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Performances in Public Spaces

Performances in Public Spaces Working Group responds, in part, to the increasing interest in the possibilities of the wide range of these performances to have an impact on everyday life, as evidenced by their multiple uses in a spectrum of activities from political mobilizations or community celebrations to entertainments that promote the culture of a city (cultural tourism). These activities can contribute to urban renewal, have an impact on city planning and cultural policy, reveal the lack of neutrality of and exclusions from public spaces and interrogate issues of democracy and citizenship.

This Working Group looks at both historical and contemporary examples of performances in public spaces as it seeks to understand the dynamic intersection of performance, public space and audiences. The Working Group uses an interdisciplinary approach (including, but not limited to, performance studies, urban studies, cultural geography, and practice-as-research) to explore systematic ways to document and analyze this performative public art, to raise theoretical questions about public spaces and the range (and role) of spectators in those spaces, to understand interpretations of "public" and "public-ness," to look at questions of citizen rights and evidence of exclusions in public spaces, and to interrogate the potential for efficacy of performance in public space. The Working Group looks at cultural policy and urban planning issues that have an impact on performances in public spaces.

The Working Group is interested in exploring such issues as:

  • interactions between performances and their use, transformation and politicization of public spaces
  • intersections and overlaps between performance in public space and other forms of public art as well as other urban (and non-urban) spatial practices (i.e. pedestrian routes, desire lines, street trade, vehicular traffic, etc.)
  • relationships between aesthetics and politics in performance in public space
  • temporal dimensions of public space
  • interpretations of "public" and "public-ness" of spaces and the people who occupy them
  • the socio-politico-economic import and cultural capital of performance in public space
  • cultural policies and performance in public space
  • legal restrictions on the use of public spaces and the privatization of public spaces
  • shared performance practices and beliefs interweaving the artistic forms and political activism
  • artistic interventions in social and political discourses, i.e. citizenship, immigration, climate change, community, and radical democracy
  • varied uses of performance in public space, i.e. urban renewal and city planning, community regeneration, tourism, etc.
  • aesthetics of the everyday or the blurring of art and life (art and non-art)
  • issues of reception of performance in public space and the impact of reception (emotional, intellectual, aesthetic andkinaesthetic) onpublic perceptions of the urban landscape and the activities taking place there (both in terms of what the people see and what they understand)
  • the potential for efficacy of performance in public space

These topics should not be regarded as prescriptive, but rather as suggestions for further discussion. Rather than circulating papers for advanced reading and discussion, the meetings at the annual conferences will focus on debate around a themed topic and a project specific to the host city. We encourage the participation of new scholars. The project will be advertised a few months before the conference.

Work Plan:

  1. I. Meetings:
    • The group will hold research meetings in conjunction with IFTR's conference every year.
    • The Working Group will hold additional meetings apart from IFTR's annual meeting every two to three years. The first will take place at Adam Mickiewicz University in Poland in 2013.
  2. II. Publications:
    • Our members will create an interactive website that includes an annotated online bibliography, interpretations of key terms, performance reviews, lists of events, etc.
    • Our members will participate in and document performative engagements with public spaces in the cities in which the IFTR conference takes place (with artists, New Scholars and passers-by in the host city)
    • The Working Group will develop a listserv for members to continue conversations beyond face-to-face meetings
    • The Working Group will set up discussions with artists in IFTR host cities and publish interviews, etc.
    • Our members will submit individual articles for consideration by Theatre Research International and other leading journals in the field
  3. III. Contributions to FIRT/IFTR:
    • Our members will present papers at the IFTR annual conference, alternating between the Working Group and the general conference panels
    • Our members will propose at least one public panel to introduce the goals of the Working Group to the membership at large and showcase some of its work.
    • The reports of our activities will be posted on the IFTR website annually.
    • All of our activities and calls for papers will be listed on the IFTR website.

NEXT MEETING: Santiago, Chile, July 2012 (see CFP above)

For the 2012 annual conference in Santiago, Chile, Joanna Ostrowska will be the lead convenor.


Tim White, University of Warwick (

Joanna Ostrowska, Adam Mickiewicz University (

Swati Arora, University of Delhi (