CFP: The Romance of Theater: American Drama and Its Stories


Seville, 28-30 May 2012

The Fourth International Conference on American Theater and Drama to be held in Andalucia, Spain, will take place in May 2012, organized by the University ofSeville. As many remember, the first and second conferences were hosted by theUniversity of Málaga, and the third, in 2009, by the University of Cadiz.
Seville is one of the most beautiful cities in southern Spain, if not in allEurope; such universal characters as Don Juan or Carmen are among those the cityhas contributed to universal culture. Given such a Romantic setting, and afterdevoting the last conference to violence in American theater and drama, wethought that it was perhaps time for something a little lighter, and so, in keepingwith the romantic character of Seville, we’ll be looking at the long-time romancebetween the theater, playwrights, professionals, and, hopefully, audiences. In spiteof the persistent rumor of crisis which has always surrounded this art, the truth isthat it has never quite disappeared, and has surprisingly withstood the impact ofnew technologies and other vehicles for artistic communication which the digitalrevolution has brought about. There is something about the theater that continuesto enthrall and seduce us. The first thing we would like to explore in our fourthconference is just this: what it is that makes theater, and American theater inparticular, so resilient, and what it is that keeps infusing new life into it with eachnew generation.

An answer we soon came up with was that we all love a story. Storytelling has always been as indispensable to human beings as nourishment or clothing(perhaps even more). And theater always tells stories, or at least it did till GertrudeStein complained that “Everybody knows so many stories and what is the use oftelling another story. What is the use of telling a story since there are so many andeverybody knows so many and tells so many.” And then Bertolt Brecht, and JerzyGrotowski, and Richard Foreman, and the Open Theater, and the Wooster Group,and other avantgardists went about transforming the traditional ways of tellingstories. And yet, upon closer inspection, it is all too easy to realize that storytellingprobably was more reluctant to abandon the stage than it proclaimed it was, andAmerican drama continues to tell stories, albeit deploying new formats which reflect the new modes of apprehending reality.

Using both approaches as a starting point, the magic which theaterpossesses and its ability to captivate audiences, and the complex dynamicsbetween dramatic writing and the desire/refusal to tell stories, we invite Americandrama and theater scholars to find ways to address these topics from whateverfield of inquiry into American drama and theater they happen to work in. We willbe receptive to all kinds of proposals that, in one way or another, attempt to shedlight on such issues. However, here are some questions which participants mightlike to use as starting points:

  • What kinds of stories has American drama told us? And why those and notothers?
  • How have such stories been given dramatic form?
  • What are the stories surrounding the (hi)story of American drama? And how truthful or otherwise are they?
  • What stories have never been told both about American theater and its professionals, performers, directors, playwrights, impresarios…?
  • How have 20th century avant-garde European theorists influencedAmerican dramatic craft?
  • Is there just one way to tell stories? What other modes have Americanplaywrights come up with? And what artistic/ideological agenda(s) werethey meant to serve?
  • How are the stories of ethnic groups within the larger culture told byAmerican drama?
  • Are stories about canonical playwrights accurate and/or fair? Are therestories about them which have never been told? Why were they keptsecret?
  • What remains to be said about the silenced (his/her)story of women inAmerican theater?
  • How can we enrich the body of stories which the American theatrical establishment continues to tell us right now?
  • Perceiving the theatrical story: cognitive studies applied to the theater.
  • How do cinematic and theatrical storytelling in America coalesce, and/or cross-fertilize one another?
  • To what extent does dramatic storytelling in America necessitate theparticipation of the audience? What stories do audiences bring to the theater, and how do they shape what is enacted before them? What is the role of memory in the configuration of past stories, plays, or performances?
  • Is there such a thing as storytelling which is specific for highbrow or lowbrow audiences?
  • And, why not, what relationships and romances have there beenbetween performers and other practitioners and the theater, or betweenthemselves?• What are the best-loved productions on the American stage?
  • How has American drama dealt with love and romance, and from how many different standpoints?
  • What sense can we make of the love/hate relationship between Americantheater and foreign playwrights and theatrical modes?
  • And what can we say of America’s longstanding romance with the Broadway musical?

To tell us your story, or, in more academic terms, to submit your proposal, pleasewrite a brief e-mail stating its title and including a 5-7 line resume. Then attach a150 word abstract, and send it toberceo@gmail.comby October 15, 2011. Proposals will be examined carefully, and, within 45 days, wewill get back to you concerning acceptance (or otherwise). For updated information on the conference, please


About Sarah Bay-Cheng

Professor of Theater at Bowdoin College. Co-host for the On TAP (Theatre and Performance Studies) podcast at Editor for the book series Avant-Gardes in Performance (Palgrave). Sporadically blogging about theatre, performance, and digital culture. twitter: @performaddict
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