- Remapping Performance: Common Ground, Uncommon Partners by Jan Cohen-Cruz
To list the many different constituencies for whom the insights in Jan Cohen-Cruz’s Remapping Performance: Common Ground, Uncommon Partners would be concretely useful could exhaust the space of this review. That is partly the point, as Cohen-Cruz examines “cross-sector partnerships,” in which artists in the field of performance collaborate with partners from myriad other fields and disciplines with the hope of maximum social impact. She argues for the vitality of partnerships where “neither collaborator’s goals are attainable by their expertise alone” (3). In the process, Cohen-Cruz attempts to redraw what she describes as a commonly assumed map of US performance, one that has drastically underestimated the vastness and variety of the terrains where performance happens. Characterized by elegantly direct, critically generous, and intentionally accessible prose, Remapping Performance is ambitious in its scope, with practical, theoretical, and ethical applications for a wide range of audiences.
The book is divided into two parts: “Grounding” (Introduction, chapters 1–2) and “Platforms” (chapters 3–5 and a “Coda”). Cohen-Cruz is the core author, having composed the longer chapters forming the book’s spine, but she has invited interlocutors to engage with her in short essays and interviews. These partner pieces do not merely riff on the general subjects of the respective chapters they follow; they tend to engage directly their questions or case studies. For example, Cohen-Cruz pairs her introduction with an essay by applied theatre scholar Helen Nicholson, whose UK-based perspective on uncommon partnerships juxtaposes productively with Cohen-Cruz’s focus primarily (although certainly not exclusively) on US performance. The book’s theses reverberate in the structure; partnering to analyze partnership makes the whole more than the sum of its parts.
Chapter 1 charts what Cohen-Cruz frames as a relatively recent historical shift in US theatre: a move from the frequent assumption that a theatrical work can be aesthetic or social to an increasing recognition that performance can obviously be both. She examines an array of theatres— particularly with intimate connection to place—that have challenged aesthetic/social binaries. In the accompanying interview, she and theatre/university administrator and former American Theatre editor Todd London reflect on the imagined versus actual terrain of US theatre, with London giving particularly evocative wording to a question Cohen-Cruz ultimately explores in various ways across the text: “[W]hat is the real map of US theater and what is the one we carry around in our heads?” (61). Chapter 2 looks at a range of forms that partnership between performance and other fields can take. In the process, Cohen-Cruz deploys interdisciplinary scholar Julie Thompson Klein’s distinctions between terms like multidisciplinarity, interdisciplinarity, and transdisciplinarity, the three of which, to some extent, could be imagined as existing on a continuum of lesser to greater transgression of disciplinary boundaries. Klein is Cohen-Cruz’s partner in her companion essay that follows, elaborating on these terms and the value of conscious transcendence of disciplinary lines via intentional “boundary work” (89).
Part 2 takes up three different locations across chapters 3–5, respectively: universities, neighborhoods, and US State Department/cultural-diplomacy initiatives. Cohen-Cruz considers particular challenges and opportunities that artists and partners might encounter within each context. Universities often hold financial resources and inherently host many disciplines in close proximity, yet academic calendars can thwart meaningfully long-term student engagement in partnerships reaching beyond the university. Arts partnerships rooted in neighborhoods can have complex relationships to gentrification—sometimes assisting it, sometimes expressly contributing to movements organizing against the displacement of peoples. Cross-sector partnerships in cultural diplomacy, Cohen-Cruz notes, can sometimes defy or exceed the propagandistic spirit one might assume, yet the State Department emerges as an unsurprisingly top-down “partner” in chapter 5. These gestures toward content by no means capture the breadth, texture, or nuance of Cohen-Cruz’s explorations of each platform, nor of the contributions of those she interviews after each of these later chapters: Nancy Cantor, the chancellor of Rutgers University–Newark...