Article: Deliberate Starvation: Hunger Artists in Kafka, Różewicz, and Sinking Ship

Article: Deliberate Starvation: Hunger Artists in Kafka, Różewicz, and Sinking Ship

After a couple of years from when I presented the paper on the same topic at the PSi Performance Studies international Conference “Hunger,” my article “Deliberate Starvation: Hunger Artists in Kafka, Różewicz, and Sinking Ship” is being published in Global Performance Studies 6, nos 1–2 (2024). A special thanks to the Sinking Ship creative team for providing the photos for the article!

Come celebrate the launch of the combined double issue of Global Performance Studies and Performance Research in London at Hoxton Hall (130 Hoxton St, London N1 6SH) on Saturday, June 22 from 7 to 8 pm!

In my article I attempt to respond to the question: How can a negative action, the decision to abstain from food, be enacted on stage? Examining hunger as a conscious choice to avoid food for spectacle, I illustrate several ways to make hunger visible in performance through the critical lens of actor-network theory (ANT) applied to modern and contemporary case studies. In the West, self-inflicted starvation became a form of entertainment in the late nineteenth century, when living skeletons and hunger artists were shown at circuses, fairs, and amusement parks. Franz Kafka’s short story “A Hunger Artist” (1922) looked back at the profession’s history, identifying the main components of the spectacle of hunger. Polish playwright Tadeusz Różewicz turned the short story into a play, The Hunger Artist Departs (1977), exploring the potential for dialogic interactions and developing side-characters only implied by Kafka. By contrast, the contemporary NYC-based company Sinking Ship created A Hunger Artist (2017), an adaptation that expanded the short story’s theatricality around a single performer who plays multiple characters with the aid of all the resources of theatre, from puppets to audience members “enrolled” in the show.

Sinking Ship, A Hunger Artist (2017) – Photo Kelly Stuart

Paper: “Invisible Assemblages Made Visible: Hostile Actors and Dis-Connected Shows in Paris, 1970-1993”

Paper: “Invisible Assemblages Made Visible: Hostile Actors and Dis-Connected Shows in Paris, 1970-1993”

Soon traveling to London for the PSi Performance Studies international conference #29 “Assemble” to present a bit more of my research on how theatre and performance can be perceived from the point of view of assemblages and actor-networks. Saturday, June 22, 2024. University of London, Senate House, Panel #77, Room G35, 2:00–3:45 pm.

Here’s the paper’s blurb:

Gilles Deleuze and Félix Guattari describe the assemblage as follows: “a multiplicity which is made up of many heterogeneous terms […], the assemblage’s only unity is that of a co-functioning: it is a symbiosis, a ‘sympathy’” (Deleuze and Parnet, Dialogues II, p. 69). In theatre, this co-functioning is often self-evident but other times partially or completely hidden from the spectators’ eyes. Drawing from my recent monograph on a diasporic group of “Argentines of Paris,” in this paper I meditate on two types of surprising assemblages, the assemblage between ostensibly independent shows and the assemblage of theatre producers of opposing political views. These practical alliances and their motives could only be fully appreciated once hostile actors intervened to sever certain connections.
The first case illustrates how performance history needs to look beyond the boundaries of the single production to convey the full story in terms of assemblages. In March 1970, in Paris, Argentine playwright Copi’s controversial Eva Perón directed by Alfredo Rodríguez Arias and Michael McClure’s The Sermons of Jean Harlow & the Curses of Billy the Kid directed by Antoine Bourseiller could be attended at two separate venues, the Théâtre de l’Épée de Bois and the Théâtre de Poche-Montparnasse respectively, about 25 minutes on foot from each other. The two shows, however, were co-functioning because they shared a performer, Jean-Claude Drouot, who first acted in the earlier show, quickly changed, and then briskly walked over to the other theatre to perform there. Such perfectly timed machine became evident only once it broke down, when a group of right-wing hooligans brutally attacked Copi’s play for political reasons. As a consequence, Drouot – caught up in the mayhem – could not reach the other theatre during the later time slot, and that show was cancelled.
In the second example, I look at the behind-the-scenes maneuvers of the producers for Copi’s Cachafaz, staged in 1993 at the Théâtre de la Colline under the artistic direction of Jorge Lavelli. Again staged by Arias, this queer-themed show involving anthropophagy gathered two producing entities apart from the host theatre: Arias’s TSE group and the Théâtre de l’Atelier, whose director, Frédéric Franck, hoped for returns from a potential French tour. The producers had initially converged on the assumption that TSE’s star Facundo Bo would play the lead. However, when Bo had to withdraw due to Alzheimer’s early complications – a hostile non-human actor that incapacitated him – and Arias found a less well-known substitute, Franck canceled the tour. Because TSE’s losses would be much larger, the group lobbied to retain the touring dates. What followed was a series of heated exchanges in person and in written communications – which I unearthed from the French National Archives – that brought to the surface ideological, political, and aesthetic differences that had originally been glossed over. If in this case the producers’ collaboration was declared on the playbills, their heterogeneous motives were only revealed once Alzheimer’s put a wrench in the show’s original assemblage.

Book Chapter: “Jean Genet” in The Routledge Companion to Absurdist Literature

Book Chapter: “Jean Genet” in The Routledge Companion to Absurdist Literature

My chapter on controversial French author Jean Genet has recently been published in The Routledge Companion to Absurdist Literature, “the first authoritative and definitive edited collection on absurdist literature. As a field-defining volume, the editor [Michael Bennett] and the contributors are world leaders in this ever-exciting genre.”
Transforming his early life experiences as a drifter, thief, prostitute, and inmate with the power of imagination and undeniable literary skills, Genet (1910–1986) unsettles the reader and spectator by plunging them in the midst of strange and unique worlds, only imperfectly illuminated and yet potently alluring. I analyze Genet’s oeuvre focusing on his novels Our Lady of the Flowers, Miracle of the Rose, The Thief’s Journal, and Funeral Rites, and the plays Deathwatch, The Maids, Splendid’s, The Pope, The Balcony, The Blacks, and The Screens. Moving from deeply personal matters to more grandiose architectures, Genet’s work displays a gusto for defying expectations, an eagerness to contradict the assumptions of bourgeois morality, and constant reminders of the power and fragility of simulacra in the private and political arena. Despite the disappearance of many of Genet’s world coordinates, his creations still offer exciting and unique dilemmas that his readers and spectators are compelled to unravel.

Book Chapter: “Latin America” in Pirandello in Context

Book Chapter: “Latin America” in Pirandello in Context

My chapter “Latin America” has finally been published in the collection Pirandello in Context, edited by Patricia Gaborik for Cambridge University Press. Happy to be in the company so many other Pirandellian scholars!  Combining my interest in Italian and Latin American theatre studies, this was the first time I became aware of very active transatlantic networks that allow a touring theatre company to work a full-year season. Leave those pesky summer lulls behind by moving between hemispheres 😅.
In the chapter I speak about the introduction of Pirandello’s plays to Latin America, which started after the controversial Italian success of Six Characters in Search of an Author (1921), then staged by Dario Niccodemi’s company in Buenos Aires (1922), Montevideo, and Rio de Janeiro (1923). When Pirandello’s newly established Teatro d’Arte found itself in serious financial trouble in 1927, it welcomed the proposal by the Teatro Odeón in Buenos Aires for a tour that promised to cover the deficit. On his first trip to South America the author sparked a fervor that made him the tour’s protagonist while dispelling the perception of his theatre as a conduit for Fascist propaganda. Pirandello’s second trip in 1933 saw the author directing the successful world premiere of When One Is Somebody. An important connection between the Italian playwright and the Buenos Aires professional theatre scene was actor Luis Arata, whose company systematically offered his plays between the 1930s and 40s. Over time, Pirandellian productions spread across the official, commercial, and independent circuits and Pirandellian tropes continue to influence Argentine playwriting to this day.

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Book Chapter and Paper: “Echoes of Theatre Past: Blasco Ibañez’s El comediante Fonseca and Cozarinsky’s El rufián moldavo” in the The Routledge Companion to Theatre-Fiction

Book Chapter and Paper: “Echoes of Theatre Past: Blasco Ibañez’s El comediante Fonseca and Cozarinsky’s El rufián moldavo” in the The Routledge Companion to Theatre-Fiction

My chapter “Echoes of Theatre Past: Blasco Ibañez’s El comediante Fonseca and Cozarinsky’s El rufián moldavo” has been published in the The Routledge Companion to Theatre-Fiction edited by Graham Wolfe. In the chapter, I continue my digging into topics related to Argentine theatre, Buenos Aires, and the importance of looking at networks of people and things to really know what’s going on. I examine El comediante Fonseca (Fonseca, the Actor, 1924) by Spanish author Vicente Blasco Ibañez (1867–1928) and El rufián moldavo (The Moldavian Pimp, 1984) by Argentine filmmaker and writer Edgardo Cozarinsky (b. 1939) as examples of how theatre-fiction provides access to a broader historical awareness of the intertwined genealogies of artistic work and private events that influence theatre but remain otherwise mostly invisible. Unrestrained by the immediacy of a staged performance, these works expand their scope to encompass whole lives and diverse locales: not only do both Blasco and Cozarinsky jump freely between the present and the past, but they also evoke a variety of places on both sides of the Atlantic spanning from the city of Buenos Aires to the Argentine provinces, from the tropical forest of Venezuela to the steppes of Eastern Europe.

On March 7, 2024 I presented a paper on the same topic at the Mid-Atlantic Theatre Conference in Madison, WI.

Paper: “Friends or Foes, You’ve Gotta Love ’Em: Reframing Theatre’s Adversaries as Unwitting Allies”

Paper: “Friends or Foes, You’ve Gotta Love ’Em: Reframing Theatre’s Adversaries as Unwitting Allies”

On November 9 I discussed my paper “Friends or Foes, You’ve Gotta Love ’Em: Reframing Theatre’s Adversaries as Unwitting Allies” during the “Anchoring Historiographies: Hope, Method, and the Future of Theatre History” Working Session at ASTR American Society for Theatre Research Conference “Hope,” in Providence, RI.

Abstract:

Inspired by the theme “Hope,” I argue that, in certain circumstances, adversarial agents can be viewed as paradoxically beneficial for theatre groups or productions, as in the case of the Parisian stagings of Jean Genet’s The Screens (1966) and Copi’s Eva Perón (1970), both targets of threats and violent attacks by the right-wing group Ordre Nouveau and other agents. In 1971, theatre critic Colette Godard noted how such malicious interferences were a boon for companies without a budget. Indeed, for the Argentine group TSE staging Copi, the event made the difference between oblivion and immediate success.

This approach stems from my recently published book’s notion of “actor-network dramaturgy,” which articulates an expanded notion of agency for theatre and performance studies in the context of Actor-Network Theory by highlighting the uninterrupted continuity of the aesthetic with history at large. Because the network is a continuum of associations between “actors,” it makes no sense to distinguish artistic action from action per se. Thus, if “people know what they do; they frequently know why they do what they do; but what they don’t know is what what they do does” (Foucault), actions chronologically preceding or parallel to the aesthetic ones can still be seen as pushing towards a theatre production, even without full awareness of their consequences. Hence, even enemies may unwittingly facilitate what they wanted to impede.

More generally, this method invites researchers to develop a more comprehensive actor-network dramaturgical vision by including longer genealogies of humans, things, and events; more numerous types of actors, human and non-human; and both friendly and adversarial actors, successes and failures, as sources of exciting historical accounts.

 

Paper: “The Balcony, The Pope, and The Screens: Jean Genet’s Unsettling Perspectives on the Society of the Spectacle.”

Paper: “The Balcony, The Pope, and The Screens: Jean Genet’s Unsettling Perspectives on the Society of the Spectacle.”

On October 26, I presented the paper “The Balcony, The Pope, and The Screens: Jean Genet’s Unsettling Perspectives on the Society of the Spectacle” for the “Theatre and Society” Panel at the PAMLA Pacific Ancient and Modern Language Association Conference “Shifting Perspectives,” in Portland, OR.

Jean Genet (1910–1986) found recognition by shocking conventional French society. In this paper I analyze his three plays that more pointedly critiqued “the society of the spectacle” (Guy Debord), the degradation of authentic social connections in favor of relations between their images.

In The Balcony (1955), the brothel of the title appears as a high-scale establishment dedicated to enacting perverse scenarios by regular men who seek the thrill of absolute power. Stage manager of this “house of illusions” is Madame Irma, who surveils its 38 studios. However, because her clients’ reenactments are nothing but simulacra of power, fundamentally blunting any desire to act in the real world, the bordello acts as one of the status quo’s institutions, against which a popular revolution is brewing. In the end, the rebels fail because, even after the real Royal Palace is blown up, a confrontation of allegories is displayed from the brothel’s balcony, with Irma and her clients silently embodying the archetypes of power just destroyed and yet desired by the masses as guarantors of order. When Irma dismisses the audience in the same way as her clients, hinting at a new rebellion the next day, she implicates the voyeuristic spectators as acquiescent to the mechanisms of power through spectacle.

With The Pope (1955), Genet applies his analysis to the highest position in the Catholic Church. In this playful and irreverent short piece, a photographer has made an appointment to capture the Pontiff’s ideal image for worldwide distribution, but this highly self-conscious Pope regrets gradually shedding all his “interior density” to finally become an empty vessel reduced to a “definitive image.” Indeed, he enters in the expected “long white robe […] a tall papal miter and a cross on his chest” but does so gliding on roller skates, while his behind remains naked because never officially visible.

Finally, combining his scathing assessment of white colonialism and the discourse on power achieved through simulacra, The Screens (1961) offers a sprawling, polyphonic epic that obliquely alludes to the Algerian war of independence (1954–1962), in which both sides rely on simulacra. On the one hand, the ruthless racist colonizers count on their constructed image to dominate the territory, such as wearing a fat suit to look more imposing, while the French soldiers seem more preoccupied with looking good than having better weapons; on the other hand, the insurgents – though able to win the war – simply substitute the older with their own oppressive power structures. This similar approach becomes evident once all warring characters end up in the same metaphysical “place” after death. The only way to escape this society of the spectacle is suggested by the Nettles family, when Saïd dies but does not reappear among the dead, so he will never be fixed in a hero’s image.

Overall, Genet’s work displays a gusto for defying expectations, an eagerness to contradict the assumptions of bourgeois morality, and a constant reminder of the power and fragility of simulacra in the private and political arena.

Book: Actor-Network Dramaturgies: The Argentine of Paris

Book: Actor-Network Dramaturgies: The Argentine of Paris

After about 6 years from project through on-site research in Buenos Aires and Paris to book, I just finished checking the proofs of my monograph Actor-Network Dramaturgies: The Argentine of Paris, forthcoming in August with Palgrave Macmillan in the Palgrave Studies in Theatre and Performance History series. What a journey!
In the meantime, I was fortunate to receive two great endorsements:
1. from Maria Delgado, professor and director of research at the Royal Central School of Speech and Drama, University of London, UK:
“A rich, engaging and beautifully written exploration of stagings produced by Argentines who chose to settle in Paris in the 1960s. Boselli’s monograph is not simply a repositioning of iconic directors such as Jorge Lavelli, Jérôme Savary, and Alfredo Rodríguez Arias, but also an exploration of a wider group – including artist and playwright Copi, costume designer Juan Stoppani, set designer Roberto Platé, and performers Facundo Bo, Marucha Bo, and Marilú Marini — as a means of exploring the different networks through which they collaborated. In tracing the ventures these artists generated, this important monograph asks pertinent questions about nationhood, exile, intercultural collaborations, non-human agents, global and local exchange, and the political, social and cultural agents that shaped their navigation of intersecting cultural spaces.”

2. from Leo Cabranes-Grant, Professor of Theatre at the University of California, Santa Barbara:

“Spanning two hemispheres and two mega-cities, Stefano Boselli’s pioneering book manages to map, with great precision and inclusivity, the complex exchanges that make TransAtlantic cultures possible and sustainable. Adapting and refining the foundational principles of actor-network analysis, Boselli captures the creative and political transactions connecting Argentinian playwrights, directors, and performers living in France to funding resources, human and non-human agencies, policies, fashion, or set designers. What’s truly significant about Boselli’s research is that he manages to keep all these elements not only together —which is already quite a feat—but also in perpetual motion (as they are experienced and assembled). His meticulously detailed presentation of both the macro and micro factors involved, and his vision of intercultural relations as a flowing process that is constantly redressing its own forms posits the possibility of a richer methodological template breaching the gaps between sociology, performance studies, affect studies, and theater historiography. Last but not least, his book proposes a dynamic approach to diaspora studies, showing that geography is defined by our collaborations as much as by the lands we leave behind or the new lands we inhabit.”