Gender, Race, and Empire in Early Modern Theatre

By Peg Katritzky

Among all our other reasons for remembering 2020 as The Lost Year, those of us who enjoy presenting at conferences are enduring unprecedented upheaval. Finally, academic meetings are re-appearing. However, much like metropolitan buses, they seem awkwardly bunched, easily missed and virtually inaccessible to those lacking the latest tech skills, hardware and IT support. This blog shares some thoughts arising from two excellent meetings I attended this week.

The international research collaborative TWB (Theater Without Borders) rescheduled its 2020 Annual Workshop from a week of live presentations and performances in May (Madrid) to a Zoom Virtual conference (12 June): “Race and Empire in Early Modern Theater”. A day earlier, on 11 June, “Race Before Race” made an announcement, shared here with the permission of TWB member and GOTH Advisory Board Member Noémie Ndiaye.

Regarding the statement, Noémie writes:

“[In] this (short) Letter from the Executive Board of “Race Before Race” which was published this morning […] we call on our colleagues to rethink the editorial practices that have long kept race scholars, especially BIPOC scholars, from getting published in the journals we all read. Please read it […] share it, and join the conversation. Thinking race and racially-articulated power relations starts in our own (academic) backyard.”

Before joining the TWB meeting, I attended the two-day conference Renaissance Academic Drama and the Popular Stage (11-12 June 2020). Unlike myself, most presenters adapted to rescheduling to MS Teams. OK, so we could no longer enjoy the great pleasure of watching The Edward’s Boys perform live at the University of St Andrews (or of sneaking off to beaches or bars). But the switch to online, attracting 90+ delegates, was achieved in brilliant style by the organizers, St Andrews doctoral students Elena Spinelli and Jon Gardner. Through their individual quality and strong sense of coherence, the keynotes, presentations and performances made for an exceptional event. Highlights of particular interest to GOTH members include talks by St Andrews doctoral students Orlagh Davies (on boarding school girls on the seventeenth-century stage) and Isabel Dollar (on changeable bodies in Bellamy’s Iphis & Lyly’s Gallathea) and by Jillian Luke (University of Edinburgh) on Roman masculinity on the English stage, Elisabeth Dutton (Université de Fribourg) introducing her Oxford student screening of Narcissus (you can access this delightfully engaging romp on her EDOX website) and performance clips illuminatingly presented by The Edward’s Boys’ director, Perry Mills, including Elisabeth Dutton’s production of John Redford’s Wit and Science, the whole of which I and other 2019 SiTM Conference delegates immensely enjoyed live in the Sala del Minor Consiglio of Genoa’s Palazzo Ducale (happy days!).

At the TWB Zoom meeting, working together and in small break-out groups, 47 core TWB members and guests, from 5 continents, spent 3pm-10pm GMT intensively exchanging ideas on teaching and researching early modern race and empire, with reference to pre-circulated writings including Urvashi Chakravarty’s landmark article “The renaissance of race and the future of early modern race studies” (English Literary Renaissance, 2019) and Christina Sharpe’s In the Wake, on Blackness and Being (2016). After officially concluding with a celebration of new TWB publications, including the group’s third collaborative essay collection (M A Katritzky & Pavel Drábek (eds), Transnational Connections in Early Modern Theatre, Manchester University Press, 2020) several of us continued informal discussions over a glass of wine. Not quite the Madrid tapas bar we had hoped for, but still an appreciated opportunity to renew longstanding friendships and to congratulate TWB member Janie Cole on getting Africana Studies accepted as a formal Renaissance Society of America discipline. On 13 June, Janie wrote:

“as founding Discipline Representative for the newly-established Africana Studies, I am soliciting proposals for panels, roundtables or individual papers in any discipline that explore Africa-related themes centering on the histories, politics, representations, and cultures of peoples of African origin in both Africa and the African diaspora, and their contributions to the cultural, political, historical, economic, or social spheres of the early modern period.”

Proposals for individual papers for the next RSA Annual Meeting (2021 Dublin or online, see RSA website) should be sent to Dr. Janie Cole by no later than Monday 5 August 2020, with the following materials: Individual paper titles (max 15 words); A 150-word maximum paper abstract; A 300-word max 1 page CV in paragraph form; Keywords (general, not specific); AV requirements.

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