“Too Many Conference Papers Make the Baby Go Blind: When is Neo-Futurism?” by Jon Foley Sherman, Lindsay Brandon Hunter, Chloe Johnston


Saturday, 29 June 2013
11:15 – 12:45 am
Building 550, Studio 1

Blog Response by Sarah Bay-Cheng

It’s always an odd revelation when I chat with non-academic folks about scholarly conferences on theatre. The idea that a large part of a theatre conference would be spent with scholars of theatre reading carefully prepared papers to each other rather undramatically not only strikes non-academics as odd, but my colleagues in the sciences and social sciences are similarly puzzled. (They may rely on powerpoint, but the think it quite odd that the humanities sit and read to each other when you could just as easily read the same paper for yourself.) As I try to explain in these conversations, I’ve never found it odd. I love the opportunity to hear and share unfinished work, to test outrageous ideas seemingly off the cuff, and to perform the products of often solitary research for other people. It’s fun both reading and listening, and (at least in my case) the inevitably revising on the fly during the paper session. Indeed, when attending a conference, I’m always waiting for the unscripted, improvised moments: the casual asides, digressions, and riffs.

Perhaps this is why I loved this session so much. By adopting the format and structure of the neo-futurists to the conference setting, it seemed to foreground what is so often hidden in the background of academic conferences: the last-minute revisions on airplanes (or in hotel rooms), the rough rushing that reminds me of the pleasure and anxiety of performing. The respective presentations further seemed to highlight the inherent artificiality of the typical conference setting and the ways that theatre and performance studies implicitly challenge this mode of presentation, even as we appear to reproduce it. Of course, I’m not the first to comment on the performance of academia, but it was great fun experience academic culture performed not as carefully scripted, but rather in the hectic, rushed, and energetic milieu of the neo-futurists. As much as I’d like to craft a career as a well-made play, some of the best ideas come in far wackier forms. I hope we’ll continue to see experimental modes of presentation in all our scholarly gatherings and I admire Chloe, Lindsay, and Jon for revising the usual conference session format.

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