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Working Session: Consuming Global Theatre in the Age of Empire

American Society for Theatre Research ( Annual Conference, 17-20 November, 2011, Montreal, Canada Economies of Theatre. University of Munich

17.11.2011 – 20.11.2011

American Society for Theatre Research (

Annual Conference,17-20 November, Montreal, Canada Economies of Theatre
Call for Papers Working Session:Consuming Global Theatre in the Age of Empire
Organizers: Christopher Balme and Nic Leonhardt
University of Munich

If we are to understand the nature and extent of theatre on a global scale as it was produced and consumed in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, we have to accept that it was almost indistinguishable from other forms of economic activity designed to produce, transport and sell products on a consumer market. Following the research paradigm of consumption studies we can define this approach by understanding consumption to be “a cultural organization of economic transactions, legal relations, social institutions, and ideological apparatuses that continually redrew the boundaries between social classes, between public and private life, between high art and low, and between men and women.” What Birmingham and Brewer (1995: 15) posit for the period 1600-1800 in Great Britain pertains even more to the period of high empire 1860-1939 that historians have called the ‘first age of globalization’. This period saw a huge outflow of theatrical productions from metropolitan centres that brought the full gamut of performance genres from vaudeville acts to high opera to countless towns and cities. In this economy of desires theatre was predicated on mobility and transience for its economic survival, and promised palpable connection with the metropolitan centres and ways of life. Theatre was thus a part of circulating consumer products, which need to be considered within a research paradigm that balances economic with ideological and aesthetic imperatives. Some of the possible avenues to be explored include:

  • Regimes of value: how are commodified theatrical products converted into non-economic values (aesthetic, ethical) in differing cultural contexts?
  • Institutionalizing transience: theatre construction as a response to the twin demands of producers and consumers
  • the performer as commodity: how was the constant supply of ‘foreign bodies’ integrated into local economies of desire?