergraduate senior thesis was accepted into the working group: “Bodies at Play” which explored the performative dimensions of “bodies at play,” which were defined as physical and / or imaginary “corporeal scenarios” where the mind and body engage in “play”. There were papers that analyzed the play involved with Live Action Role Play, Stunt Running, and dressing as Superheroes for comic book conventions. One paper explored the process our bodies go through when smell is incorporated into theatrical performances, arguing that it make us more present and more connected to the “liveness” of performance.
My paper was titled “American Bouffon: Historical Deconstruction and Experimental Performance.” It explored the differentiated bodies of Jacques Lecoq’s bouffon and what needs to change about this French satirical style in order to effectively perform it in the United States.
We ended the working group by discussing how we “play” in our everyday lives and why this concept of play (which translates into freeing yourself artistically and taking risks) is so important for the American theatre. I really learned that by understanding performance as it occurs in our everyday lives, we will be better able to connect to the type of art that is presented on the stage.
I came to this conference from a totally different point of view, being a part of a regional theatre instead of a university (most who attend ASTR are either PhD students or college professors). I talked with many participants at the conference who praised the Arden’s work and said that they wished they had worked in a theatre before pursuing graduate education because practice enriches research (especially in the theatre). Research is super important, but if that research is not applied to the actual theatre produced, then it is not used to its full potential. The APA program is an amazing practice- based program for understanding all that goes into running a successful theatre company and this conference was a brilliant example of how I was able to utilize the new perspective and experiences I have gained from the APA program.
In reflecting, I am so glad I attended this conference. It gave me new ideas on how to organize research and the many topics that theatre research can cover. I attended sessions on multi-cultural theatre, feminist theatre, and research strategies. I received advice from many well-known scholars who were eager to share their professional journeys with someone who just graduated college. I was proud to have Arden Theatre Company on my name tag and was able to speak of our season with some Philadelphia local professors. I hope to return to Seattle and see more theatre on the west coast; it’s a whole new exciting theatre community to explore!