Through collaborative work with researchers across Canada, the project contributes to debates about the origins and definitions of performance studies, which are now central to understanding this interdisciplinary field. Since its official inception as a discipline in the 1980s, with the creation of the first Performance Studies Department at NYU, the discipline has focused on the study of a broad spectrum of cultural behaviours that fall under the umbrella of performance, including popular entertainments (games, sports, etc.), performance art, festivals, carnivals, protests, religious ceremonies, and cultural rituals. Equally important within this area of study has been the popularization of the term “performativity” as a lens through which to understand the construction of identity and the performance of self in everyday life. As such, the theories and methods of performance studies have been influential to researchers in a number of disciplines, including anthropology, sociology, cultural studies, communication studies, gender/sexuality studies, religious studies, and the fine arts (to name but a few).
The inter-discipline of performance studies has clearly been influential in recent years in Canada as graduate programs are increasingly incorporating this term within their degree descriptions and drawing upon its theories and methods within their core curricula. To date, however, no systematic attempts have yet been made to consider how this methodology is being taught, applied, and rethought specifically in Canadian contexts. Moreover, it is difficult for students and researchers to get a sense of who the major performance studies theorists are in Canada since there have been no publications or events explicitly identifying their work and they are rarely acknowledged in mappings of the field found in international performance studies anthologies.
The Performance Studies (Canada) Project aims to fill this gap by helping to produce a critical discourse about the theoretical work that is currently being done in this area in Canada and by connecting these contributions to the international field of performance studies research. While theatre studies scholars in Canada have been the most explicit in associating themselves with performance studies theories and methods, this project raises awareness about performance analysis that is also being done in areas like anthropology, cultural studies, and visual studies and, accordingly, to examine different methodological approaches to performance. Rather than simply focusing on contemporary work, it also traces alternative genealogies of the field by documenting performance-oriented scholarship and experimentation carried out in Canada prior to the explosion of performance studies research in the United States in the 1990s.
This study is intended as a starting point for a national conversation about performance studies rather than a definitive account of what is going on in the field. Moreover, while it examines the influence of national context on the disciplinary objects, dilemmas, and preoccupations of performance studies research, it also seeks to illustrate how various histories of cultural production in Canada (indigenous, Francophone, etc.) often throw traditional categories of “nation” into high relief. They reveal national identity as itself a performance and propose a variety of frameworks for locating performance: local, intercultural, transnational, North American. Articulating what may be distinctive about performance studies work carried out in the geopolitical territory called Canada requires an awareness of how fraught the performance of national identity is in this context.