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What is Performance Studies?

Diana Taylor, Author

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Antonio Prieto

Interview with Antonio Prieto (2011)
Antonio Prieto Stambaugh is a Mexican researcher and professor focused on issues of performance, contemporary theater, gender, and queer studies. He is currently a full time professor at Universidad Veracruzana (TheaterDepartment and Center for Studies, Creation and Documentation of the Arts). He holds a Master’s in Performance Studies from New York University’s Tisch School of the Arts and a PhD in Latin American Studies from the School of Philosophy and Literature of Mexico’s National University (UNAM). He is a member of Mexico’s National System of Researchers (SNI). He has published many essays on Chicano and Mexican theater and performance art, as well as on issues of gender and border studies, in diverse anthologies and journals such as Cuadernos Americanos, Debate feminista, Gestos, Latin American Theatre Review, Frontera norte, and Conjunto. His most recent book, Corporalidades escénicas,is an anthology he edited along with Elka Fediuk (Universidad Veracruzana and Argus-a 2015). He is also editor in chief of Investigación Teatral. Revista de artes escénicas y performatividad.X

Diana Taylor: Antonio Prieto, welcome.

Antonio Prieto: Thank you.

Diana: Can you tell me what department you’re in?

Antonio: I work in the Theater Department in the Universidad Veracruzana. It is in Jalapa, Veracruz, Mexico.

: Thank you. Can you tell me a little bit about how you understand performance and performance studies in Mexico, if they mean the same thing, or if there is a clear difference between the two?

Antonio: Well, as you remember from when we had the Hemispheric Institute Encuentro in Monterrey in 2001, there was a lot of confusion exactly because people didn’t know how to distinguish between “performance,” which is generally understood by people as performance art, or as art action, and “performance studies,” which is a relatively new theoretical paradigm, recently arrived in Mexico. Because in reality, all of this comes from the 80s, early 80s, in particular Richard Schechner, who begins to become close to some theater artists, such as Nicolás Nuñez, and some theorists, such as Gabriel Weisz, from the Universidad Nacional Autónoma de Mexico, and they have begun to familiarize themselves with this. But, actually, in regards to the academy in general, and of course in regards to the public—students and such—when they hear the word "performance," they still think that it is performance art. So, it’s an incredibly complex task, but I think people are slowly beginning to familiarize themselves with performance as a theoretical paradigm, including, but not exclusive to, action-based performance. Performance studies, sometimes people think is a study of action-art, but it is a much larger thing. So, for example, in the seminars I have been teaching, sometimes I opt to say “performativity studies,” [estudios de la performatividad], so that they understand it is a theory that has to do with speech acts—and much more, of course.

: And do you experience any resistance when you talk about performativity or performance studies; do theater people reject it, for example?

Antonio: It’s very interesting: here in Mexico I have seen, for example, that researchers from fields such as linguistic analysis, anthropology, sociology, et cetera, they are apparently more open to adopting the performativity terminology. For example, you do see in some writers an acceptance; they are starting to use this to talk about everyday expressive actions, about different aspects, including within literature, people began to talk about the performativity of narrative. And nevertheless in theater studies—where there is a long trajectory of theater studies, let’s say, that has, maybe, a more clear and direct genealogical connection to French, German, and Italian theorists—is where there has been maybe more resistance. Curiously, let’s say, with some colleagues, including people from my university, I have had debates about this, because sometimes they think that in performance studies, if we start to work on performance or performativity, theater studies are going to be left out. People say, "well, we’re still doing theater," and I have to convince them that performance studies doesn’t overwhelm or overtake theater studies, but rather makes it richer: it amplifies it, providing the possibility to see many aspects that the more conventional studies, let’s say, from field of theater, maybe, don’t attend to.

“ Performance studies, sometimes people think is a study of action-art, but it is a much larger thing. So, I opt to say “performativity studies,” so that they understand it is a theory that has to do with speech acts—and much more, of course.”

Diana: And have you found resources in Mexico, let’s say, from other professors who also work in the field of performance, or performativity—publications, let’s say, that support the work you do in your field?

Antonio: Slowly, I am making an opening, working so that my diverse colleagues begin to incorporate it into their studies. And, of course, in my own work I find colleagues, like, for example, José Ramón Alcantar, who is an important theater theorist from the Universidad Iberoamericana, who used to only speak only about theatricality, of the theatrical paradigm. In his recent book, one that he’s published in the last year that is called
Alcántara Mejía, José Ramón. 2010. Textralidad: textualidad y teatralidad en México. Ciudad de México: Universidad Iberoamericana.X
, and in it, he begins to talk about performativity and the performative, and similarly with a colleague of mine here in the Universidad Veracruz, Domingo Adame. So, there is a more recent presence that is beginning to circulate in Mexico as things begin to be translated, and people increasingly can read in English, so they begin to familiarize themselves with Schechner’s texts, with Judith Butler’s, and the same goes for what you’ve written, and other colleagues... And this, I think, has a snowball effect, and people begin increasingly to understand performance studies. So, it has gone from being a suspicious thing and not wanting to understand performance studies because they threaten theater studies, to beginning to understand that it’s something that can make theater studies richer.

Diana: And [what has been] an obstacle in your work, if you could name, for example, one or two?

Antonio: I don’t know if I have... In reality, I have been fairly fortunate to have found myself with colleagues who, even if they might have some resistance, are very open to dialogue. I have always been involved in institutions—including the Colegio de Michoacan, where I wasn’t in a theater department:  I was a researcher and professor in the Department of Rural Studies—where I saw an interest from colleagues, even if it was more curiosity than an authentic desire to incorporate performance studies. So, I liked working there, but sometimes I felt a little bit like the ugly duckling. Now, in the Theatre Department in the Universidad Veracruzana, I feel like my work is appreciated and connects both with my colleagues and students, and there is a lot of dialogue, a desire to listen, and they have been able to push forward research, along with other colleagues from the academy, on theater, performance, and culture, for example. The new periodical Investigación Teatral now has the subtitle Scenic Arts and Performativity. Before, that never could have happened, but now, it comes to be seen as very important.

: Okay, thank you, Antonio.

: Thank you for the interview, Diana.

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