Performing Natality: Hannah Arendt, the Holocaust, and Theatre of Action

Tuesday, November 29, 2016 - 12:30pm

The Obermann Performance Studies Working Group invites you to attend a lecture by historian Dr. Erika Hughes on 11/29 at 12:30 p.m. in LR2 Van Allen Hall. In "Performing Natality: Hannah Arendt, the Holocaust, and Theatre of Action," Hughes uses Hannah Arendt’s concept of natality to illustrate how performances about the Holocaust that prominently feature young protagonists might create a political theatre of action. 

Arendt writes that “since action is the political activity par excellence, natality, and not mortality, may be the central category of political, as distinguished from metaphysical, thought.” Hughes identifies three diverse works that perform natality: a 2014 Australian production of the Czech children’s opera Brundibar that blended the input of youth artists together with survivors from Terezín, the camp where the opera first premiered in 1942; the US-American performative classroom initiative iWitness, which invites students to create performance based on survivor testimony; and Canadian playwright Emil Sher’s 2006 play Hana’s Suitcase. By focusing on youth as a (and perhaps the) central and defining category of dramaturgical presence, these three performances move beyond the metaphysical into the political, calling for pluralistic action in the face of oppression.

Dr. Erika Hughes is an assistant professor at Arizona State University’s Herberger Institute for Design and the Arts in the School of Film, Dance, and Theatre, and affiliate faculty in the Jewish Studies Program, Office for Veteran and Military Academic Engagement, Center for the Study of Religion and Conflict, and the Melikian Center for Russian, Eurasian and East European Studies. She has held fellowships at the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum, the Freie Universität Berlin, the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, the Technische Universität Berlin, and the Universität Bonn. Her articles and reviews have been published in Performance Research, Youth Theatre Journal, the Journal of European Studies, the Brecht Yearbook, and Theatre Journal, as well as a number of edited volumes. As a director, her work has been seen on stages in the United States, Germany, Israel, and Pakistan.

Dr. Hughes's visit is sponsored by the OCAS and by the US Holocaust Memorial Museum.