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What is Performance Studies?

Diana Taylor, Author

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Beth Lopes

Interview with Beth Lopes (2011)

Beth Lopes is a theater director, researcher, and professor of undergraduate and graduate programs in Performing Arts at the University of São Paulo. She is currently Head of the Graduate Program in Performing Arts and Vice-Director of TUSP [Teatro da Universidade de São Paulo]. She is editor of the journals Sala Preta, aSPAs, and aParte XXI. Her areas of research are the creative process of the actor, performance, and “the show,” with an emphasis on the topics of the body, action, memory, and the grotesque. She completed two postdoctoral programs: the first, in Brazil, on the presence of memory in contemporary spectacle, the second in performance, under the supervision of Richard Schechner, in the Department of Performance Studies at New York University. Her theatrical practice has involved work with the Odin Theatre; the Workcenter of Jerzy Grotowski and Thomas Richards; Anne Bogart and SITI Company; Commedia Dell’ Arte with Carlo and Stefano Bosi Perocco; and Mímica na École de Mimodrame Clown e Bufão with Phillipe Gaulier and Monica Pagneaux. She has also been taught by Thomas Richards and Mario Biagini (Workcenter of Jerzy Grotowski); Ian Fersley, Iben Nagel Rasmussen, Richard Flowler and Eugenio Barba (Odin Theatre); Simon McBurney (Cumplicité); Guillermo Gomez-Peña and Michelle Ceballos (Pocha Nostra); Jesusa Rodriguez, Reverend Billy, Anatoli Vassiliev, Jacques Lecoq, Diana Taylor, Hans-Thies Lehmann, Josette Féral, Beatrice Picon-Valin, Ileana Diéguez, Marvin Carlson, and Patrice Pavis. As founder and artistic director of the Companhia de Teatro em Quadrinhos (CTQ) since 1989, she approaches the theater of visual narratives in the 21st century—performance, comics, film, video, visual arts, and new technologies. With CTQ, university students, and other theater companies, she has done around 40 different theater productions, which earned her numerous awards and recognition. She coordinated, with the Hemispheric Institute of Performance and Politics, the eighth Encuentro, which took place in Brazil in 2013: Cities, Bodies, and Action: the Politics of Passions of in the Americas. In 2014 she was a curator of Performix Performance Festival in partnership with SP Escola de Teatro and TUSP. In 2015 she was a curator for Território Cultural de Teatro, Performance e Cinema at SP Escola de Teatro.X

Marcos Steuernagel: The first thing I want to ask is if you think performance studies is constituted as a field in Brazil, if it is thought of as a discipline.

Beth Lopes
: I believe performance studies has begun recently to be defined as a field of study, as a field of knowledge. I believe, in our tradition, within the university, performance has always been much more connected to performance art. The field of performance studies is being brought precisely by the influence of Richard Schechner, of Diana Taylor, of the NYU [New York University] professors who, in a certain way, have been establishing a dialogue with Brazilian universities and broadening the field, which I don’t see as a field that is... unitary. It is not a field defined by unity, but it is a field defined more by regularity. So, I believe, regularity of information, of objects, of concepts. So, I believe, in this way, this field has been broadened, and performance art is becoming one of the objects within this field, which is kind of an umbrella that holds different possibilities of analysis and research.

: And what is the situation at USP [University of Sao Paulo] or within other academic institutions that you know of? Are there performance studies programs, performance studies courses, or where are these topics being discussed?

: Specifically at USP, there is a research group called Napedra, with whom I have a strong relationship, that has a more specific approach connecting theater, or “drama,” as they call it, and anthropology. Theater, drama, performance, and anthropology. This is the strongest center, the most potent within USP. In my department, which is a Performing Arts department, more recently it has been incorporating different conceptual approaches, especially because theater, as an aesthetic stream, has also been expanding, extending itself into a broader artistic field... and more geared towards the social. In the graduate program of the Department of Performing Arts we have been receiving students interested in researching the relationship between theater and indigenous communities, for example, between theater and Afro-descendant religions, between theater and prisons, and the pedagogical, educational, and social relations in prisons, in communities such as FEBEM [Fundação Estadual para o Bem Estar do Menor], the prison for teenagers—or the detention center for teenagers. So, recently, there is an increasing movement towards theater that extends into a more social and political perspective.

Marcos: So this production is happening mostly, you say, within departments of theater and anthropology. Do you see any difference in performance studies from these two perspectives?

: You see, I've often attended the Center of Anthropology and Performance, and it seems to me that we have several affinities. In the Napedra Center, for example, they work with capoeira in relation to the male expressive body. What is the relationship between capoeira and the expressive body? The relationship between less favored communities and the work with dance. So it seems to me that there is an affinity between what is being researched in the graduate performing arts program, both in the performing arts and in the Department of Anthropology, where Napedra is located.

Marcos: And, because of these influences you mentioned, do you think performance studies is perceived as a US-American field? Or is there also a Brazilian production? How is this field of research perceived?

: I think it is a US-American field of research that finds resonance in the national context. I see, for example, in Santa Catarina, which has a quite strong university... I see there is extensive work focused on street theater, theater in the city, the perception of bodies in the city. So, as I see it, this already existed before knowing about this US-American approach. So, I believe what comes to the surface, what responds to this conceptual perspective, are sources that already exist. They become, however, involved by this regularity of objects that I believe performance studies encompasses.

: And are there other strong influences beyond the US-American ones? Or, in the field of performance studies, do most of the references come from that context?

: I believe there are other influences. For example, [Hans-Thies] Lehmann’s post-dramatic theater I see as a very strong influence. And, in a certain way, it also serves as an umbrella, a range of possibilities that gathers different expressions. I also think that discourse analysis, from a Foucauldian perspective, is also an approach that structures, in a certain way, artistic discourse.

: And what about the local production? Is there an interest, in terms of publications coming out of Brazil or interesting dissertations being written that would fit within the field of performance studies?

Beth: I wouldn’t be able to say exactly... I believe this production is still very recent. I think it would be hard for me to recognize a production in this specific field. I think there is a very significant production called, or geared towards, performance, understood as an expression that is hybrid, that mixes languages, that has neither theoretical nor practical borders. So, I believe that it is, in Brazil, still very much related to the artistic field.

"[In Brazil] there is extensive work focused on street theater, the perception of bodies in the city... I believe that what comes to the surface, what responds to this conceptual perspective, are sources that already exist. They become, however, involved by this regularity of objects that I believe performance studies encompasses.

Marcos: And, regarding the academic production, what are the references being used? I mean, are there translations? Is the material in English or in other languages? Or are there some local references? Which are the references you see as constituting the field of performance studies in Brazil?

Beth: As surprising as it might be, the strongest reference right now is Richard Schechner, who I think arrives late in Brazil. I think Diana Taylor is another reference, who I also think arrives late. We are preparing a book with translations into Portuguese of texts by Richard Schechner, and recently there was a translation of a book by Diana Taylor
Taylor, Diana. 2013. O arquivo e o repertório: Performance e memória cultural nas Américas. Belo Horizonte: UFMG.
, and they are the strongest sources, the strongest references.

: And thinking about what the constitution of a field of performance studies in Brazil would look like, what do you feel would be particular contributions, or what kind of knowledge can be produced in terms of performance in Brazil that would be specific to a Brazilian context? How would you see the production, perhaps, of a Brazilian field of performance studies?

: I think theater itself is a very strong field. I think Brazilian theater is a theater that mixes Brazil’s cultural features. So I believe it returns, more and more, to its own origins, to its own culture, to its customs, folklore. So, I think theater is very enmeshed with its own culture. And I also believe that, due to this stream that is more, let’s say, original, I think theater turns itself to social and political issues of its own context with more intensity. So, I believe theater itself, what we are calling “performatic theater,” has been breaking with or extending, intensifying, its origins, its cultural origins, and contextualizing itself, grounded on social and political movements.

: And the last thing I wanted to ask...

Beth: But I didn’t finish...

Marcos: I’m sorry.

: So, I believe that, because of this, there is a strong tendency to focus on, for example, indigenous communities, on landless communities, on the homeless. There is, in theater, a return to these themes marked by intense strength and potency. So, I believe that, in theater itself, this field flourishes, a field that is perfect for performance studies, to expand the meaning of performance in Brazil.

Marcos: And the last thing I wanted to ask is regarding this word, “performance,” which is not a Portuguese word. How does it travel, what other meanings [does it have], and how is it used in Brazil?

: You see, since the 70s I've heard the word “performance,” especially because we had a great scholar, Renato Cohen, who died very young, but who was a great practitioner of performance. Along with others, with Otávio Donatti, with Guto Lacaz, who were artists—and are, they still are, except Renato Cohen—who not only practiced performance—they were performance practitioners—but also theoretically, what I see as a very significant contribution. So, I think the word “performance” has always been in this hybrid platform of artistic and cultural languages. And I think it has been expanding more and more, embracing more political and social issues.

Marcos: Is there anything else you would like to add on the subject?

Beth: I don’t think so.

Marcos: Thank you very much.

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