Special issue of Contemporary Theatre Review: What’s Queer about Queer Performance Now?

Edited by:

Alyson Campbell (Victorian College of the Arts, University of Melbourne)

Stephen Farrier (Royal Central School of Speech and Drama, University of London)

Manola Gayatri Kumarswamy (Wits School of Arts, University of Witwatersrand Johannesburg and Ambedkar University Delhi).

The roots of queer performance are present in the non-conformist, the antinormative and the anti-institutional. Despite these resistances, queer thought and its corollaries, including queer performance, have found a concentration in the body of the academy and this paradoxical homing is often seen as problematically ‘domesticating’ queer performance. Rather than repeat the position that the continuing voice of queer performance in the academy and in our theatre institutions is the sound of its death knell (queer theory’s death having been announced many times) this special issue of CTR will ask what this continuing presence means for how we think, read, study, make and speak about queer performance. It asks, then: what is queer about queer performance now?

Using the influential 2005 ‘What’s Queer about Queer Studies Now?’ edition of Social Text as inspiration, this special issue of CTR takes the question as impetus to ask the same of queer performance. The edition of Social Text explored how queer studies might function in a specific political climate in response to shifts in identity politics and new approaches to queer epistemologies. Like that collection, this special edition of CTR seeks essays that offer new and diverse perspectives that respond to developments in queer performance and in queer modes of performance-making, asking: what is queer performance now, how do we recognise it, how do we make it, how do we talk about it and how might its current manifestations question or solidify historical visions of what queer performance might do?

The special edition is connected with the editorial work Campbell and Farrier did on Queer Dramaturgies, (Palgrave, 2015), which is a collection that explores important gaps in how we might speak of queer performance internationally and intergenerationally. The 2015 collection focuses on modes of analysis of queer performance that reform the relationship of queer theory to performance practice, placing the practice as the ‘first term’, as expressed in the book’s subtitle: International Perspectives on Where Performance Leads Queer. Since its publication, the field has diversified further. Yet, there is still work to be done to continue to address international queer work: how it might be considered and conceptualised – both in its presence in normative theatre spaces as well as in its feral, underground, local manifestations. This special issue of CTRaddress these gaps and recent developments and continues to conceive of the field as diverse, resisting homogeneity by paying mind, for instance, to granular geographical specificities and questioning the complexities of queer performance practices. It upsets the assumed globalised identity of the queer subject (‘homonation’) in postcolonial cultures invested in decolonisation.

The special issue holds to a hierarchy that insists there are still many more critical concepts and approaches to be mined when we place queer performance first. A key aim of the special issue is to open out avenues for discussions of intersectional work and to highlight the achievements of scholars and makers outside the specific contexts of the global north.


Questions and themes

In the setting where there is a proliferation of performance that takes the moniker ‘queer’, we question the easy binding of queer performance’s (radical?) past to what sometimes amounts to a marketing ploy and the interpellation or folding-in of resistant queer identity into ‘defanged’ (Shildrick, in Campbell and Farrier, 2015) positions.

Thus, subsidiary questions to the main driver and potential themes of the edition evident in its title are (though not limited to):

  • What isqueer performance and what is queer about it now?
  • How has queer performance focussed, or not, on ethnicity, race, class, disability, gender or gender identity? How does current queer performance engage with contemporary issues of identity, especially where those identity formations are new, intersectional, geographically and temporally sensitive?
  • In what ways is queer discourse productive, or not, in traditional/Indigenous groups in Global South cultures?
  • Between the art market, traditional family and culturally conservative state what are the radical and strategic ways queer women performers engage with capital and structural resources for performance making in the Global South or engage with the question of cultural labour (Prakash:2019)?
  • How do writers and makers account for the current state of queer performance and how is it connected to both radical and assimilationist pasts?
  • In a context where some performance and theatre institutions are welcoming queer identity positions, what does this do the antinormative drive of queer and the kinds of performance work that is produced?
  • What structural and dramaturgical strategies are being used to make current queer performance /queer performance current?
  • How do queer performance makers work in the rehearsal room? How do they conceive and plan of their work queerly?
  • How does the relationship of virtuosity and non-virtuosity work as/in queer practices? Is there a tension in making queer work highly polished or appearing amateurish?
  • How does current queer performance labour, or not, with discourses of disability? What are the compelling crip queer intersections happening in performance work and how might these question the historical assumptions of queer performance?
  • How does queer performance record and archive itself without replicating the normative-inducing structures it seeks to resist?
  • Is queer performance work old enough to be considered generational? (is this an assumption of the Global North?) How does queer intergenerational practice structure, reinforce and/or question the emerging normativising of queer performance? How might intergenerational practice normalise/radicalise queer histories?
  • How does queer performance position social and political contexts not in the Global North, or concerned with Westernness? How are these positions characterised and read in specific contexts? Is queer performance work visible to all? Is the idea of queer work being ‘domesticated’ or ‘defanged’ unthinkable in some parts of the world where to be queer or make queer work requires strategies to avoid being visible?
  • What is the impact of the hegemonic position of the cis gay man in queer (and non-queer) performance communities?
  • What are the responsibilities of queer performance makers in the current social and political climate? How might we critique queer performance when it is failing the community?
  • What are the strategies that might ensure that queer performance maintains its normative-resistant queerness in institutional contexts?

The Feral Queer Camp is supported by the Creativity and Wellbeing Research Initiative and The Victorian College of the Arts - The University of Melbourne; and Royal Central School of Speech and Drama.