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The Shock and Awe of the Real: Political Performance and the War on Terror


The War on Terror has transformed the global political and cultural landscape of the last 20 years. How has it been represented in performance?

The Shock and Awe of the Real is a transnational study of representation of the War on Terror in theatre, live art, protests, and new media. Looking at work by artists primarily from Arab and Middle Eastern diasporas working in the US, UK, Canada, and Europe, the study examines how modes of performance in live art, documentary theatre, and participatory performance respond to and comment on the power imbalances, racial formations, and political injustices of these conflicts.


Many of these performances are characterized by a deliberate blurring of the distinctions between performance and reality. This has meant that playwrights crafted scripts from the real words of soldiers instead of writing plays; performance artists harmed their real bodies, replicating the violence of war; actors performed in public space; and media artists used new technology to connect audiences to real warzones. This embrace of the real contrasts with postmodern suspicion of hyper-reality—which characterized much political performance in the 1990s—and marks a shift in understandings of the relationship between performance and the real. These strategies allowed artists to contend with the way that war today is also a multimedia attack on the way that reality is constructed and perceived. The dissertation traces the historical antecedents of these aesthetics in postmodern criticism of prior generations of political performance and shows how these artists struggled to discover new aesthetic strategies to criticize war, anti-Islamic racism, and violence.

The dissertation has now been published here on ProQuest (library subsription required) and I am currently revising it as a book. If you cannot access it through your library, please email me to request a copy.

PhD Dissertation, 2020

Centre for Drama, Theatre and Performance Studies

University of Toronto

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