i n t r o d u c t i o n
Here and Now
Performance in America argues for the significance of the perform-
ing arts in contemporary U.S. culture by challenging the conventional
wisdom that performance is marginal to the national imaginary. The
book takes seriously the role that the performing arts play in shap-
ing American culture, especially around ideologies of race, citizenship,
and national identity. Through a series of case studies drawn from con-
temporary culture, the book demonstrates the vitality of theatre, per-
formance, and dance to local, regional, and national communities and
poses the question: What might be gained by placing performance at
the center of current national inquiries and debates?
In order to begin answering this question, the book proposes a way
of thinking about performance as a practice that both shapes and in-
forms a space that I call the ‘‘contemporary.’’ I here understand the
contemporary as a critical temporality that engages the past without
being held captive to it and that instantiates the present without de-
fining a future. Performance proves an especially effective means to
engage the contemporary in that artists and audiences are constituted
and composed as a provisional collective in a particular temporal mo-
ment and in a specific localized space. They may or may not share the
same history or future, but in the moment during which they com-
pose a group, they enact and perform a temporary and conditional
we. Performance’s liveness and impermanence allow for a process of
exchange—between artists and audiences, between the past and the
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