Experiencing Place: Dramaturgies of Site-Specific Performance

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This study examines the creative strategies that are employed in performance to construct, alter, and dramatize the audience’s experience of place. As such my dissertation asks, if site-specific performance, by definition, hinges on a legible and meaningful relationship between site and performance, how does the performance key the audience into this essential quality? Likewise, if “place” is a never-ending project, how is a place changed in the aftermath of a site-specific performance? Using dramaturgy as a methodology, along with audience and practitioner interviews, I direct my study to the reception of site-specific performance across mediums, including theatre, visual art, audio dramas, and dance. I critically analyze the roles that race, gender, and class play in shaping the material and experiential aspects of a place through site-specific performance. Using the theoretical lenses of cultural geography and audience studies, I interrogate the interplay between time and place in audio performances on the New York City subway, weigh the potential for an “authentic” experience of place through its supposedly “authentic” cuisine, and attend to the ethics of spectatorship beyond the theatrical frame. These case studies serve to stress-test the notion of “site,” a valuable but under-theorized concept. As I tease out the theoretical distance between “site” and “place,” I not only ask “how does an audience experience place in site-specific performance,” but also “what is a ‘site,’ anyway?”