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.

32nd Annual Theatre Symposium

Conference Dates: March 31st – April 2, 2023
Conference Location: Agnes Scott College, Decatur, GA
Call for Papers: Abstracts deadline is Jan. 24, 2023
: Material Performance and Performing Objects
Registration Fee: $175 (On-Site: $200)

Papers on the subject of “Material Performance and Performing Objects” are due on or before January 24th 2023. See possible topics list below. Please send abstracts of no more than a single page to Keith Byron Kirk, Editor, at Please use “LastName TS Abstract” as your subject line. Abstracts should include complete contact information (email, phone, postal address).

Selected papers presented at the conference will be published in Volume 32 of SETC’s annual Theatre Symposium journal. The conference fee includes registration, conference materials, selected meals, and coffee/snack service during the event.

Material Performance and Performing Objects

The 32nd Theatre Symposium* seeks to explore our collective reemergence into a post-COVID landscape of material performance. Under what circumstances does an object (like a mask) perform? Objects have an extensive history in global theatre from the use of masks and puppets to the use of slapsticks and musical instruments to the use of weapons. Designers inevitably consider the performance of objects, from sets and props to costumes and the materiality of textiles. Multiple forms of media and technologies incorporate performing objects from stop motion to Disney animatronics and automata. Performing objects can perpetuate memory and affect cognition. Robots are vessels for memory and cognitive experimentation, while the continuous history of traditions like Bunraku puppetry necessitates embodied memory. The solitary nature of the pandemic awakened many performers to object performance and its challenge to quotidian anthropocentric theatre, while the political climate of the past several years has simultaneously reawakened the rebellious nature of protest puppetry. Performing objects deconstruct the ontological hierarchies that we take for granted; as Peter Schumann comments, “Object exists only because we are deceived into being subject.”

How do performing objects deconstruct anthropocentrism and ontological hierarchies? Why are puppets insurrectionists (as Schumann suggests)? How do performing objects deconstruct (or perpetuate) stereotypes? In what ways have the historical trajectories of performing objects served as sites for emergent performance styles? The organizers of the 2023 Southeastern Theatre Conference (SETC) Theatre Symposium invite the contributions of scholars, artists, and educators who wish to address the complex questions surrounding Material Performance and Performing Objects, broadly defined. We are looking for papers about all forms of performing objects including props, masks, instruments, and even intangible objects such as sound and light.

Possible topics
 include, but are not limited to:

    • The historical use of puppets and performing objects in theatre and performance
    • Performance technologies and performing objects
    • Puppets and performing objects in new media
    • Fashion, textiles, and material performance
    • Televised Puppetry
    • Stop motion and claymation
    • Robots, androids, and animatronics
    • Objects and cognition
    • Ritual, religious, and totemic objects
    • Emerging styles and methods in performing objects
    • Theatrical design and object performance
    • Stage properties
    • Global theatre and performing objects
    • TYA Puppetry
    • Circus Arts
    • The use of puppets and performing objects in protests, activism, and community engagement
    • New performance technologies (‘Spinning,’ DJs, etc.)
    • Sports (Equipment, mascots)
    • The historical or contemporary use of masks as performing objects
    • Weapons as performing objects
    • The materiality of puppets and performing objects
    • Object Oriented Ontology
    • Spaces and places as performing objects

*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.

For Theatre Symposium 32 we are excited to be welcoming two keynote speakers; 
Dr. Claudia Orenstein, and local Atlanta area keynote speaker Dr. Paulette Richards.

Dr. Claudia Orenstein

Claudia Orenstein is a scholar, dramaturg, director, actor, and puppeteer. She received her PhD in Directing and Criticism from Stanford University and is Professor of Theatre at Hunter College and The Graduate Center, CUNY. She has worked and studied in the US, France, India, and Japan. Her current research focuses on the use of mixed media in contemporary performing object theatre and puppetry forms in India and Japan. She has also written on political theatre and on intercultural performance.

Her books include the forthcoming Women and Puppetry: Critical and Historical Investigations (co-editor with Alissa Mellos and Cariad Astles), The Routledge Companion to Puppetry and Material Performance (co-editor with Dassia Posner and John Bell; Routledge, 2014; paperback edition, 2015); The World of Theatre: Tradition and Innovation (co-author with Mira Felner; Allyn and Bacon, 2006), and Festive Revolutions: The Politics of Popular Theatre and the San Francisco Mime Troupe (University Press of Mississippi, 1999). Her articles and reviews have appeared in Asian Theatre Journal, Theatre, TDR, Theatre Symposium, Animated Encounters, Puppetry International, Puck, and Mime Journal. She worked as dramaturg for Shank’s Mare (LaMaMa, Iida International Puppetry Festival) and Wind-Up Bird Chronicle (King’s Theatre, Edinburgh; Singapore International Arts Festival). She has trained in various physical performance traditions including kathakali, kabuki, kyogen, bharata natyam, Balinese dance, commedia dell’ arte, and puppetry. She serves as Associate Editor of Asian Theatre Journal, has been a Board Member of  the Association for Asian Performance, and is currently on the Board of UNIMA-USA. She has run a month-long Winter Education Abroad program for Hunter College in India and she creates original puppet performances with her company, Trade Winds Theatre.

Dr. Paulette Richards

Dr. Paulette Richards is a puppet artist, independent researcher, and author.  She holds a Ph.D. in French Civilization from the University of Virginia and has taught at Georgetown University, Tulane University, and Georgia Tech.  She survived a ten month stint in Senegal as a 2013/ 2014 Fulbright Scholar without contracting any tropical diseases, but sometime during her service as an artist in residence at the Institut français de Saint Louis, the puppet bug bit her hard.  After returning to Atlanta she became a docent in the Worlds of Puppetry Museum at the Center for Puppetry Arts.  When fellow members of Decatur Makers introduced her to Arduino microprocessors and stepper motors, she immediately thought of the animatronic dogs and Doozers in the Henson gallery at the museum and began designing her own rudimentary robots.  Richards has taught animatronic puppetry workshops at the Friends School of Atlanta, Decatur Makers, the Dekalb County Public Library, the Center for Puppetry Arts, and the Puppeteers of America 2017 National Festival.  She co-curated the Living Objects:  African American Puppetry exhibit that ran at the University of Connecticut’s Ballard Institute and Museum of Puppetry from October 2O18 to April 2O19 with Dr. John Bell and also co-edited the anthology of essays from the Living Objects Symposium.  She is currently curating an exhibit of African American puppetry scheduled to open at the Center for Puppetry Arts in November 2O21 and her book, Object Performance in the Black Atlantic is forthcoming from Routledge in 2O22. Her new book titled, Object Performance in the Black Atlantic is coming soon from Rutledge Publishing.

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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