“Syllabi for the Future” consists of a curated playlist of short videos and descriptions of research modules, each accompanied by further reading. Composed by artists and scholars, the videos identify possible and emerging trends in performance research. Collectively, the playlist expands potential horizons of our current academic and performance climates, plotting a chart of trajectories for performance studies from the vantage point of those beginning to shape the field.
This projection of syllabi for the future of performance studies began as an installation that took place as part of PSi #22 in Melbourne. In its inception, contributors were asked to submit a short video that glimpsed the future of the field. The formal parameters of the videos were broad: the style of the videos may be abstract or narrative, and the contributor need not feature in it as long as the videos were approximately three minutes long. They were encouraged to integrate scholarly texts with images, words, and video. Conceptually, the videos would relate to their research, practice, and/or ideas toward potential futures of what performance studies could/should be. For this special section of GPS, contributors were asked to systematize their ideas, and to propose a course module that would contextualize the videos and offer a view of how this proposed “future” subject might be executed as a course of study.
Courses or modules are useful conceptual frameworks for thinking about the future of the field. It actualizes the proposed subjects, and provokes us into considering why this should become an important body of knowledge for future generations. For whom, and under what context, is it crucial to study and research these questions? A reading list simultaneously iterates and produces a canonical list of works, taking historical and current practice and research as a springboard into investigations of the yet-to-be theorised. The videos and course modules we have curated demonstrate both the imagination of pedagogical possibilities, as well as the challenges and limits of prospecting the field.
In “Strategies for/from Ethnography: Alternatives for Assessing the Political in Performance,” Rayya El Zein proposes a methodological intervention in performance ethnography to reconsider its political possibilities. By exploring the sonic heritage that contemporary Arab rap may have with tarab, an Arabic ethnomusicological term describing feelings of ecstasy in listening to traditional Arabic poetry, song, or religious recitation, this module asks whether the current understanding of the politics of performance has a methodological bias towards valuing “resistance” as the unique measure for the efficacy of performance. In what ways, El Zein asks, does academia render resistance attractive if performed by some demographics and threatening or invisible when performed by others?
Linzi Juliano and Kayla Tange continue with the methodological angle in “Media and Performance,” exploring the interstices and overlaps between media and performance studies. Outlining the congruence between both fields, the course seeks to articulate new scholarly languages that merge the conceptual and methodological sensitivities across both disciplines. Juliano and Tange offer three main aspects for this merging to be considered — linguistic architectures, vulnerable vitality, and digital spatiality — and provide key entry points to critically engage with each of these.
Moving on from the methodological and disciplinary propositions of the first two modules, Kristin Flade offers a module that explores the conception of theatre studies in Germany as a field, and juxtaposes this study with a reflection and inquiry into the visual metaphor of conceptualizing an academic discipline as a field. This juxtaposition combines both visual and written materials in a manner that echoes to that for which Juliano and Tange call.
Katherine Brewer Ball and Juan Gallardo continue with the disciplinary reflections in their contribution “Some Notes on Performance Studies And the More Speculative Genres” — a module that is “co-taught and intergenerational.” Brewer Ball and Gallardo’s text is performed as a duet and as an incantation, where education itself is enchanted as spellcasting, with the possibility of bringing forth a world that has yet to exist. This proposition is made by suggesting performance’s divorce from ontology to emancipate the “chance for promiscuity.”
Juxtaposition is frequently employed in the syncopated practice of writing and artistic composition with which performance scholars and artists are engaged. In the next two contributions, juxtaposition is strategically mobilized as a critical method and practice. Amaara Raheem nimbly dances with embodied knowledge in her module “Embodied Knowledge: Inhabiting Twilight Zone(s).” Her course tangoes with space and memory, and invites prospective students to participate in the epistemology that arises from and is produced by dancing. As with all the contributions, we strongly recommend juxtaposing your reading of the course description with the respective video. In Raheem’s module, the video and text perform a graceful and meditative pas de deux.
This course is a performance, Raheem tells us, and this is also the case for Alice Colquhoun’s “Performing Affirmative Velocities.” Colquhoun’s course carries forth a kind of political investment already present in El Zein’s module, and inhabits the emphasis on embodiment that Raheem shares with us. There is urgency to studying the performance politics in a time when the accelerated speed of violence ends the future of many populations around the world, despite international laws that supposedly sanction them. By developing the embodiment of activism through exercises that engage the prospective student’s “fury plexus,” Colquhoun’s course encourages the connection of humanitarian principles with what she calls “affirmative performance acts.” These acts may be juxtaposed with other practices to harness greater momentum. She demonstrates this in her video, “Now it is time for us to do our bit.”
Finally, Augusto Corrieri’s “Performance Without Human Exceptionalism” is a module that consolidates an overview of performance theory in the 20th and 21st centuries, and speculates on its failure to materialise posthuman performance. In counterpoint, Corrieri introduces ideas and practices for approaching performance “as a process that is always already underway, regardless of whether ‘we’ bring attention to it or not,” and pivots the module by reflecting on a piece of dance performed by a dolphin and a woman. Significantly, Corrieri’s module concludes the syllabi by including books that are yet to be written.
How far beyond do performance studies scholars perceive the future? The syllabi forecast speculative futures through an examination of what the present is tending towards. In the curation process, we realize that the modules presented are symptomatic of the brevity and exigency that the term “future” implies in the current enmeshment of political, financial, cultural, and atmospheric climates. The future is now, as it were, and we feel the pressure of the uncertainty about its possibilities closing down on us. How far beyond can performance studies scholars perceive the future? The response gleaned from the modules included in this playlist seems to be: “Not too far — these futures are immanent in the present.”
As the Future Advisory Board of PSi, we remain committed to the idea that shaping the future is an ongoing project, and is a collective investment of the field that is in no way limited to “younger” generations of performance scholars. These modules are but a small sample of what the current climate of performance studies is like from the vantage points and situated knowledges of our contributors. What is missing, in these syllabi, is as important as what is already present. We invite you to revise these modules, dwell in the gaps, challenge the knowledge presented, and propose your courses for the future.