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  • Editor’s Note
  • Kimberly M. Jew, Frontiers Editor

How can we even make theater without hope and love?

—Jill Dolan, Utopia in Performance: Finding Hope at the Theater

Theater exists in a temporally contested state, a space where past, present, and future collide to such a degree that new temporal and world-making imaginaries can emerge. While theatrical performance revels in a lively present-moment communion between performers and audience members, the enacted stories and their words are hauntings from the past.1 Artistic traditions, aesthetics, and shapes of characters breathed to life offer spectators a colorful pastiche through which to sift for reflections of their own lives. The constant patterning of repetition—via rehearsal, a show’s season, the restaging of a play over the centuries—further highlights the complex nuances and practices of time in theatrical performance.

Theater is also an art form heavily invested in futurities, the hope and expectations of “what comes next.” For instance, the playwright creates a script to be performed by unknown actors at an unknown place sometime in the future. The actor builds upon their scene partner’s increasing energies; the audience anticipates dramatic revelations and climactic moments; the producer estimates box-office earnings and contracts for next year’s season; the director awaits the critical responses. And as a show’s run closes, a rueful yet forward-looking refrain (à la Cole Porter) is commonly heard among emptied auditoriums: “Just another show.” The faith in yet another theatrical performance, a successive fictional world to stage, undergirds the enduring spirit of theater.2

This special issue, “Staging Feminist Futures,” is dedicated to feminist, feminist-allied, and queer visions of the future as communicated via the medium of live and recorded performance. How can performance, with its structures of staging and viewing, its diverse forms of embodiment and [End Page ix] temporal fluidity, enact emerging visions of women and queer-centered futurities? What are the key elements of feminist and queer ideals, critiques and practices today, and how are these values moving us (hopefully) toward the future?

An artist naps ironically by an ATM; a trans performer invites online spectators to cut off their clothes; an actor reenacts an African American mother telling the story of her loss to police violence (in the loving presence of the mother herself); an Asian American singer dressed in a kimono straddles an audience member, telling the prone participant to “relax and enjoy this vibration.” These gendered and racialized dramatic actions, explored in this special issue, may constitute what Jill Dolan calls “utopian performatives.” As a spectator committed to the emotional and affective power of theater, Dolan argues that theater can offer audience members magical moments in which to feel utopia: “This, for me, is the beginning (and perhaps the substance) of the utopian performative: in the performer’s grace, in the audience’s generosity, in the lucid power of intersubjective understanding, however fleeting. These are the moments in which we can believe in utopia. These are the moments theatre and performance make possible.”3

The nine essays devoted to the special topic examine how theatrical forays into utopian and dystopian world-making allow artists and spectators to critically practice both their current and their imagined roles and to imagine the possibilities of feminist futures. The artists and scholars at hand engage with twenty-first-century technologies and new, intersectional investigations into coalition-building, hybridity (plant-human and racial), fat studies, trans, crip and queer theories, intimacy onstage, and community-based theater. They express an overarching concern for neoliberalism and the police state, critiquing their combined effect on people of color, the overworked, and other nationless and homeless subjects.

These works enact an able follow-up response to the seminal text Feminist Futures?, edited by Elaine Aston and Geraldine Harris. Published in 2006, this collection of essays offered a sharp assessment of third wave feminism and argued for new ways to build women-centered theater and performance in a postfeminist world. In looking at recent developments in the late twentieth-century feminist movement, Aston and Harris lament that “Western feminism has no high profile political movement.”4 They note the repeated cycle of post-feminist energy, which Susan...


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