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Out of Africa

During the second week of July, 2007, eight academic staff and four postgraduate students from the School of Theatre, Performance and Cultural Policy Studies at Warwick formed the largest contingent from any one university outside of South Africa at the International Federation for Theatre Research’s annual conference, held for the first time on the African continent at Stellenbosch. This is one of the major international conferences in the discipline: each IFTR conference not only involves a themed series of plenary panels, but also hosts a series of working groups focussing on specific areas within the discipline.

African Conference dinner

Among those most centrally involved in the conference was Professor Janelle Reinelt, completing a four-year term as President of the organisation. At the final meeting of the conference she was thanked for her contribution to the enhanced internationalisation of the organisation, a direct outcome of her presidency, and for the successful publishing initiatives she had put in place. She will remain a member of the IFTR’s executive committee alongside Dr Susan Haedicke, a recent recruit to Warwick, who is also a member of the IFTR’s working group on Political Performances.


Other working groups include Performance as Research, which is convened by Professor Baz Kershaw. This group not only met in Stellenbosch, but also ran a pre-conference workshop at the University of Cape Town. A new working group also came into existence at the conference: Arabic Theatre, which is to be co-convened by Hazem Azmi (a Warwick postgraduate and former lecturer at the American University in Cairo). Hazem also convened a panel on Arabic theatre in the main conference, at which both he and Dr Milija Gluhovic (an assistant professor in the School) gave papers on Egyptian and Moroccan theatre. Contributions to other working groups included those of Dr Tim White to the Performance and Consciousness working group on ‘Sleep and Performance’ and Dr Iryna Kuksa (the School’s most recent PhD and a part-time lecturer in the Centre for Cultural Policy Studies) to the Digital Technologies and New Media in Performance Group. Professor Jim Davis, who co-organised the 2001 IFTR Conference in Sydney, was elected co-convenor of the Historiography Working Group, with which he has been associated for a number of years.


Papers in the main conference included not only Hazem’s and Milija’s contributions on Arabic theatre, but also Janelle’s presidential address, and papers by Jim Davis (on Imagining Africa, examining the English theatre’s representation of Africa in the early-nineteenth century), Baz Kershaw (on research conducted at Bristol Zoo as part of his broader interest in performance ecologies) and Dr Yvette Hutchison (on the intercultural performance of The Tall Horse). Yvette, a specialist in South African Theatre and co-editor of the South African Theatre Journal, who commenced her academic career at Stellenbosch, was a member of the conference organising committee. Three Warwick postgraduates gave papers at the IFTR New Scholars’ Forum: Wallace McDowell talked about the two Georges (Best and Farquhar) and his research on northern Irish theatre; Jennifer Markowitz looked at the site-specific potential of local South African venues; and Nesrin Alrefaai extended the Arabic focus with a paper on the Syrian dramatist Wannous.


The School’s high profile at major international conferences will continue in the autumn. The other major international organisation, Performance Studies International, has elected a new President, Dr Edward Scheer, who joins Warwick in September, and who takes over from current PSI President Dr Adrian Heathfield, a former Warwick lecturer. Papers by staff members Dr Nadine Holdsworth, Dr Tim White, Dr Nicolas Whybrow, Dr Silvija Jestrovic, Dr Milija Gluhovic and postgraduate Cherie Wang have been accepted for PSI’s New York University conference in the autumn. A delegation from Warwick, led by Janelle Reinelt and Jim Davis, will be meeting colleagues from the NYU Performance Studies department immediately after the conference to discuss potential Warwick/NYU Performance Studies collaborations. Meanwhile, a week after the NYU Conference, Dr Silvija Jestrovic and Dr Susan Haedicke will be respectively convening panels on ‘Escaping America’ and ‘Public Space, Politics and the Performance of National Identities’ at the American Society for Theatre Research Conference in Phoenix, Arizona, at which Dr Kuksa will be giving a paper about her research on American director Norman Bel Geddes. The current President of the ASTR, Professor Tracy Davis, is a Warwick alumnus based at Northwestern University, another notable centre for performance studies in the USA with which the School has been discussing potential collaborations.