Please register to attend.



Please join the Drama, Theatre & Performance Studies Working Group for an open symposium on the urgent intersections of theatre, performance and their supporting infrastructures.

In fall 2021, RE:OPENING?: Rethinking NYC’s Performance Infrastructures, framed the inquiry in the context of theatre’s “reopening” in the wake of COVID-19. We invited theorists, artists, and activists from across NYC to think together about the ways COVID exacerbated the economic precarity, wealth inequality, sexism, and racism that have characterized infrastructures of the performing arts for decades. Together we considered: how we might hold our cultural organizations accountable to real change?

For our spring 2022 event, we would like to broaden the aperture beyond New York as well as turn our attention to the ways a focus on policy and infrastructure opens up new methodological and theoretical opportunities for theatre and performance studies. Performance requires support: a vast array of institutions, policies, and political economies foster its material conditions and enactments. But how do policies and practices of support get established, performed, and understood across histories and geographies? And how, practically speaking, do artists negotiate and mobilize resources in local contexts?

The symposium will be presented in three panels, bringing together three scholars who are at the forefront of this infrastructural turn in theatre and performance studies – Jasmine Mahmoud (University of Washington), Patrick McKelvey (University of Pittsburgh), and Sarah Wilbur (Duke University) – as well NYU Skirball presenting artists John Collins (Elevator Repair Service), Ishmael Houston-Jones (Danspace Project), Ty Jones (Classical Theatre of Harlem), and Marianne Weems (The Builders Association) whose work engages closely with these questions.

The event will also launch – via a critical engagement with – Brandon Woolf’s new book Institutional Theatrics: Performing Arts Policy in Post-Wall Berlin, which explores opportunities for radical transformation within institutions of the arts and critical humanities.

Co-sponsored by the Drama, Theatre and Performance Studies Working Group; Tisch Drama; English Department; Program in Dramatic Literature; Center for the Humanities; and NYU Skirball.

Panel One: Theatre & Institutions, Policy & Performance

This opening panel will explore the shaping influence of cultural policy, arts infrastructures, and political economy on the lives and work of artists. The conversation will also examine how such a focus on policy and infrastructure opens up new methodological and theoretical opportunities for theatre and performance studies.

Jasmine Mahmoud
Assistant Professor, University of Washington

Patrick McKelvey
Assistant Professor, University of Pittsburgh

Sarah Wilbur
Assistant Professor, Duke University

Moderator: Sebastián Calderón Bentin
Associate Professor, New York University

Panel Two: On Theatrical Institutions

Four artists with long-standing institutional and artistic connections in NYC discuss the practical and ideological logistics of sustaining companies over time; the resources and practices they’ve developed in the last 2 years to support their companies; and preexisting structural challenges that have been exacerbated by Covid’s effect on the arts in NYC.

John Collins
Artistic Director, Elevator Repair Service

Ishmael Houston-Jones
Choreographer | Danspace Project

Ty Jones
Producing Artistic Director, Classical Theatre of Harlem

Marianne Weems
Artistic Director, The Builders Association

Moderator: Gonzalo Casals
Senior Research and Policy Fellow for Arts and Culture at the Andrew W. Mellow Foundation

Panel Three: On Institutional Theatrics

A celebratory critical engagement with Brandon Woolf’s new book Institutional Theatrics: Performing Arts Policy in Post-Wall Berlin, which charts the ways theater artists respond to crises both on- and offstage, offering a method for rethinking the theater as a vital public institution.

Jasmine Mahmoud
Assistant Professor, University of Washington

Patrick McKelvey
Assistant Professor, University of Pittsburgh

Sarah Wilbur
Assistant Professor, Duke University

Moderator: Brandon Woolf
Clinical Associate Professor, New York University

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About Institutional Theatrics:

In a city struggling to determine just how neoliberal it can afford to be, what kinds of performing arts practices and institutions are necessary—and why? Since the fall of the Berlin Wall, political and economic agendas in the reunified German capital have worked to dismantle long-standing traditions of state‑subsidized theater even as the city has redefined itself as a global arts epicenter. Institutional Theatrics, Brandon Woolf examines the restructuring of Berlin’s theatrical landscape and most prominent performance venues in order to argue that cultural policy is not simply the delegation and distribution of funds. Instead, policy should be thought of as an artistic practice of institutional imagination. Woolf demonstrates how performance can critique its patron institutions in order to transform the relations between the stage and the state, between the theater and the infrastructures of its support.

Speaker Bios

Sebastián Calderón Bentin is Associate Professor of Theater Studies in the Department of Drama at the Tisch School of the Arts, New York University. His research explores the role of aesthetics, media, and performance in state formation and political communication in Latin America. His writings have appeared in Theater Survey, TDR, Identities, Istmo, and Neoliberalism and Global Theaters, among others.

Gonzalo Casals is the Senior Research and Policy Fellow for Arts and Culture at the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation. A cultural producer, arts administrator, and policymaker, Gonzalo held various executive roles at El Museo del Barrio (2006-2013), Friends of the High Line (2013-2017), and the Leslie-Lohman Museum (2017-2020).
Recently, he was the Commissioner for the NYC Department of Cultural Affairs, where he directed cultural policy for the City of New York while leading the recovery of the Arts and Culture sector during the COVID19 pandemic.

John Collins founded Elevator Repair Service in 1991. Since then, he has directed or co-directed (with Steve Bodow) all of the company’s productions. He is the recipient of a Doris Duke Artist Award, a Guggenheim Fellowship, and a United States Artists Donnelley Fellowship. John received the Lucille Lortel Award for Outstanding Director for GATZ’s 2010 production at The Public Theater and the Elliot Norton Award for Outstanding Director for its production at A.R.T. John is ERS’s artistic director and has occasionally contributed both sound and lighting design to the company’s work, including the Bessie Award-winning lighting design of ROOM TONE.

NAACP and OBIE Award Winner, Dr. Ty Jones is the Producing Artistic Director of the Classical Theatre of Harlem (CTH). He is a 2013 recipient of the Council of the City of New York Proclamation Award. His role with CTH since 2003 has included: actor, producer, managing director, development director and board chair. Under Jones’ leadership, the company has developed a template whose core of financial discipline, precision marketing, and exceptional programming, has resulted in CTH’s growth and stability. Mr. Jones initiated Uptown Meets Downtown, a program comprising strategic partnerships with downtown theatres designed to share production costs and build artistic bridges between communities. He also led the inaugural Uptown Shakespeare in the Park, bringing free, outdoor, professional theatre to Harlem’s Marcus Garvey Park for an extended run. 

He is a veteran of 5 Broadway shows: Lt. Byers in Judgment at Nuremberg; the Tony Award-winning production of Henry IV with Ethan Hawke and Kevin Kline; Julius Caesar with Denzel Washington, ENRON and most recently The Great Society. He won an OBIE Award for his portrayal of Archibald in the revival of the critically acclaimed off-Broadway production, The Blacks: A Clown Show. For CTH, Ty has received the Best Actor award and AUDELCO Nominations for his performances in Macbeth, Trojan Women, and Romeo and JulietPrincipal film roles include his work in When They See Us, Clifford the Big Red Dog, Annie, Tower Heist, The Taking of Pelham 123, and Redacted. He has been seen in a number of episodics such as Chicago PD, Madam Secretary, Blacklist and most recently starred as Special Agent Jerry Donavan on POWER, the number one show on the Starz cable network. 

As a writer, Jones’ play Emancipation: Chronicles of the Nat Turner Rebellion, preceded the screenplay of the same title, that was selected as a finalist in the Sundance Institute Feature Film Program, was endorsed by the Southern Poverty Law Center, received Honorable Merit from the Writer Digest Screenwriters Association, and won the San Francisco Black Film Festival Screenwriting Competition. 

Mr. Jones received his M.F.A. from the University of Delaware’s Professional Theatre Training Program, Doctorate of Humane Letters, and was the recipient of the Presidential Citation for Outstanding Achievement Award as an alumni. TIME OUT magazine named Ty as “One of 25 to Watch”. 

Jasmine Mahmoud
is Assistant Professor of Theatre History and Performance Studies at the University of Washington, with an affiliate appointment in the Division of Art History. A performance and art historian, Mahmoud engages experimental theater, critical race studies, feminist and queer of color critique, cultural and public policy, and geography. She is co-editor of Makeshift Chicago Stages: A Century of Theater and Performance (Northwestern University Press 2021) with Megan Geigner and Stuart Hecht, which was awarded the 2020 ASTR Collaborative Research Award. Her current book project is Avant-Garde Geographies: Race, Policy, and Experimentation in the Urban Frontier. Mahmoud has essays and reviews in Modern Drama, Performance Research, TDR: The Drama Review,and Women & Performance. Committed to public scholarship to archive the work of minoritized artists, Mahmoud has essays, reviews, and interviews in Art Forum, ASAP/J Online, Canadian Art Review, Common Reader, Howlround, Hyperallergic, LitHub, South Seattle Emerald, and Variable West. She also regularly curates with exhibitions including After the Quiet: On Black Figures and Folds (Mini Mart City Park, Seattle, WA), Northwest Black (Nepantla Cultural Arts Gallery, Seattle, WA), and Abstractions of Black Citizenship: African American Art from Saint Louis (Hedreen Gallery, Seattle, WA). An arts advocate, she founded the Seattle Arts Voter Guide, and currently serves as a Gov. Inslee-appointed Washington State Arts Commissioner, and Vice President of the Board of On the Boards.

Patrick McKelvey is Assistant Professor of Theatre Arts at the University of Pittsburgh, where he teaches graduate and undergraduate courses in performance studies, theatre history, and disability studies. Before joining the faculty at Pitt, he received his PhD from Brown University in 2017 and taught at Florida State University’s School of Theatre from 2016 to 2018. He has published essays in Theatre Journal, Theatre Survey, the Journal of Dramatic Theory and Criticism, and Queer Dance: Meanings and Makings (ed. Clare Croft; Oxford, 2017). McKelvey’s 2016 essay, “Ron Whyte’s ‘Disemployment’ Prosthetic Performance and Theatrical Labor” (Theatre Survey) received three “best article” awards: from the American Society for Theatre Research, the American Theatre and Drama Society, and the Committee for LGBT History. McKelvey is currently completing his first book, Disability Works: US Performance After Rehabilitation (under review, NYU Press), and beginning work on his second, Supporting Actors: A Disability History of Theatrical Welfare from Springbrook to Broadway Cares.

Marianne Weems is artistic director and co-founder of The Builders Association and has directed all of their productions. She has also worked in various creative roles with Susan Sontag, Taryn Simon, The V-Girls, the Wooster Group, David Byrne, and many other artists. She has served on the board of the small but fierce foundation Art Matters since the early 90’s and participated in the formation of Visual AIDS, and the National Campaign for Freedom of Expression. She is the co-editor of Art Matters: How the Culture Wars Changed America (NYU Press, 2005) and co-author with Shannon Jackson of The Builders Association: Performance and Media in Contemporary Theater (MIT Press 2015.) She is currently a professor of the Future Stages program in Digital Arts and New Media at the University of California Santa Cruz.

Sarah Wilbur (she/hers) is an Assistant Professor of the Practice in Dance and the Director of Graduate Studies in Dance at Duke University. Sarah is a cross-sector choreographer and performance researcher whose recent book, Funding Bodies: Five Decades of Dance Making at the National Endowment for the Arts draws historical attention to the body-level impacts of philanthropic recruitment and reward on generations of US dance organizers (Wesleyan University Press, 2021). The text highlights the assimilatory impacts of arts funding policies and holds grant makers accountable for incentivizing specific ideals of dance production and organization. At Duke, Sarah leads the Cross-Campus Consortium on Equitable Arts Infrastructures, a working group focused on arts labor, policy, and economics at the John Hope Franklin Humanities Institute. She is currently studying local dance labor activism in secondary US cities and towns, in keeping with her primary goal: to credit arts labor and laborers in all aspects of her professional work.

Brandon Woolf is an interdisciplinary theater artist and clinical associate professor at New York University, where he directs the Program in Dramatic Literature. Institutional Theatrics, his book on contemporary performance and cultural policy in Berlin, was published by Northwestern University Press in 2021. Brandon also co-edited Postdramatic Theatre and Form (Bloomsbury Methuen, 2019), and is currently collaborating with Stew, the Tony Award-winning playwright and composer of Passing Strange, on a book that explores Stew’s catalogue of performance works in the context of intersecting discourses on race, theater, and rock ‘n’ roll (forthcoming from University of Michigan Press). Concurrent with his scholarship, Brandon’s artistic work explores theater’s capacity as a social practice. Over the last decade he co-founded and co-directed three public performance ensembles – Culinary Theater, Shakespeare im Park Berlin, and the UC Movement for Efficient Privatization [UCMeP]. His recent site-specific work, The Console, was profiled in the New York Times and subsequently by a broad array of local and international outlets including Barbara Fuchs’ Theater of Lockdown (Bloomsbury Methuen, 2021) and The Kelly Clarkson Show on daytime TV.

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