THEOREMS, PROOFS, REBUTTALS AND PROPOSITIONS: A CONFERENCE OF THEORETICAL THEATER
ESTHER NEFF / YELENA GLUZMAN
“Theorems, Proofs, Rebuttals and Propositions: A Conference of Theoretical Theater” began with the simple conception of “theater” as a public site for insight (in Greek, theater means ‘seeing place’), tied intrinsically to theory or ‘ways of seeing.’ This conference was based on the premise that performance is not just an artistic medium, it is also a vast and complex conceptual/philosophic structure. Underlying this premise is the belief that performance is an ‘uncanny social science,’ a way of researching human social experience by being it, a way of theorizing about the meaning-making, the physical world, political and intuitional constructs by causing and simultaneously being caused-by them.
Without imposing limitations on the specific theoretical concerns of participants, we designed a conference structure that could authorize performance-making as an act of constructive theorizing and envisioning. Unlike traditional conferences (even ones dealing with Performance Studies) that de-emphasize the performativity of texts and talks, here performativity was at the center of the conference structure, privileging performance as the main rhetorical tool through which conference participants would theorize, disagree, and discuss. Practically, this meant that the conference organization must be sensitive to the temporal, architectural, and contextual needs of presentations, since these elements contribute to the semiotics of each work presented. Conversely, presentations embedded in this framework necessarily shaped, commented on and intervened in the conference-performance itself.
Four plenarists were chosen through an open call for proposals. On the initial weekend of the conference, each of the four plenarists presented a theoretical investigation in the form of a performance. Each plenarist was matched with a critical writer, who engaged with the plenarist’s process prior to the conference, and who then moderated a discussion after the performance.
The remainder of the conference loosely took a claim-rebuttal format. About 30 conference participants had roughly four days to formulate responses to one or all of the initial plenary performances. Though responses were expected to be performative, participants could choose any combination of modes (writing, walking, speaking, singing, touching, etc.) best suited to their response. The following Thursday and Friday, participants presented their responses to plenarists and to each other. Each day ended with an open discussion.
Names of plenarists and conference participants, along with images, writings and ephemera from the conference, can be found on the website.