Maaike Bleeker*, Eero Laine**, Sean Metzger***

Abstract: Performance Studies international (PSi) is an organization that has grown over more than two decades and continues to experiment with various modes of performance making and study. This article examines the history, trajectory and major projects of PSi and marks the ways that PSi and its members have worked and continue to work collaboratively across continents. The authors note the ways that annual conferences have developed and changed, along with the many initiatives that have emerged from the organization’s intensive international collaboration. Of particular note are the various research clusters of academics and artists, evolving publication projects and an ethos of innovation that comes from engaging with performance as both an object of study and a methodology.

Keywords: Performance, performance studies, international, organizations, PSi

Performance Studies international is an organization that emerged in response to the growing interest in the study of performance in its many forms and in the various ways in which performance might serve as a lens through which to understand a wide variety of cultural phenomena. Many different types of scholars have studied what performance is and does, but these efforts have often been and continue to be dispersed across various university disciplines, including anthropology, art, dance, folklore, history, linguistics, music, philosophy, sociology and theatre, among others. Performance Studies sought to collect these efforts in various collectives of scholars and scholar-artists.

There are competing narratives and genealogies of Performance Studies that cut across the fields mentioned above, but the most frequent origin stories cite the formal instantiation of Performance Studies departments at NYU and Northwestern University. Notwithstanding these debates, PSi can trace its own beginning to any of several events: the first conference held under that rubric in 1995 in New York; the third conference held in Georgia, at which attendees decided to establish a formal association; or the fourth conference held in New York; where the association was founded as a non-profit organization based in the United States for tax purposes.[1]

All of these origin stories privilege the United States as the locus of this field of study, and one expects that other histories may eventually emerge to contest or otherwise add nuance to these foundational narratives.[2] Certainly, the organization’s annual meetings in many different places around the world have contributed to drawing attention to other genealogies of performance research in other contexts and have generated a large archive of material pertaining to the conference in the many locations that have hosted it.

These annual conferences have served as the primary activity of PSi. They play an important role in facilitating connections between scholars and practitioners working in different places in the world, and in further developing our understanding of the subjects we study and the work we create, as well as Performance Studies itself, from an international perspective. PSi conferences and other events aim to foster the development of Performance Studies in ways that are inclusive and allow those who are participating to transform what Performance Studies can be. Usually, these conferences include several basic elements that are common to most academic conferences, like a series of keynotes and official speeches, an annual general meeting, panels, roundtables, performances and a separate set of board meetings. This structure responds to logistical requirements. Most of our conferences have been hosted by academic institutions, and many of our members require formal acceptances for papers that will be given during the conference in order to apply for funding.

Video 1

Excerpt from Julie Torentino’s Honey. Tolentino performed at PSi#19 at Stanford University

However, notwithstanding these more common elements, PSi also has a long tradition of inventing alternative ways of organizing conferences and of fostering innovative modes of presenting, sharing and generating ideas at these annual meetings, from lecture performances to performative experiments, (night) walks, tours, installations, rituals, staged dinners, durational readings, pop-up performances, collective investigations, interventions, processions and more. At PSi#15 in Zagreb and PSi#17 in Utrecht, half of the conference program consisted of such alternative formats, including, among others, a fictional educational institution in an abandoned school (School of Sisyphus, Zagreb) and a nursing home for Performance Studies scholars (Over the Hill) in a student home in Utrecht.

At PSi#14 in Copenhagen, theatre company Signa—known for their large-scale durational immersive participatory performances—built a camp at the conference site where attendees could immerse themselves in a fictional world any time (day and night) for the entire duration of the conference. PSi#22 in Melbourne involved a session in which one touched plants to think about non-human life and how it performs. An individual might have been physically carried to that session by one of the performers, whose work consisted of shuttling conference participants from one location to another via piggyback. Or one might have attended another panel in which audience members were invited to wrestle with the speakers. Most of the conference attendees participated in a nighttime processional feast coordinated by the culinary performance duo Spatula & Barcode. PSi strives to embody both in content and structure performance as an object of study and as a methodology.

PSi#24 Daegu organizing committee with PSi President and Vice President. From L – R: Seul-Gi Jeong, Sean Metzger, Jun-Hwan Go, Han-Na Lee, Jin-Yeong Kim, Peter Eckersall, Yo-Ung Lee

Quite a number of PSi conferences have been organized in collaboration with festivals, arts institutions and other cultural organizations. PSi#12 in London collaborated with the Live Art Development Agency and East End Collaborations. PSi#17 in Utrecht was organized together with the international Festival a/dWerff (now called SPRING Performing Arts Festival), which adapted their program to the theme of the conference and enabled the use of the city theatre as conference center. PSi#18 in Leeds collaborated with the Ludus Festival, and PSi#23 in Hamburg with theater Kampnagel, which generously offered PSi space and ran programming in conjunction with that institution’s annual Theater Der Welt Festival.

Two PSi conferences were organized entirely by non-academic organizations, those in Singapore and in Daegu. Insofar as PSi#10 in Singapore interrogated the state and related institutions of authority, the conference organizational structure mirrored its content. The conference was organized by a consortium of artists and critics, including Paul Rae, Ray Langebach, Ong Keng Sen, Lee Weng Choy, Lucy Davis, Tay Tong, and Alvin Tan. One of the problems they encountered is that, since they did not hold their conference under the formal aegis of a “statutory body” (as most universities are), it got the status of an independent event that required a licence from the police. Since the police had suspicions about the “subversive” nature of the conference, the organizers came under a lot of pressure. They were only granted the licence on 6 p.m. the evening before the conference, and they were surveilled by the Internal Security Department, some members of which even turned up at the offices of the theatre company that co-organized the conference to register “in person” (under pseudonyms). For Daegu, municipal organizations including the Daegu Arts Factory and the city’s Exhibition and Convention Center took the lead in organizing the conference.

Video 2

Ron Athey, a significant artist in the field of Performance Studies. A short video excerpt from his performance
Incorruptible Flesh Messianic Remains. Athey performed at PSi#19 at Stanford University

Since the inception of Performance Studies international remains inextricable from the discourses of Performance Studies, this essay brings together three scholars all of whom have worked in significant ways with the formal organization and whose individual work has emphasized (although not exclusively) different facets of the study (and in some cases practice) of performance. We assemble in what follows a collective iteration of what Performance Studies and Performance Studies international can do and how it works to do it. We explore the lower case “i” in the name as a way of reflecting on the larger concerns of the field with discourses of nationality, ethnicity and race. We move this discussion to include technology and Performance Studies because technological developments and their implications have become important concerns of the field as we continue to practice and study performance in ever more complicated media ecologies. This development can also be seen reflected in the organization itself now using an online interface as the primary mechanism by which members form networks and disseminate information between annual conferences. The concerns of quotidian performance across space and the ways in which various kinds of programs train artists, scholars and scholar-artists have become central facets of PSi’s collective thinking and activities.

PSi’s first President, Richard Gough

In part, such concerns have been focalized by the sorts of institutions that have supported PSi. PSi’s first president, Richard Gough, was based for several years at the Centre for Performance Research (CPR), at Aberystwyth University in Wales, which emerged in 1988 out of the Cardiff Laboratory Theatre, founded by Mike Pearson. Gough traces his younger aesthetic sensibilities to directors like Peter Brook, Eugenio Barba and Jerzy Growtowski. Meeting and then collaborating with Pearson had a significant impact on Gough’s own practice and Gough’s work to build the field. Gough has described the CPR as a satellite in the larger constellation of Performance Studies (the labor through that particular node of performance creation and Performance Studies research has been described in Judie Christie, Richard Gough, and Daniel Watt’s edited collection A Performance Cosmology: Testimony from the Future, Evidence of the Past). The notion of a satellite is useful in thinking about the proliferation of Performance Studies, because many institutions have supported and developed the field in addition to PSi. This fact calls attention to some of the limits and dissatisfactions with our organization. Although PSi aspires to think and organize on a world-wide scale, it frequently runs over or, sometimes, into localized iterations of Performance Studies that remain incommensurate with our infrastructure.

From Richard Gough’s plenary

The most obvious limitation of PSi is that its primary operating language is English. Perhaps partly as a response to such a narrow linguistic emphasis, the Hemispheric Institute of Performance and Politics (“Hemi,” for short) was founded in 1998 at NYU by Professors Diana Taylor (NYU), Zeca Ligiéro (Universidade Federal do Estado do Rio de Janeiro, Brazil), Javier Serna (Universidad Autónoma de Nuevo León, Mexico) and Luis Peirano (Pontificia Universidad Católica del Perú). Under its auspices, a biannual Encuentro has provided a gathering place for performance makers and thinkers from the Americas. Hemi also launched a bilingual journal called e-misférica in 2004. Other satellites have emerged in various locations around the world. For example, Khalid Amine founded The International Centre for Performance Studies in Tangier, Morocco, in 2007. In 2008, Erika Fischer-Lichte launched Interweaving Performance Cultures at Freie Universität in Berlin, Germany. The proliferation of research and performance centers suggest the growing currency of Performance Studies and a desire to localize the interventions made under its name.

Recognizing such critiques, the goal of many PSi board members has been to widen the organization’s network and to strive for inclusivity and self-reflexivity in organizational practice. These actions follow the ethos of Performance Studies and performance theory—to consider seriously not only what people, language, organizations and other entities represent or symbolize, but also how they perform and how the ways in which they perform do things. That question is rendered simply as “How does PSi Think?” This question also now names a special session of each annual conference. When Ray Langenbach and Paul Rae first instantiated this meeting within the larger conference, they conceived of it as an informal gathering designed to interrogate and sometimes contest the logics that govern any given conference. In formalizing that session of potential critique, PSi invites criticism but, in some measure, also shields itself against protest by incorporating potential opposition within the very structure. On an optimistic note, the repeated refrain of this session at the end of each conference demands that participants and organizers reflect on the kind of thinking expressed through the conference’s organizational processes, leading to new iterations and constellations of work and thought on Performance Studies and its modes of institutionality.

Video 3

Guillermo Goméz-Peña is one of the leading performance activist artists from the Americas. A telling excerpt from his solo performance X-Céntric/o, a pastiche of pieces drawn from his living archives and contemporary work. Goméz-Peña performed a different piece at PSi#19 at Stanford University

Under Maaike Bleeker’s presidency from 2011-2016, the organization made several efforts at translating its ambition for internationalization into organizational praxis. Inclusion of artists and scholars who might not have access to travel funds that would facilitate attendance at PSi’s annual conferences became a critical concern of the organization; moreover, the need to think internationally became a pressing intellectual concern. Put otherwise, the organization has particularly in the last decade tried to expand the reach of the “i” in its name, to address at a structural level the uneven internationalization represented through PSi’s constituents and activities. How do organizational methodologies bring about the desired changes articulated by PSi’s members?

Gil and Moti and Laylah, The Creature Beyond Dreams. Photo of watercolor: Gil and Moti.
Τhis ensemble performed at PSi#11 at Brown University

During this period, we produced several new initiatives, many of which demonstrated how theory and practice might be brought together in a variety of ways and at many different scales. Relatedly, we considered the history of the organization itself and how this history reflects the investments, concerns and interests of scholars and artists from different places. The initiatives developed include: PSi’s Oral History project that actively produces interviews testifying to various stages of the development of the organization in relation to the internationalization of the field;[3] the Manifesto Lexicon, which attempts to create a multilingual lexicon that contests the centrality of the English language and highlights the diversity of the field (initiated by the organizers of a local PSi event in Athens: Gigi Argyropoulou, Konstantina Georgelou, Efrosini Protopapa, Danae Theodoridou and Steriani Tsintziloni);[4] as well as PSi’s open access journal GPS, the conference project Fluid States and the Future Advisory Board (these last three innovations will be further introduced later in this text). The sheer number of proposed developments during this period has placed PSi in a long process of tweaking the mechanics of implementing new ideas. As individuals rotate in and out of leadership positions, some of these efforts have resulted in concrete manifestations and some have faded from the list of organizational priorities.

Regional Research Cluster Generative Indirections in Montemor-O-Novo. Photo: Maaike Bleeker

Perhaps one of the most notable initiatives (in no small part because it was an outward facing endeavor) was the decision to replace the model of a single annual meeting in 2015 with a series of smaller gatherings. Such a move built on PSi’s existing efforts to fund Regional Research Clusters: smaller PSi events that are more closely connected to local developments and concerns. Fluid States was a decentralized conference that included over a dozen events across the globe. Curated by Croatia-based board member Marin Blažević and Australia-based board member Bree Hadley, and co-conceived by New Zealand-based board member Dorita Hannah, Fluid States used a website as a primary waystation to link the disparate activities occurring around the world during that year. Such a complicated series of events involved an inordinate amount of labor and coordination at a scale that the organization had never previously attempted. Fluid States opened possibilities for PSi members to participate locally in an international project. Participants at relatively small island sites theoretically could dialogue with those engaged in major metropolitan centers located elsewhere in an effort to facilitate new conversations about how performance might matter in ways that a singular frame could not encompass.[5]

Big Nazo Puppets – Dr. Filter. From PSi#11 at Brown University. Photo: Andrew Fladeboe

This large-scale logistical effort corresponds with many scholars who have interrogated municipal, national and regional rubrics as grounds of analysis. Indeed, critical examinations of such keywords have animated the field as scholars think about how such often-naturalized terms reflect and demand certain performances. For example, the political scientist Benedict Anderson has famously argued that the nation is an imagined construction insofar as an individual national subject:

  1. imagines fellowship with other people within the nation (most of whom said individual will not meet);
  2. conceives of the nation as bounded in terms of territory (notwithstanding the elasticity of actual borders);
  3. understands the nation as sovereign (seeing in this belonging an alternative to previous regimes structured by religion); and
  4. believes that this imagined community provides a “deep, horizontal comradeship” for which an individual would willingly die (Anderson, 7).

In other words, to imagine the nation via Anderson is to perform a certain relationality, which must be taken under consideration if one is to make any claim towards the international. The cultural theorist and literary critic Homi Bhabha rendered this formulation a bit more complex calling attention to how the nation as a concept works to produce both dominant and alternative stories. For Bhabha, the nation works “as narrative strategy and as an apparatus of power” (292); he elaborates, contending that “[t]he scraps, patches, and rags of daily life must be repeatedly turned into the signs of national culture, while the very act of the narrative performance interpellates a growing circle of national subjects” (297). Thus, he understands the nation as producing dominant (what he calls “pedagogic”) discourses and those that threaten to upset this status quo (what he calls “performative”). Numerous elaborations of these insights have followed in and through the field of Performance Studies.

Marsian De Lellis, The Adventures of Michael Jackson and the Animals of Neverland Ranch. From PSi#11 at Brown University. Photo: Marsian De Lellis

In one of the most sustained of such elaborations, scholar Suk-Young Kim has written a trilogy of books that demonstrate the manifold ways in which Korea and Koreanness have and are being performed in terms of the North, the South, the DMZ and the transnational circulation of Korean cultural products. Kim’s Illusive Utopia: Theater, Film, and Everyday Performance in North Korea (2010) examines the theatricality of the state and quotidian life by examining displays of patriotism and the imagined family constructed through such chauvinistic performances. Among Kim’s many insights in this book is her assertion that “everyday reality is in a position to imitate the represented reality” (14), which is, of course, a reversal of stage realism.

The text shows the ways in which politics has long been staged in North Korea and the different technologies that facilitate such political theatricality. Kim investigates kinship orchestrated by the state as and through a study of North Korean propaganda. DMZ Crossing: Performing Emotional Citizenship along the Korean Border (2014) continues her inquiry into how the study of theatre and performance matters on but also beyond the stage. She writes, “Like the theater, the DMZ is a space of temporary passage . . . How does a dramaturgy of war memories unfold in this intractable semiotics of space” (8). She elaborates her argument by looking at what she terms  “emotional citizenship” and the ways in which “border crossing” might be productively understood “as social performance” (11). K-Pop Live: Fans, Idols, and Multimedia Performance (2018), as the author writes, “is mainly concerned with a . . . theoretical investigation of ‘liveness’ as technological, ideological, and affective modes in which human subjects interact with other human and nonhuman subjects in the digital age” (3). Unpacking the Korean notion of “heung,”  Kim explores liveness across media platforms. Her work draws on a variety of archives including her own concert-going as well as interviews with several individuals in the K-Pop industry. This text addresses a long-standing question in Performance Studies about the centrality of performers’ co-presence with audiences. As Kim reveals, we now live in an age where people might be at a live event but are looking at it through a cellphone to record some aspect of the experience. Kim explores how the digital mediates our everyday experiences in relation to popular culture. This trilogy provides a canny analysis of the many ways the Korean nation in all its variants might be performed.

Double Edge Theatre, The UnPOSSESED. From PSi#11 at Brown University

If Kim’s oeuvre explores a bifurcated nation currently existing as two nation-states in complicated relation to one another and their diasporas, other scholars have focused on different scales of analysis to articulate the relationships between performance and the human in political, social and cultural contexts. All of these collected interventions form a major trajectory of Performance Studies scholarship. For example, Karen Shimakawa was one of the earliest scholars focusing on performance to demonstrate how US law works to construct the immigrant body as a threat to the American body politic and to reveal how stage performance might unsettle the process of what she calls national abjection—that is, processes by which the notion of “American” is constructed in relation to its Asian immigrants, a “movement between visibility and invisibility, foreignness and domestication/assimilation” (3).

Video 4

Excerpts from The UnPOSSESED

These insights into the way a nation-state’s laws are performative, bringing into being categories of personhood like “citizen” and “immigrant” that then work to regulate and often police such legal identities have been furthered in several contexts. Stephanie Nohelani Teves has combined this understanding of the performative force of the law with indigenous theory. Teves follows poet and scholar Teresa Teiwa’s writings on the Native as an idea constructed through colonial encounters and one that has continued to morph in complex ways based on the legacies of colonialism, continually renewing efforts to extract profit from indigenous peoples, and the desires of those same peoples to construct something outside of those paradigms. As Teves writes, “Indigineity requires action, a performance, and such actions are informed by the knowledge of our culture and our genealogies; but performance also avails itself of new interpretations and techniques that ensure our survival” (12-13).

One particular example revisited in Teves text is the use of aloha that, at once, suggests the value of indigenous epistemologies and circulates this idea for tourism dollars, often at the expense of native Hawaiians. Using a wider lens, scholar Diana Looser has written of oceanic theatre as a rubric that tries to account for commonalties and differences wrought through precolonial, colonial and postcolonial experiences in the Pacific. Again, these moves to increase the scale of analysis can lead to both productive comparisons but also an erasure of local expressive culture and linguistic variation. They concretely point to the myriad issues of international claims for any organization and the persistent troubles and understandings of representation and performance.

PSi has offered many responses to this problem of both research and representation. The Future Advisory Board (FAB) of Performance Studies international is one of the initiatives developed under Maaike Bleeker’s presidency with the intention of involving new generations of scholars and practitioners from a diversity of places (rather than a single “student representative” on the board who would usually come from one of the well-established Performance Studies programs in the US or UK). FAB thus began as a way to involve a new generation or cohort not only as representatives of a particular interest group, but as experts on what Performance Studies looks like to them and where it might go. The initiative began to take shape between the PSi conference in Shanghai (2014) and at the board meetings in Copenhagen (2015). In Copenhagen, Evelyn Wan put forward a proposal in which FAB was described as “a new PSi initiative that aims to bring together graduate students and early career scholars and artists worldwide, and increase visibility of the diversity of performance studies.”

Sarah Bay-Cheng offered a sarcastic report on the political climate in the United States, here watched by DJ Rizk. From PSi#22, Melbourne. Photo from Spatula & Barcode

FAB then took shape in 2015 with inaugural members: Felipe Cervera, Shawn Chua, João Florêncio, Eero Laine, and Evelyn Wan. The group met for the first time at the 2016 PSi conference in Melbourne. FAB describes itself as“consistent with the commitment to ‘decenter’ PSi across various geographic locales” (Cervera et al. “Thicker States”). The organization works within and alongside Performance Studies international, offering junior and emerging scholars and artists the opportunity to work and collaborate with an international cohort of colleagues at conferences and on a variety of projects and publications. Thus far, FAB has acted as a research and performance collective, organizing across time zones and continents. The collective has already renewed itself twice: adding members Panayiota Demetriou, Areum Jeong, Azadeh Sharifi and Asher Warren, in 2017, and Natalia Esling and Anna Jayne Kimmel, in 2019, when the remaining original members transitioned off of FAB. Amidst the fluidity of membership, a yearly summer school organized by FAB during the annual PSi conference complements FAB’s research and artistic agenda and acts as a centripetal space for generating new projects and strategies.[6]

From the opening of PSi#20 Shanghai. Photo: Eugene van Erven

The summer school gathers emerging scholars and artists for seminars, performances, workshops, tours of artist and activist spaces, and for shared and collaborative scholarship and performance-making. This attention to pedagogy, shaping a cohort of forward-thinking performance scholars and practitioners, and attempting to define the future of the field, is evident in previously published work by FAB such as “Syllabi for the Future: A Playlist.” Published in GPS: Global Performance Studies, the special section asked a number of artists and scholars to envision a syllabus for the future that included a brief course description, suggested readings and a video. The project emerged from the 2016 PSi conference in Melbourne and explored the idea that “Courses or modules are useful conceptual frameworks for thinking about the future of the field” (Cervera et al. 2017 “Syllabi”). Pursuing its practice of generating knowledge collectively, FAB continues to work and write as an ensemble, most recently publishing a collaboratively edited special issue titled “Future Now” again with PSi’s online, open access journal GPS.

PSi#20 Shanghai delegates. Photo: Pedro Manuel

Under the inaugural editorship of Kevin Brown, GPS serves as a venue for “cross-platform, multi-media content that pushes the boundaries of what we think an academic journal can be” ( The decision to make the journal open access involved discussions about who has access to university libraries and digital distribution services and indexes like JSTOR and Project Muse. The research published in GPS is thus not locked behind paywalls, making it a site for artists, activists and scholars who both may or may not have an institutional affiliation or whose institution may or may not subscribe to distribution services. At present, the journal is peer-reviewed but not formally indexed. Like many of PSi’s innovations, the sustainability of the project remains to be tested, since the editing also requires significant technical skills. PSi’s practice has been to charge its members only nominal fees for membership, which means that the journal basically runs, like all of PSi’s projects, on volunteer labor or labor that might be otherwise rewarded by university promotion. Despite these issues, GPS has fulfilled its promise to become another publishing arm for the field and, especially, for PSi’s membership.

As should now be clear, PSi uses digital platforms to conduct much of its work. That shift in communication coincides with the rise of the digital communications and the increasing connectivity that links most parts of the world. PSi’s own growth in this manner mirrors the development of the information age and its attendant technologies. In this regard, PSi has sought to think through the digital both for practical as well as intellectual reasons. Indeed, the new website, which serves as the major public presence of the organization, especially between conferences, and the networking software that currently serves as the board’s project management tool for work behind the scenes are all relatively recent innovations in the life of the organization that have accelerated the work we do and rendered our labor (usually) more efficient. The consequences of this turn to technology for PSi as well as the worlds in which we are embedded have yet to be fully analyzed. Given how quickly technologies advance, however, we expect that this area will remain a crucial area of research and practice for PSi and its members.

In his 2001 book Perform or Else, Jon McKenzie introduces the term technoperformance. Not only humans perform, so does technology. Although McKenzie does not use the term posthumanism, his proposal is representative of the emergence of less human-centered approaches to performance, an increased interest in the performance of non-human entities, including technology, as well as an interest in the interaction between humans and technology and how this affects ways of being and knowing. That is, his proposal is indicative of developments within the field of Performance Studies that move beyond a central focus on the human body, human modes of operating and human identity; he advocates a shift towards the larger ecologies in which human bodies operate, wherein experience and identity take shape. These developments happen within a context in which technology is more and more prominently present as active agent. Moreover, humans increasingly operate as part of larger technological apparatuses in which, as media theorist Mark Hansen puts it, they are implicated.

Throughout history, humans have used tools and technologies to perform all kinds of activities in daily life as well as in the context of various kinds of cultural and artistic performance. A more traditional understanding of the role that these tools and technologies play would be to understand them as merely supporting the performance of human performers, not unlike the convention in traditional forms of Western theatre to place the human at the center of attention and to conceive of other elements of the theatrical apparatus as subservient to the presence of humans and their stories and expressions. This is what Christopher Bauch (2005) describes as “the hierarchy of perceptual importance.” He shows how a combination of developments in theatrical practice resulted in a firm establishment of this hierarchy in the nineteenth century, and, also, that this hierarchy would be challenged by newly developing performance practices from the beginning of the twentieth century. Theatre, dance and performance makers have incorporated technologies of various kinds in their work and expanded their practices to include new possibilities offered by technological developments, whereas others have developed modes of working that precisely allowed them to distinguish and distance themselves from technological media like film and, later, television, video and the Internet. Theoretical debates on the specificity of theatrical performance, on liveness and on presence reflect how the confrontation with and incorporation of media technologies inspired a reconsideration of what the specificity of live performance is, and how it differs (or not) from other media.

This history set the stage for approaches to theatre, dance and performance that no longer focus solely on human performance and expression but on the theatrical apparatus as a material ecology in which human and non-human actors participate. In this context, theatrical performance appears as a place to experiment with the performative qualities of technology and to rehearse new ways of being together with technology and other non-human agents.[7] These developments point to the need to conceive of the performance of humans and that of technology as “entangled”, as Chris Salter argues in his book with the same title. Salter’s account of this history demonstrates how these explorations reflect transformations in understanding of what technology is, what it means to be human and how to conceive the relationship between the two.

Steve Dixon in Digital Performance (2007) traces the incorporation of digital technology into live performance practices (theatre, dance, performance and installations) and shows how this incorporation not only destabilizes the “hierarchy of perceptual importance” of humans and technology, but also subverts the distinction between live and mediated performance, a distinction that has played an important role in the self-definition of theatre and performance. The ways in which humans nowadays operate as part of media ecologies and technology itself becomes a performer requires a reconsideration of our understanding of the nature of the relationship between performers and audiences and a rethinking of liveness across media also addressed by Kim (discussed above). Philip Auslander in Liveness (1999) argues that the very notion of live itself has to be understood in relation to our history of interacting with technology and that what appears as live is co-constituted by this history.

Angela Viora, The Foreigner, PSi#24 Daegu, 2018

Auslander’s argument points to how the effects of technology become part of our very modes of perceiving and thinking, an observation also made by media theorists including Marshall McLuhan, Friedrich Kittler, Mark Hansen, N. Katherine Hayles and Brian Rotman. Being “natural born cyborgs” (Andy Clark), we are not merely users of technology, we are also used by it. Technology places demands on us, affords modes of interaction and mediates in the development of new skills that impact on how we enact perception, and even how we think. To understand these cognitive implications of media technology, it is not sufficient simply to study media in terms of their content and representations.

Angela Viora, The Foreigner, PSi#24 Daegu, 2018

What is thus overlooked is what Brian Rotman speaks of as “the direct effect of technology’s materiality” or its “radical material exteriority.” This effect “exists outside its explicit human, socio-cultural character and transforms the bodies, nervous systems, and subjectivities of its user” (Rotman 5). This effect manifests itself in what Peter Eckersall, Helena Grehan and Edward Scheer describe as forms of “mediated rematerialisation rather than a dematerialisation . . . , in which bodily sensations and sense experiences are now redistributed through technical means rather than diminished or de-emphasised” (2). In Closer (2008), Suzan Kozel explores how the creative investigations of performance artists can help us to understand such effects and implications of technology as we become closer to our computers—as they become extensions of our ways of thinking, moving and touching. Many dance makers, including  William Forsythe, Merce Cunningham and Siohban Davis, invest considerable amounts of time, effort and money to investigate the potential of new technologies to capture, transmit and understand dance in new ways. Their explorations are informative not only with regard to the possible usage of technologies in dance practice and research, but also with regard to how more generally modes of perceiving, sense making, and think­ing are intertwined with technology (see Bleeker 2016). Sarah Bay-Cheng suggests that, in the context of how digital technologies engage us in ways of perceiving, experiencing and understanding, rather than framing a phenomenon as performance, we should adopt performance as the mode through which we assess phenomena.

Speaker Bruno Latour and a group of delegates, including PSi Vice President Jazmin Llana at PSi#22 conference in Melbourne

These developments have opened new directions for Performance Studies and new possibilities for interaction with other fields like media theory, science and technology studies, posthumanism and new materialism. Eckersall, Grehan and Scheer observe a close connection between what they describe as new media dramaturgy and what might be called new materialist dramaturgy. This is an observation that we recognize from years of close engagement with investigative practices of making performance. The material practice of performance offers a place and a means to think through and experiment with the entanglements of humans and technology, much in line with insights in posthuman performativity (Barad), vibrant materiality (Bennett), actor-network theory (Latour) and expanded sensibility (Hansen). Insights like these contribute to further expansion of our understanding of what performance can be and how it matters.

The reflections we have offered here on performance, Performance Studies and their material instantiations have resulted from a collaborative process that relies on oral memory and archived documents. We have provided one narrative of our institutional history as well as demonstrated some of the ways performance generates knowledge (epistemological concerns) and how certain performances define who we are (ontological concerns). In these endeavors we continue critical dialogues through and as performance, the stakes of which have everything to do with how we understand and inhabit the world.

Camila Marambio and Sarita Gálvez reported in a mournful wail on the Climate in South America at PSi#22 in Melbourne. Photo from Spatula & Barcode


[1] We thank former board member Heike Roms, who assembled this information in her role as PSi’s Archivist.

[2] This process can already be seen. See, for example, Laura Levin’s and Marlis Schweitzer’s “Introduction: Performance Studies in Canada: Mapping Genealogies and Geographies of Performance Culture,” and J. McKenzie’s, H. Roms’ and C.W.J. Wee’s Contesting Performance.Global Sites of Research.



[5] See, also, GPS issue 1.1, Looking Back at Fluid States – Performances of Unknowing,

[6] See also: and

[7] This idea of rehearsing relationships with non-human agents we borrow from Pedro Manuel’s PhD dissertation “Theatre without Actors: Rehearsing New Modes of Co-Presence” (Utrecht University 2017). 

Works Cited

Anderson, Benedict. Imagined Communities: Reflections on the Origin and Spread of Nationalism. Verso, 1991.

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*Maaike Bleeker is Professor in the Department of Media and Culture Studies at Utrecht University (the Netherlands) and served as president of Performance Studies international 2011-2016. She was the organizer of PSi#17: Camillo 2.0. Technology, Memory, Experience in Utrecht (2011). She is the author of Visuality in the Theatre: The Locus of Looking (Palgrave, 2008) and (co)editor of (among others) Thinking Through Theatre and Performance (Bloomsbury, 2019), Transmission in Motion: The Digitization of Dance (Routledge, 2016) and Performance and Phenomenology:Traditions and Transformations (Routledge, 2015).

**Eero Laine is the Director of Graduate Theatre and Assistant Professor in the Department of Theatre and Dance at the University at Buffalo, State University of New York. He is the editor of the Journal of Dramatic Theory and Criticism and is a co-editor of Lateral, the journal of the Cultural Studies Association. He serves as Secretary of Performance Studies international.

***Sean Metzger is the current president of Performance Studies international and Professor in the UCLA School of Theater, Film and Television. He is the author of Chinese Looks: Fashion, Performance, Race (Indiana University Press, 2014). The incoming co-editor of Theatre Journal, Metzger has also co-edited half a dozen other publications: Embodying Asian/American Sexualities (Lexington, 2009); Futures of Chinese Cinema: Technologies and Temporalities in Chinese Screen Cultures (Intellect, 2009); Awkward Stages: Plays about Growing Up Gay (2015), and special issues of the journals Cultural Dynamics (2009), Third Text (2014) and Asian Diasporic Visual Cultures and the Americas (2019).

Copyright © 2019 Maaike Bleeker, Eero Laine, Sean Metzger
Critical Stages/Scènes critiques e-ISSN: 2409-7411

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How PSi Works: The Practice of Performance Studies