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Brandon Woolf

Brandon Woolf

Interweaving Performance Cultures

Fellow 2015/16

Brandon Woolf is a theater maker and a scholar of performance working on a series of interdisciplinary projects that explore the intersections of contemporary performance and cultural policy. Both his scholarship and performance practice work to facilitate connections between academics, artists, arts (and other) administrators, and activists. To this end, he has published articles in academic journals like Theatre Journal, Performance Research, and TDR: The Drama Review, but also in more popular outlets such as HowlRound and The Arts Politic. In addition to his work as a freelance theater artist, Brandon is also the co-founder of two public performance ensembles – Shakespeare im Park Berlin and the UC Movement for Efficient Privatization (UCMeP) – both of which are committed, in different ways, to performance as a social practice. Between 2010 and 2014, Shakespeare im Park’s site-specific performances drew thousands to Berlin’s Görlitzer Park in order to rethink its dynamic spaces as simultaneous sites of multilingual and intercultural performance, (post)dramatic (ir)reverence, and participatory art. Between 2009 and 2011, UCMeP engaged performance as a tactical means of “creative protest” and mobilization against the austerity measures that beset public education in California. These groups have been featured in scholarly forums like Theatre Survey and South Atlantic Quarterly, as well as in popular outlets like the London Guardian, Tagesspiegel, Berliner Zeitung, San Francisco Chronicle, and Robert Reich’s 2013 film Inequality for All. Brandon’s work has been supported by the Fulbright Foundation, New York Drama League, DAAD, Berlin Program for Advanced Studies, American Society for Theater Research, and the Program for Critical Theory at UC Berkeley. He received his Ph.D. in Performance Studies with a Designated Emphasis in Critical Theory from the University of California, Berkeley. http://www.brandonwoolfperformance.com   

Research Project

Stages of Disavowal: Performing Arts Policy in Post-Wall Berlin

My ongoing research project intervenes in contemporary debates about the varied interweavings of performance and the infrastructures of its support. Rerouting a series of interdisciplinary conversations in theater and performance studies, literary, cultural studies and beyond, I consider a range of cultural practices in order to demonstrate just how “cultural policy” must be rethought as much more than an administrative agenda for divvying and delegating funds and resources. Instead, I argue that performance as policy has a unique capacity to inspire experimental modes – or arts – of what I call “institutional (dis)avowal.” This conceptual frame takes seriously the ways in which performance practices are interwoven (and indeed interweave themselves) within systems of support as the very means by which they seek to imagine and enact their undoing. In other words, I focus on the seemingly paradoxical circumstance in which artists who receive public support make use of it in order to critically question its conditions and, simultaneously, work to imagine just how infrastructures of public culture could, even should, be organized differently. I argue further that the city of Berlin serves as a paradigmatic site for this inquiry. Much has been made in recent years of Berlin’s reemergence as a global “creative mecca,” as a central meeting point of diverse performative cultures. Stages of Disavowal traces the fraught history of this emergence – of a Berlin caught uncomfortably between the shrinking welfare state (theater) and the emergence of an “alternative” ethos of self-administering and project-based creativity on a global scale. By examining the restructuring of a number of Berlin’s central public performance infrastructures, the debates and legislative decisions that influenced such transformations, and the interdisciplinary and international arts practices that responded to and emerged from these shifts, I work to provide critical traction to the complex interweavings of performing arts policy in post-Wall Berlin.

Selected Publications

  • “Putting Policy into Performance Studies?” Performance Research 20.4 (2015): 104-111.   
  • “Towards a Paradoxically Parallaxical Postdramatic Politics?” Postdramatic Theatre and the Political: International Perspectives on Contemporary Performance, eds. Karen Jürs-Munby, Jerome Carroll, and Steve Giles (London: Bloomsbury Methuen, 2013): 31-46.
  •  “(Gob Squad’s) Revolution Now! Or Never?” TDR: The Drama Review 55.4 (2011): 144-151.
  • “Negotiating the Negro Problem: Stew’s Passing (Made) Strange,” Theatre Journal 62.2 (2010): 191-207.
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