When Dr. Jake Simmons talks about performance studies, he’s talking about everyday life performances. Rather than a staged production of Shakespeare or a run of “Grease” at your local theatre, performance studies in communication is referring to how performance manifests in our daily world. People perform identity, culture, and even sustainability and in Simmons’ article, “Performance Studies on Communication” (co-authored by Dr. Travis Brisini, Louisiana State University), he looks at the history of performance studies in communication.
One of the new ideas Simmons’ research introduces is the archipelago metaphor.
In the early stages of performance studies in communication, scholars believed the interdisciplinary field to be mutually exclusive. If you hit the shore of one, you couldn’t get back to the other. They questioned whether to go beyond the study of literature to cultural performance or stay where they were. Simmons’ article challenges the idea of thinking of performance studies and communication as two separate islands with a point of no return. Instead, it proposes that performance studies in communication actually functions like a system of islands, an archipelago.
“The tiny inlets and islands are the same, but they’re also unique. There are currents that separate them that you must navigate, but they’re all a part of one thing.” —Dr. Jake Simmons
The article identifies three major “islands.” The first is stage performance, which challenges how participants engage in theatre, like how an actor uses their body to communicate.
The second is critical cultural performance, which focuses on the relationship between power and discourse. This relates to topics like gender identity, race, or disability.
The final form of performance is post-humanities or new materialism, which looks beyond the scope of human interaction and into the intra-activity of all matter. An example of this would be artificial intelligence or climate change.
While performance studies in communication still involves a certain level of display, it functions differently than that of traditional theatre.
“It’s not about going to Broadway,” said Simmons. “It’s about taking a phenomenon in the world and using performance to understand it. It uses performance to enact change.”
The article was published in a 2020 issue of Text and Performance Quarterly, the primary academic journal on performance studies in the communication field. It was selected to receive the Lilla A. Heston Award for Outstanding Scholarship in Interpretation and Performance Studies by the National Communication Association (NCA). The award recognizes outstanding published research and creative scholarship in interpretation and performance studies within the last three years.
“To get this award for research that looks at the past and helps to prepare us for a future is important because it means we have a future,” said Simmons.
Simmons will be formally recognized at the 108th NCA Annual Convention in November in New Orleans, Louisiana.