ASTR Conference 2016, Nov 3-6 — Minneapolis, MN

Lofton L. Durham, Western Michigan University and Jenna Soleo-Shanks, University of Minnesota Duluth

During the thousand-year period known as the Middle Ages, performance served as a primary means through which diverse groups articulated their beliefs, celebrated their histories, promoted their power, and escaped their realities. Performance, transacted within the space of the city, often transformed not only the urban space but also the very bodies of the citizens as well as the relationships among them. Thus, medieval performance traditions were strongly connected to the communities by which and for which they were created.

It is perhaps no surprise, then, that twenty-first century producers and audiences may be resistant to medieval plays. In her 1983 essay, Sue-Ellen Case proposed one reason for that resistance:

“Shakespeare productions have prepared an audience for the Elizabethan world of superstition and Greek plays have prepared them for a world of pagan mythology, but the relative absence of medieval productions leaves the world of medieval Christianity to be understood by personal opinion about Christianity instead of a sense of it as a historical world view” (“Re-viewing Hrotsvit,” Theatre Journal 35 (4): 533–42).

For modern playmakers to prepare audiences in their appreciation of medieval performance dramatic texts and traditions, however, they need to actually produce those texts. But to do so, producers must confront the fact that staging medieval dramatic texts is an act of linguistic, temporal, and cultural translation and transposition. This Working Session seeks to examine the role of, and methods used in, contemporary stagings of medieval texts and/or performance events. To begin with, we ask: what is the value of staging medieval texts or traditions today? What is the value for researchers who use Practice-based Research (PbR) or Practice-as-Research (PaR)? What is the value for contemporary artists and audiences?

This Working Group on medieval performance has convened since 2010 and we invite new scholars to join our on-going work. We envision a 2-hour Working Group that would prioritize Practice-based Research (PbR) or Practice-as-Research (PaR), but we also welcome written work on:

  • modern stagings of medieval plays
  • medievalism or the use of medieval settings or themes in contemporary performance
  • influence of the Middle Ages on twenty and twenty-first century theatre theory
  • material practice and medieval performance histories
  • sound, speech and/or language in medieval performance
  • translation of archaic languages
  • medieval stagecraft and/or processional staging
  • props and staging, for instance in the context of reconstructive critical work
  • engagement with fragmentary or ambiguous evidence and methods for revealing traces of performance practice
  • a focus on manuscripts, specifically in the form of non-dramatic literature and medieval performance practices

Please submit an abstract of 500 words describing your proposed paper and/or your proposed use of the performance workshop, if appropriate, by June 1. Please ensure that your proposal describes the role Practice-based Research (PbR) or Practice-as-Research (PaR) might play in the development of your argument. Completed papers (of no more than 8 double-spaced pages) will be due by September 15 for circulation and discussion.

For any specific questions, please contact the working group convenors at and Please note that all submissions must be received formally through the ASTR website. The form will allow you to indicate second and third -choice working groups if you wish; if you do so, note that there is a space for you to indicate how your work will fit into those groups. The deadline for receipt of working group proposals is June 1st 2016 and we anticipate that participants will be notified of their acceptance no later than 30 June. As this is the first year of this new process, please contact the conference organizers at if you have any questions about the process.


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