Performance Curators: Transforming the Theater

Ddthe_44_2Performance curators occupy an “increasingly essential role in a transformation of the theater’s defining edges,” a role which has started to overlap with socially engaged and visual art forms.  In this special issue of Theater, Tom Sellar argues that these creative professionals are leading the way toward new forms and alternative practices. Sample a few articles from “Performance Curators,” edited by Tom Sellar and Bertie Ferdman.


In “From Content to Context: The Emergence of the Performance Curator,” Bertie Ferdman offers historical context for the recent prominence of curatorial practices in the presentation of performance. Discussing a range of alternative presenting models and bridges between the visual and performing arts, she traces the evolution of the performance curator from the logistic concerns of programming to more conceptual work. Read the excerpt:


“The rise of interdisciplinary performance festivals in the last decade has increased the visibility of the curator as a central and powerful figure in the changing landscape of the performing arts. A growing number of artistic directors, festival programmers, creative producers, and artists not only are beginning to pay attention to what gets seen either commissioning new work and/or selecting finished work but are also conceptualizing how, where, when, why, and for whom such events are structured and presented. As more exhibitions in art galleries and museums continue to embrace theater and dance, and visual and conceptual art is presented in performing arts institutions and festivals, the act of “curating” performance is becoming vital to both its development and its reception. If the sixties and seventies were the heyday of experimental theater and rise of postmodern dance in lineage with the historical avant garde the current moment, almost half a century later, is seeing a renewed interest not only in breaking with disciplinary models but also in providing new frameworks in which such work can exist. Presenters are now often faced with the challenge of producing work that does not necessarily fit into preconceived conventions of theater. What practices do they implement? What presentational forms do they create? Does a curatorial paradigm for such trends exist?”


To read more from “From Content to Context,” click here.


Tom Sellar delves further into the role of performance curators in his article, “The Curatorial Turn,” in which he begins to define their purpose and explores their effect on the rejuvenation and development of theater, dance, and performance in the twenty-first century.  Read the excerpt:


“Could the curation of theater, dance, and performance become a catalyst for the rejuvenation and development of those forms in the twenty-first century? The performance curator a figure of rising importance onto whom the aspirations and frustrations of many constituencies are projected has been hailed in some quarters as the great white hope for progressive theater makers and as a transformative agent for art institutions, including museums, turning to live events as the next extension of contemporary practice. In various indications of interest in North America alone, MOMA and the Whitney Museum have recently hired performance specialists; resident theaters have begun presenting devised work created externally by independent ensembles and artists; newly established cross-disciplinary festivals such as Philadelphia Fringe Arts, fiaf’s Crossing the Line, American Realness, and the Time-Based Art Festival in Portland, Oregon, are flourishing; and artists have redefined models for collaboration and expanded definitions of socially engaged art to include town hall meetings on racial segregation in St. Louis and pop-up services centers for immigrants in Queens.”


To read more from “The Curatorial Turn,” click here.

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