Interview with Javier Serna (2011)
Javier Serna has a PhD in Performance Studies from New York University and is a professor and researcher at the Division of Postgraduate Studies and lecturer at Colegio de Letras Mexicanas of the Department of Philosophy and Literature at Universidad Autónoma de Nuevo León (UANL). Professor Serna is also co-founder of the School of Theatre Studies and Cultural Practices in the Theatre Department, where he has developed theoretical approaches regarding the history and memory of the pre-Hispanic past in relation to indigenous cultures of the northeast of Mexico. His contribution to the field of performance and cultural practices of the Aridoamerican world includes scholarship on Hikuri (La Ruta Sagrada del Peyote), Fidencismo (Curanderos de la Fe), and Luminarias (El Mitote Guadalupano). His contribution to Mexican theater as a director has produced works such as: Herejía by Sabina Berman, La Real Cacería del Sol by Peter Shaffer, Los Hijos del Desierto, co-authored with Dulce González, El Reyno, an adaptation by Fernando de Hita of Don Raúl Rangel Frías’ novel, among many other productions. Some of his publications include "Asesinato Social-Actos Silentes" and "El Teatro al Fin de la Modernidad,” and he is a contributor to the Mexican theater magazine Paso de Gato. Serna is a recipient of UANL’s Arts Award and a member of the advisory council of the Hemispheric Institute of Performance and Politics, based at New York University. He graduated from the Drama Centre in London, holds a master’s degree in philosophical anthropology from the Division of Postgraduate Studies of the Department of Philosophy and Literature UANL, and is currently a member of Nuevo León Council for the Arts, CONARTE.X
Marcial Godoy-Anativia: Can you please introduce yourself?
Javier Serna: Of course. Good afternoon, my name is Javier Serna. I come from the city of Monterrey. I work in the city of Monterrey, at the Autonomous University of Nuevo León. I am also a Consulting Member of the Council for Culture and Arts of Nuevo León. Basically, my work in this area—in the Mexican northeast—has been an evolution from theater studies to performance studies.
Marcial: Yes, thank you very much. And can you tell us how performance studies has influenced both your own work and your institutional-intellectual position?
Marcial: And can you talk a bit more about what theorists, what ideas specifically within performance studies helped you reach that reflection?
Javier: Yes, definitely, when I got to New York University to do my doctorate in performance studies, my great inspirations were Diana Taylor, Barbara Kirshenblatt-Gimblett, Richard Schechner, and Peggy Phelan herself. They all influenced me in a very clear way towards that evolution I was talking about, because my field was theater studies and it was from there that I came to performance studies.
Marcial: Excellent. And how do performance studies exist institutionally? Are there academic departments as such, or are the classes given through different forms, in different locations? How would you talk about the institutional aspect?
Marcial: Sure. Can you be more specific in terms of what aspects of the methodologies that are used in performance studies have been particularly useful to you? What concepts, ideas, methodological inputs have been useful in this context that you have pointed out?
“between theater and anthropology” coined by Richard Schechner
Marcial: Excellent. And what inputs, both of Mexican or Latin American intellectuals working on related themes, have performance studies had in your context? What Mexican or Latin American thinkers have contributed, say, to constructing that theoretical body?
Antonio Prieto, who worked at the Universidad Veracruzana, has made a very important contribution. Jesusa Rodríguez is definitely a cultural icon in Mexico and certainly has everything to do with performance studies. But also, clearly, Zeca Ligiéro and Luis Peirano are there, and Leda [Martins] herself; this whole group that makes up the Hemispheric Institute of Performance and Politics has in some way influenced—in one specific case through me—a group of students and young people who are very inspired by this. I was just now saying to Diana [Taylor] that there are three or four young men who want to register for her class in Chiapas, and she said it was full, that they had to reject eighty applications, right? So it is starting to gain great force.
Marcial: Well, thank your very much, Javier.
Javier: On the contrary, thank you.
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