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Performing Text in Music and Theater: Interdisciplinary Readings and Conversations

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Organizer: Susan Hohl

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This seminar will provide a forum for conversation about text and performance in the interdisciplinary contexts of music and theater, including opera, drama, musical theater, song, and staged or dramatic reading. Performances in these genres are by definition both animated and challenged by their intermedial identities; interdisciplinary discourse similarly both thrives on, and is made prickly by, these same tensions.  Our seminar will attempt to navigate some of this interdisciplinary territory by including not only lively discussion, but also illustrative performances and demonstrations when possible. The notions of text and performance can often seem at odds, especially when considering the general understanding of "text" as written word, existing in the material realm, and the contrasting temporal nature of performance, where the written work/symbol may function more as a trace or a map (as in a script or score) than as a part of the final product -- the "materiality" of text and the "materiality" of performance seem to be measured differently.  Furthermore, while both modes participate in symbolic as well as analogic forms of meaning, they use these forms in very different ways, partly in response to these temporal and material differences.  This adds significant creative intermedial possibilities, but presents equally significant challenges for creator, performer and audience.  Performance may draw an audience closer to a text, yet it can also distance them from it, sometimes simultaneously within the same work.  What role does the self-consciousness of performance play in creating such closeness or distance?  How does this closeness or distance, once created, affect future performance and future readings of the same text – either as text alone, or in the context of other, different media and genres?  How is this linked to a text’s or a work’s eventual canonization or canonical exclusion? Our discussion will include such questions as:  How does other media interpret texts when they combine?  How can music and theater be said to create a “reading” of a text with each performance, and how do texts in turn “interpret” or “textualize” these other media?  Are texts always subsumed into the non-textual media with which they combine, or do they continue to function independently within the new performance context? What tensions arise in these intermedial relationships, and how do these inform performance? Papers will be pre-circulated in order to encourage more in-depth discussion during the seminar.  

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