Focusing primarily on queer identities (specifically Canadian queer identities), Peter Dickinson's research is wide-ranging, covering a variety of materials and embracing a broad notion of performance to address a large swath of cultural expression. His most recent work, World Stages, Local Audiences, takes on everything from artworks and creative practices that defy genre distinctions to rites of passage, public pageantry, political debate, professional athletics, [End Page 660] and the creation of the self. He uses this expanded view of performance to consider how the locale of a performance alters its meaning for audiences, and also to question the effects on local audiences of global politics and cultural tourism. Often beginning from his location in Vancouver, Dickinson's writing moves in a gyroscopic manner, arching outward, tracing curves and patterns through an international community of artists, politicians, athletes, and spectators before returning again to Vancouver and to Dickinson's own perspective.
World Stages, Local Audiences is comprised of five lengthy essays, four addressing queer performance and all touching upon Canadian national identity and politics. Writing from a personal perspective, Dickinson's voice is present throughout, offering his own reactions to the topics and events he discusses. In this way, Dickinson practices Peggy Phelan's notion of "performative writing"—a practice that seeks to counter dry recollections of art events that simply recount facts about them by drawing instead from the writer's own experience in order to elicit a similar response from the reader. Through this practice, Dickinson, like Phelan, seems to want to make scholarship a more fully creative endeavor, rather than an act of recording and analysis.
Dickinson is also concerned with countering the academic impulse to isolate and abstract phenomena from their contexts of reception. By contrast, he seeks to bring audience members' locale, socioeconomic status, sexual and national identities, and vocation into his discussions of the artworks they encounter, along with their previous experiences of art and their familiarity with cultures other than their own. Here, Dickinson draws on Jill Dolan's work, in particular Geographies of Learning (2001) and Utopia in Performance (2005), to address the divisions among audience, artist, and scholar, and to examine how audience members experience live performance and one another during art events. As his engagement with Dolan's scholarship suggests, Dickinson is interested in examining the ways in which an audience member's perspectives can shift during a live performance event, and how such shifting perspectives can open up possibilities for social change.
The first essay—the strongest in the collection—compares the Olympic-bid process and the run-up to the Games in both Vancouver and Beijing. In this analysis, Dickinson's probing curiosity ranges from exploring urban development in depressed areas of each city to analyzing the ways by which each government orchestrated public pageants of culture and art to reinforce its political views. Examining works by such artists as Ai Weiwei, Théâtre la seizième, Ruby Slippers Theatre, and David Rokeby, he also looks at the ways in which a "nationality" is imposed on locals (including artists operating in their home countries), and how that nationality is interpreted by international viewers and visitors.
The second essay investigates same-sex marriage in recent performance works by Canadian, British, and US artists like Tim Miller, Charles Mee, Cheek by Jowl, and Annie Sprinkle, considering whether these queer appropriations of the marriage ritual reject marriage as an exclusively heterosexual practice or endorse a more expansive definition of marriage that includes queer practices. In this chapter, Dickinson identifies the social and political landscape as his "locale," mapping the peaks and valleys of public and legislative opinions on same-sex marriage, as well as the fault line separating the Anglican Church and its homosexual leaders, in order to define the field of these performers' works and their reception.
The third essay demonstrates some of the weaknesses of Dickinson's gyroscopic writing. Here, he follows three parallel tracks: Tony Kushner's play Homebody/Kabul as produced in multiple countries; Dickinson's own travels to witness performances of...