Theatre Symposium

The Conference: Theatre Symposium is an annual weekend conference focusing on a single scholarly topic. International attendees gather to present papers and to discuss and explore the topic as a group, thus creating an intimate opportunity for the sharing of ideas, concepts and opinions. The annual event is held in various locations throughout the Southeast and is organized by the individual who will act as the editor for the ensuing journal.

The Journal: Selected papers presented at the conference are reviewed by the editorial board, further edited, and published for the next volume of Theatre Symposium, a scholarly journal published annually by Alabama Press and available on EBSCO. Individual members of SETC receive a copy of Theatre Symposium as a benefit of membership.

31st Annual Theatre Symposium

Conference Dates: April 1-3, 2022
Conference Location: Agnes Scott College, Decatur, GA
Call for Papers: Abstracts deadline was Feb. 4, 2022 and is now closed
: Theatre and the Popular
Registration Fee: $175 (On-Site: $200)

Theatre and the Popular

For the 31st volume of Theatre Symposium, the editors chose to stage conversations that traverse disciplinary boundaries, moving between theatre, performance, and cultural studies to interrogate concepts of the popular. In an increasingly frenetic and mediated landscape, at a moment when populist discourse re-emerges and popular culture continues to exert an oversized presence of in our everyday lives, we feel compelled to consider the relationship between theatre and the popular from multiple points of view.

What constitutes the popular? How does it differ from related categories such as the mainstream or the folk? What does it entail in regard to performance? How is the popular performed? How does theatre engage with (or even create) the popular over time? What is the historical and ongoing role of theatre in framing our ideas and conversations about the popular and popularity?

We wanted to consider how ideas of the popular can both limit and open up new avenues for theater making. Considerations of the popular occur onstage and off, backstage and front of house, and throughout various configurations of audience. What is considered popular, how that determination gets made, and who makes it shapes the very structures and systems of theatre and performance in professional contexts as well as in communities and academic environments. Theatre engages the popular and the popular engages theatre. Many productions succeed or fail based on their ability to align with what is popular, sometimes productively, sometimes clumsily, sometimes brazenly, and sometimes tragically.

Topics included, but were not limited to:

  • Historical dramas or theatrical productions that reflect and shape constructions of the popular
  • Performance forms and traditions labeled as popular (such as the circus, vaudeville, or world’s fairs) or those that have explicitly positioned themselves in opposition to such labels.
  • Theatre’s role, historically and presently, in the formation and perpetuation of the popular
  • Theatre and performance that addresses what makes something popular through themes of reputation, accessibility, and cultural capital
  • Current plays, productions, or playwrights that engage with the popular
  • Embodiment of the popular onstage through crowds, choruses, non-human animals, or other theatrical strategies
  • Popular performance forms that render diversity of race, gender, class, sexuality, ability, nationality, or religion as a spectacle, as well as performance forms that account for difference in more nuanced ways
  • Intersections of theatre and performance with elements of popular culture whether thematically (such as She Kills Monsters) or in terms of staging and reception (Twitter backchannels, TikTok dances)
  • Performance work that bridges disciplinary boundaries between theatre, performance, and cultural studies

**Theatre Symposium (part of SETC) refers both to the name of an annual, peer-reviewed journal as well as the annual gathering of scholars. By submitting your abstract, you are applying to participate in the gathering as well as to have the opportunity to submit your completed paper for publication in the journal.**

Theatre Symposium 31 featured two keynote participants:

Dr. Meredith Conti

Dr. Meredith Conti is Associate Professor of Theatre at the University at Buffalo, SUNY (UB) and a historian of nineteenth-century theatre and popular culture in the United States and Britain. Her research variously explores the intersections of theatre and medicine; nineteenth- and early twentieth-century popular entertainment forms (including world fairs, Wild West shows, and fancy shooting exhibitions); gender and race in the Victorian period; and guns and gun violence in theatre. Her first book, Playing Sick: Performances of Illness in the Age of Victorian Medicine, was published in 2019 by Routledge. Conti is currently editing two essay collections that are forthcoming in 2022: Theatre and the Macabre, co-edited with Kevin J. Wetmore, Jr., to be published as part of the University of Wales Press’s Horror Studies series; and Identity, Culture, and the Science Performance, Volume 1: From the Lab to the Streets, co-edited with Vivian Appler, which will appear in Bloomsbury’s Performance and Science: Interdisciplinary Dialogues series. Conti is also working on her second monograph entitled Gunpowder Plots: A Cultural History of Firearms and the U.S. American Theatre. This new book project has received support from fellowships and grants awarded by the American Society for Theatre Research, the Harry Ransom Center, the Buffalo Bill Center of the West, UB’s Gender Institute, and UB’s Humanities Institute. Conti’s scholarship has appeared in Theatre Journal, Theatre Survey, Journal of American Drama and Theatre, Journal of Dramatic Theory and Criticism, Studies in Musical Theatre, and the edited collection Victorian Medicine and Popular Culture, among others. Conti serves as Secretary of the American Theatre and Drama Society and the Associate Chair of UB’s Department of Theatre and Dance. Her work in the theatre includes acting, directing, and dramaturgy. Conti is a member of the Low Carbon Research Methods Workshop, an international and interdisciplinary collective of climate-conscious scholars working toward the development of a greener academy.

Dr. Janet Davis

Dr. Janet Davis is Distinguished Teaching Professor of American Studies and History at the University of Texas at Austin. She received her BA in History from Carleton College with magna cum laude and Phi Beta Kappa honors in 1986. After working in the airline industry for several years, she received her PhD in History from the University of Wisconsin in 1998. She has taught at The University of Texas at Austin since Fall 1998. She served as Associate Director of the Plan II Honors Program from 2017-2021. Davis is the author of The Gospel of Kindness: Animal Welfare and the Making of Modern America (2016), winner of the inaugural Presidents’ Book Prize from the Society for Historians of the Gilded Age and Progressive Era in 2018, as well an Outstanding Title Award from Choice in 2017. She is also the author of The Circus Age: Culture and Society under the American Big Top (2002), winner of a Choice Outstanding Title Award in 2003, a Robert Hamilton Award in 2004, and finalist for the George Freedley Memorial Award from the Theatre Library Association. She is also the editor of Circus Queen and Tinker Bell: The Life of Tiny Kline (2008), by Tiny Kline. Professor Davis’s current book project is a transnational cultural and environmental history of human/shark entanglements, tentatively titled, ‘Jawsmania’: A History. Professor Davis works regularly as a humanities consultant for museum exhibitions and documentary films, including the award-winning two-part series, The Circus, which aired nationally on American Experience on PBS in 2018 and is now streaming worldwide on Netflix . Her article, “Cockfight Nationalism: Blood Sport and the Moral Politics of American Empire and Nation Building,” won the 2014 Constance Rourke Prize from the American Studies Association for the best article published in American Quarterly . Her opinion pieces have been published in the New York Times, Washington Post, CNN, Newsday, the Austin American-Statesman, Truth-Out, and the Smithsonian Magazine. She has received fellowships from FLAS VI in Hindi, the National Endowment for the Humanities, the American Association of University Women, and the University of Texas at Austin. She was inducted into the Academy of Distinguished Teachers in Fall 2017.

Past Events & Publications

Did you miss an issue? Want to buy additional copies? Books may be purchased directly from the University of Alabama Press via their website.

Past Issues of Theatre Symposium

1  Commedia dell’Arte Performance
2  Theatre in the Antebellum South
3  Voice of the Dramaturg
4  The Reemergence of the Theatre Building in the Renaissance
5  Drama as Rhetoric/Rhetoric as Drama
6  Crosscurrents in the Drama: East and West
7  Theatre and Violence
8  Theatre at the Margins: The Political, the Popular, the Personal, the Profane
9  Theatre and Politics in the Twentieth Century
10  Representations of Gender on the Nineteenth-Century American Stage
11  Constructions of Race in Southern Theatre: From Federalism to the Federal Theatre Project
12  Elizabethan Performances in North American Spaces
13  Theatre in Transit: Tours of the South
14  Theatre, War and Propaganda
15  Theatre and the Moral Order
16  Comedy Tonight!
17  Outdoor Drama
18  The Prop’s the Thing: Stage Properties Reconsidered
19  Theatre and Film
20  Gods and Groundlings: Historical Theatrical Audiences
21  Ritual, Religion, and Theatre
22  Broadway and Beyond: Commercial Theatre Considered
23  Theatre and Youth
24  Theatre and Space
25  Cross-cultural Dialogue on the Global Stage
26  In Other Habits: Theatrical Costume
27  Theatre and Embodiment
28  Theatre and Citizenship
29  Theatre and Race (Spring 2022 release)
30  Theatre and Politics (Spring 2023 release)
31  Theatre and the Popular (release TBD)


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