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Spectacle: balancing education, theory, and praxis #ATHE2017OfBreadAndCircuses

In Poetics, Aristotle ranks spectacle last among his six constituent elements of drama, privileging the poetic over the visual, claiming that spectacle “stirs the emotions” yet “is less a matter of art than the others.” (GRUBE) In the millennia since, countless artists and scholars have championed the aesthetics of theatre and stood in defense of spectacle. Nevertheless, a bias persists.

The 2017 ATHE Conference Committee invites you to join us in Las Vegas, Nevada for an examination of the role of spectacle in theatre practice, scholarship, and pedagogy. What opportunities do an emphasis on spectacle present to us as artists, scholars, theorists, and educators? Does a spectacle-driven theatre lead us away from Aristotle’s aims, or do we find that enhanced spectacle serves to support and strengthen plot, character, thought, diction, and music? How have certain bodies been made spectacular? How does the use of spectacle highlight or obscure the politics of performance, representation, and staging? What ethical and political responsibilities must artists, scholars, and activists negotiate when employing spectacle in performance, design, scholarship, and/or dramaturgy?

Las Vegas, as a backdrop, provides us with an opportunity to engage these and other questions. Las Vegas is a manmade oasis — with its sparkling lights and colorful facades — standing in stark contrast to the harsh desert that surrounds it. The self-proclaimed “Entertainment Capital of the World,” the city attracts over 42 million visitors annually. Las Vegas is where a reconstructed Caesar’s Palace stands only steps from a replica Eiffel Tower, the likes of Elvis and the Jersey Boys perform nightly, international circus artists dazzle multiple times a night, and mere mortals like Celine Dion and Jennifer Lopez rise to god-like status. In addition to its for-profit theatre scene, Las Vegas has a vibrant nonprofit performing arts community ranging from theatre for young audiences to experimental new works to repertory dance theatre. Eclectic and diverse, this community of artists, both professional and amateur, co-exists and even thrives.

Does what happens in Vegas truly stay in Vegas, or does it have a greater impact on theatrical performances worldwide? Is Vegas an isolated city in the desert, or is Vegas everywhere? Join us at ATHE 2017 to find out.

2016 Association for Theatre in Higher Education. All rights reserved.
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