A World of Popular Entertainments (A conference @ the University of Newcastle)

12 Jun

With the ushering in of winter comes conference season in Oz. Thus, I have been at Carole Ferrier’s Women Writers/Artists and Travelling Modernisms conference at UQ, and the University of Newcastle School of Drama’s A World of Popular Entertainments, this past week and more. Both were small, with no parallel sessions: by far the best sort of conference so far as conviviality and intellectual engagement is concerned.


At the World of Popular Entertainments conference in particular, we were taken by bus to the University campus, some distance from the clapped-out boarded-up civic centre of Newcastle, and everyone there spent two long days toegther, as if on a ship cut off from land, with Victor Emiljanow and the lovely circus historian, Gillian Arrighi, at the helm. It is a discipline, to listen to each other speak at such long stretches. But in this case, I think, something special emerged by the end of it, which is, of course – the possibility of that happening – why one subjects oneself to the discipline at all.

I collected a swag of emails from people to follow up, and whose work I hope to read more of in future. Among them were Kath Leahy, whose book on high and low performance styles on the Australian stage across most of the 19th and 20th centuries (aptly called Lords and Larrikins), is soon to appear with Currency Press. Also John Bennett, from Liverpool Hope University in the UK, who gave a  quietly inspirational paper on the hopeful political project in which he thinks popular theatre should be engaged. And Kirsten Wright, a Melbourne-based independent researcher, who gave a paper on the ‘tattooed Greek prince’, Captain Costentenus, who was shown in freak shows around America and Europe at the end of the nineteenth century (you can read more about him@ The Human Marvels, if so inclined).

I am still trying to get my land legs now, having returned from that time at sea.


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