Faculty Research: Dr. Randy Lewis’s Original Comedy, “My Dinner With Bambi,” to Premiere in Austin

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Although our university won’t be back in session for several days yet, we couldn’t wait to post this exciting news about one of our faculty members. Dr. Randy Lewiswho we’ve featured in the past for his expansive work on topics from surveillance to media studies to public scholarship, has penned an original play that will premiere in Austin later this month. We asked Dr. Lewis for a few words about his new work, and how it relates to his broad interests in all that American Studies has to offer…

So a funny thing happened on the way to the lectern—I wrote a play, a dark comedy called My Dinner with Bambi (A Shocking Comedy) that is now in rehearsals under my direction. Is it funny? Outrageous? Insightful? You be the judge when it opens on January 22 at Austin’s FronteraFest.

The main character is a force of nature called Bambi Krill. She’s a media celebrity extraordinaire, a powerful woman with hints of Sarah Palin, Ann Coulter, Stephen Colbert, and Mephistopheles. The basic set-up is that she’s holding court with her two young acolytes, Sarah and Roger, one of whom is not yet converted to the dark side of big money punditry. Drinking heavily after a widely protested campus lecture, Bambi spars with her minions until an explosive encounter with Sarah’s parents brings deeper tensions to the surface. And no one—on the right or left—gets off unscathed. (I mean this quite literally: a real Taser is one of our central props).

As anyone who knows me can deduce, Bambi is another version what I often talk about in the classroom. For instance, last fall I was working on Bambi while teaching undergrads how to make documentary theater out of Internet troll comments (talk about tragedy!). I love this overlap between my academic and creative work. For me, it all flows together—especially when I’m teaching courses with titles such as “The Politics of Creativity.” Bambi also has many literal connections to UT: we auditioned actors at night in a seminar room in Burdine, we ended up casting several alums and one faculty member, and we’re working with a consultant from UT’s Drama Department, which is something I really appreciate as a first-time director.

We have an amazing cast and know that you’ll enjoy the show—especially if you have any connection to American Studies. After all, how many plays have jokes about Moby Dick, Thomas Kinkade, and turducken? (Not King Lear—I checked!). Even if you’re not part of the American Studies world, we hope you’ll come see Bambi in action starting January 22.

More information about the play can be found at its website and Facebook page, and tickets for all four performances are available here. We recommend you buy tickets in advance if you’re interested in checking the show out – they’ll sell out!

Announcement: A week of UT American Studies in photos

Between Rebecca Solnit’s visit and the department’s “Practices of Play” symposium, last week was quite a busy one for our department. In case you weren’t able to attend either or both of those events, we have a few photos here of all of the proceedings. Enjoy!

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All photos by Carrie Andersen.

Announcement: A Preview of the “Practices of Play” Symposium

This Friday, the Department will play host to what promises to be an incredible event: the “Practices of Play” symposium, an interdisciplinary series of talks and discussions, will “explore play as a mode of being in, exploring, and transforming the world of the early twenty-first century.” Details about the event can be found here, and attendees (all are welcome) can RSVP at the event’s Facebook page here.

We’re pleased to share with you a preview of some conversations that may emerge from the symposium. The speakers were asked to respond briefly to a question about play as method and practice – what does the concept of “play” mean to you, and how does play figure as a practice or method in your work? – and we reprint some replies below.


From Tanya Clement (School of Information, UT Austin):

New to play as a critical method, I understand play as a situated and social, world-making and world-weary, rule-aware and rule-breaking, real-time act of performing critical interpretation. This method is of interest to me in my current research around designing infrastructure for access and analysis of digital sound collections in the humanities because the spoken texts we study (oral histories, poetry performances, speeches, folk songs and storytelling) are often playful: they are art, real-time performance, social interactions and personal expressions, at once subversive and reflective of the systems of our culture. How can play help us better understand, design, and build new opportunities for critical sound spaces?


From Eddo Stern (UCLA):

/// START

Question: What does the concept of “play” mean to you, and how does play figure as a practice or method in your work?

Answer:

Play is Subversive
Play is Humanistic
Play is Chaotic
Play is irresponsible
Play is Controlling
Play is Liberating
Play is about making friends
Play is Deep
Play is revealing
Play is Logical
Play is Obsessive
Play is Casual
Play is Mastery
Play is big business
Play is safe
Play is Decadent
Play can save the world
Play is about Killing
Play is Unstable
Play is Unforgiving
Play is Improvisation
Play is Futuristic
Play will ruin you
Play is Irrational
Play is waste
Play is Dangerous
Play is as old as a Dinosaur tail
Play is Science Fiction
Play is Fantastic
Play is Mathematical
Play is Illuminating
Play is revenge
Play is Philosophical
Play is Live
Play is Dark
Play is Childish
Play Doesn’t matter at all
but it does

Eddo

// END


From Randy Lewis (Department of American Studies, UT Austin):

Play is less a method or practice for me right now than a subject of inquiry whose importance almost took me by surprise. In researching a book about contemporary surveillance culture in the Age of Snowden, I didn’t fully anticipate how important play, fun, entertainment and similar subjects would be to my work. Yet now, as I trudge through the dismal glitter of the security-entertainment complex, I see the pressures and temptations of “ludic surveillance” everywhere I go. As a result, my talk is focusing on two things: (1) tentatively mapping out this emerging cultural landscape and (2) exploring new paradigms that encourage us to see beyond the Panopticon to seemingly light-hearted modes of securitization.


From Carrie Andersen (Department of American Studies, UT Austin):

For me, play has been an object of academic inquiry since I began my graduate work at UT. Although my initial work focused on play as a practice of engaging with contested historical narratives, my dissertation explores how both the physical and emotional experiences that videogame play evokes can be utilized for the decidedly not-so-playful practices of war and violence (and principally, combat through military drones). I wonder about the ways that play’s ambiguity and unexpected complexity – I hope to excavate how play not only stimulates fun and joy, but also empowerment, anxiety, boredom, and fear – make it a potentially devastating practice when directed towards ethically and politically contentious ends.


And from Patrick Jagoda (Department of English, UChicago), Harrington Fellow and the Symposium’s organizer:

Play can inspire curiosity, reflection, imagination, confusion, involvement, flexible optimism, paranoia, apophenia, desire, dissatisfaction, ambiguity, community — and not always, as we may expect, fun. Play isn’t merely freedom. It can never wholly exceed a capitalist system that absorbs it and converts it into surplus value. Play is no mere outside. If play can be disturbing or subversive, it is in its anti-teleological and immanent character, insofar as it has only an internal purpose — it is never a means to an end. I’ll be sharing a much fuller overview of play on Friday at 10am, as the introduction to the symposium.

Undergrad Research: Review of AMS Senior Kelli Schultz’s Play, “Our TEKS”

Texas Capitol.

Last Monday night, senior Kelli Schultz premiered her American Studies/Plan II honors thesis play titled, “Our TEKS,” to an eager and curious audience. The play was the culmination of a year’s worth of diligent and passionate research into the Texas textbook controversies in 2010 when the Texas State Board of Education drafted a list of over 100 amendments to the Social Studies curriculum for the Texas Essential Knowledge and Skills (TEKS). Taking a critical and creative look into the historical hoopla and media coverage of the new standards, Kelli referred to her play as “Our Town meets Barnum & Bailey meets The Colbert Report.” As a form of documentary theater, it combined true accounts and reenactments from board room transcripts, interviews, video and audio clips, and even a surreal recreation of a Colbert Report segment with Alexandra Reynolds as the ever-vigilant Stephen Colbert.

Kelli began by providing a brief overview of what this is all about—policy, history, and memory—before introducing us to the 15 elected “experts” on the Texas State Board of Education. Each member was represented as a circus performer in silhouette, dazzling and dismaying the audience with their rhetoric and apparent expertise in the matters of K-12 standards for education in the departments of Language Arts, Science, Math, and Social Studies. There was the “strong man” Bob Craig; Barbara Cargill, unfurling a long cloth from her mouth as she spoke to the crowd; skilled-balancer Pat Hardy; Siamese twins, a cannon-ball man, a mime, a few clowns, and more. It was an ingenious way to represent the so-called “experts” administering these standards, only one of whom actually holds a degree in history and has experience teaching this information in the classroom. Two are ministers, four are professors, one is a dentist, and another holds no college degree at all.

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