- Annotating Vegas: Mapping Performance Interventions at ATHE 2017
In August 2017, the annual ATHE conference was held in Las Vegas at the Planet Hollywood Hotel and Casino. As the co-organizers of the Performance Studies Focus Group’s (PSFG) fourteenth annual pre-conference, we had hoped to arrange a backstage tour of one of the many spectacular entertainments on offer in Vegas. We had imagined the theoretical thrills of taking a few dozen performance scholars backstage at Cirque du Soleil or Blue Man Group or Thunder from Down Under. We thought we might offer multiple plenary sessions addressing Las Vegas and its myriad spectacular pleasures, along with its overt and aggressive embrace of fantasy, simulacra, and misogyny. It was obvious to us that the work should exist—perhaps too obvious. Indeed, we discovered in the process of planning that not many of the performance scholars that made up our constituency were researching Vegas, and (perhaps more importantly) neither did it seem that any really wanted to. We also found that most backstages were sealed against us unless we ponied up a significantly larger amount of money per person for tour tickets than PSFG typically spends on pre-conferences. The “backstage” was not actually backstage—or maybe there was no backstage. In a sense we were stymied by the toughness and depth of Vegas’s veneer: it proved much harder to get into or behind the spectacle than we had initially anticipated. Vegas was Vegas all the way down. Yet, despite the corporate strength of the superficial, the backside of the glitz seems to be oozing out all over the city. As an alternative to staging a tour “behind” the spectacle, we created an activity for pre-conference participants to intellectually and performatively engage with the material fact of our conference location in Planet Hollywood: to burrow into or skate atop the spectacle, looking at its seams and margins, snooping for stage doors and ingresses, stopping to contemplate or find pleasure in the great interlocking machines and stages of Vegas capital and Vegas landscape.
The Annotated Planet Hollywood project began on the morning of August 3, 2017. We sent approximately twenty participants out into the space with a short instruction sheet to see what they could find and how they would create, document, and represent our presence in Planet Hollywood. The participants ventured into the “hip, modern, dramatic” Planet Hollywood, where, as a Google search reminds us, “everyone is a celebrity.” Armed with internet-enabled digital devices and steeped in performance theory, participants encountered the performative spectacle of Planet Hollywood in all of its overwhelming obviousness and impenetrability. Simultaneously complicit with and critical of the technologies and companies (hardware from Apple mostly, and software primarily from Google) whose products (and their ubiquity) allowed us to create this project, participants created a multilayered map, available to anyone with the link to edit, add to, and alter. Our overarching goal, then, was to consciously bring the material conditions and ramifications of our national theatre conference’s presence in Vegas and our personal imbrications with digital technology, with all its promises and perils, into focus. [End Page E-1]
The project that you can access here came together in three stages: an initial set-up and preparation period, including some example prompts and points marked, designed, and carried out by Michelle Liu Carriger and Eero Laine; the ninety-minute period of the activity, completed by approximately twenty PSFG pre-conference participants on August 3, 2017; the subsequent editing and alteration to add pictures and commentary that was not easy to get into the map application during the activity period; and the expanded and edited entries to better reflect our intellectual engagements and considerations. Contributors included James Ball, Taylor Black, Michelle Liu Carriger, Eero Laine, Steve Luber, Lindsay Hunter, Aileen Robinson, Megan Shea, and Stephanie Vella.
Annotated Planet Hollywood
Las Vegas is a major US theatre and performance center, and yet it also poses a major challenge to our field of theatre and performance academic study: it marks an edge where theatrical spectacle most strongly resists intellectualizing, arguments about the political efficacy of performance, and/or...