Research & Writing

My research focuses on the recent histories of vanguard performance practices across disciplinary, geographic, and cultural contexts. Support for my scholarship has come from The Harry Ransom Center at the University of Texas-Austin, the Getty Research Institute, the American Theatre and Drama Society, and Northwestern University. I have presented this work at the conferences of the American Society for Theatre Research, Performance Studies International, Association of Theatre in Higher Education, Society of Dance History Scholars/Congress on Research in Dance, Mid-America Theatre Conference, Performance Philosophy, and the Modern Language Association, and it continues to inform scholarly and critical publications for specialist and non-specialist audiences.

My doctoral work on the relationship between extemporaneous speech, disciplinary institutions, and technologies of media capture and circulation in the careers of three avant-garde artists during the 1970s and '80s is now expanding to include a wider consideration of the relationship between extemporaneous liveness and media during that era in contexts from performance art to hip hop. While thus far my research has focused on key figures in the American avant-garde, this expanded inquiry includes not only storied locations and epochs, but also times and places temporally, geographically, or aesthetically removed from standard historical narratives of the avant-garde and other vanguard performance subcultures.

My public writing has sometimes drawn specifically on my original scholarship to address general audiences, but I have also often engaged with diverse performances and performance histories in a critical and interpretive capacity, often at the invitation of artists, publications, or presenting organizations.

Writing on Performance:

“Rehearsing Empathy in 600 Highwaymen’s The Fever,” MCA Magazine, Summer 2017. 30-31.

Shakespeare 400 City Desk Blog/Shakespeare 400 Chicago: Reflections on a City’s Celebration of Shakespeare, 2016:

“Early recordings show how performance artist Spalding Gray developed his signature style,” Ransom Center Magazine, University of Texas at Austin, 2014.

“Language in Modern Dress: The Multiple Lives and Times of The School for Lies, Chicago Shakespeare Theater, 2012.


The Contemporary American Monologue: Performance and Politics. Eddie Paterson. Studies in Theatre and Performance. Vol. 37, #3 (Nov. 2017): 373-375.

Theatre of the Real. Carol Martin. Theatre Research International 39.1 (March 2014): 72 - 73

Testimonium. Every house has a door. Theatre Journal Vol. 66, #2 (May, 2014): 257-260.

Performance Theatre and the Poetics of Failure: Forced Entertainment, Goat Island, Elevator Repair Service. Sara Jane Bailes. Theatre Journal 63.4 (Dec 2011): 675-676.

Radical Coherency: Selected Essays on Art and Literature, 1966 to 2005. David Antin. Review of Contemporary Fiction 31.3 (Fall 2011): 264-265.

Scholarly Articles:

“Talking Text and Writing Extemporaneity: Aligning David Antin’s Talk Performance and Editorial Practices,” Performance Research 23.2 (Forthcoming).

“The Built Environment and the Architecture of a Performance: Arcosanti, Chicago, and the Making of Theoretical Isolation: A Post-Atomic Experiment,” Theatre Topics 20.2 (Sept 2010): 133-146. (Co-authored with Chloe Johnston)


Talk Performance: Extemporaneous Speech, Artistic Discipline, and Media in the Post-1960s American Avant-garde

Interdisciplinary PhD in Theatre & Drama, Northwestern University, 2017

Abstract:  This dissertation narrates the circulation and institutionalization of an emergent category of talk performance within the late-twentieth century US avant-garde through the career trajectories of three artists from disparate disciplinary backgrounds working in and around the 1970s: theatrical monologist Spalding Gray, poet David Antin, and dance artist and filmmaker Yvonne Rainer. All established themselves through more obviously discipline-coherent work before turning to extemporaneous talk as a performance strategy within the shifting critical and cultural environments of post-1960s avant-gardes. Undertaking a comparative study collecting these practices under the label talk performance, this project uncovers the processes by which these artists both resisted and relied upon disciplinary structures, and the media technologies and formats that attend those structures, to configure their work within particular arts discourses. Talk performance becomes a provocative site for understanding how minimalist interventions into formal disciplinary categories helped define the reapportionment of the overall art situation in the aftermath of the 1960s along lines of rhetorical and institutional distinction that still persist.

Employing newly available multimedia archives and a historiographic approach to the various narrow disciplinary accounts of the late-twentieth-century American avant-garde that have become standard, this project recuperates traces of an unacknowledged, interdisciplinary set of talk performance practices. Premised on their status as ephemeral, embodied, and collectively negotiated, the practices of these three artists actually prove to be deeply entwined with forms of media other than live performance, as found material on which extemporaneous performance is scaffolded, as means to represent and circulate extemporaneous talk, or as an editorial model for the role that talk plays in realizing a performance. In each case, the aesthetic and procedural tendencies these artists established went on to circulate in or be adapted to secondary media formats that drew on traditional models of authorship to establish their reputations. Paradoxically, these works then tend to circulate more widely and even enter the mainstream based on the authenticating power of their embedded extemporaneity and the status bestowed by their apparent disciplinary resistance. Talk Performance articulates a performance history that understands arts disciplines as contingent categories determined by historical situation, critical intervention, and material possibility, upon which the creative and intellectual exigencies of performance practice, scholarship, and criticism are nonetheless built.

Spalding Gray

David Antin

Yvonne Rainer