Popular entertainments have suffered from scholarly neglect, possibly because their very ephemerality makes documentation and analysis extremely difficult. As well, the meaning and definition of both 'popular' and 'entertainment' remain widely contested, retaining pejorative connotations that are at odds with their transnational significance. Yet it could be argued that show people with their menageries, their entourage of highly skilled physical performers, their clowns, have always been successful cultural emissaries able to cross national borders seemingly at will, and to transcend the limitations of language in a manner that theatre has largely been unable to match. Since the 19th century the speciality acts of contortionists, equestrians, jugglers, aerialists, strong men, illusionists and 'prodigies' have found a home in both the variety theatres and circus tents. Also the interactions between humans and animals – horses, dogs, bears, monkeys, lions or tigers – have delighted and amazed generations and have thus played a significant role in 'the social construction of happiness.'
This Working Group seeks to bring together scholars and scholar/practitioners and welcomes participants from a range of complementary disciplines: theatre and performance studies, health, history, psychology, dance, fine art and music as well as performing arts curators and archivists to engage in the analysis as well as the celebration of popular entertainments.
The Working Group is interested in exploring such issues and themes as:
- the role of popular entertainments in the formation of national identities;
- the performative practices of variety and circus shows and other forms of popular entertainment;
- the semiotics of the circus space;
- spaces and spatiality of the popular: the unbounded venue;
- documenting non-text based performance;
- transnational careers of circus and variety performers;
- the implications of (world wide) travel of circus/variety shows
- popular entertainment and notions of 'liveness';
- the circus and variety as industries;
- the role of the spectators and their reception of performances that challenge the conventional boundaries of performative behaviour and physical endurance;
- strategies for retrieving and analysing popular entertainment data;
- spectacle and celebration;
- the economics of the popular;
- performing the popular.
These topics should in no way be regarded as prescriptive but merely as suggestions for further discussion. During the last three years the scope of the Working Group has broadened to include discussions about popular entertainments in the context of a mediatised culture, street performances, music theatre, vaudeville, minstrelsy, and the role of children in the entertainment business. Nevertheless, the significance of circus, its history and performance values, has retained a strong presence in the ongoing discussions.
The working group intends to put together a proposal for a book that will emanate directly from its cumulative discussions so far and will embrace some of the themes around modernity and post-modernity that inform the central topic of the XVI IFTR World Congress to be held in Munich, 2010.
Gillian Arrighi and Victor Emeljanow (co-convenors), 'A World of Popular Entertainments', international conference, June 2009
Victor Emeljanow, General Editor, Popular Entertainment Studies, E-journal, University of Newcastle, (launched August 2009).
Download a list of individual outputs here.
Next meeting: TBC.
Last meetings: At the annual IFTR conferences in Munich 2010, Lisbon 2009, Seoul 2008, Stellenbosch 2007 and Helsinki 2006. In 2009, the group also held a joint meeting with the Historiography Working Group as well as hosting a regional conference on popular entertainments at the University of Newcastle, Australia.