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British scholar ‘wrestles’ with world war-era theatrics

Theater performances during World War I and II reflected those tumultuous times, examining war, suffragist politics and the industrial movement. “Many political artists turned to theater in the early 20th century because it could immediately respond to the shifting political situation,” explained Claire Warden, a senior lecturer at Loughborough University in England. “Unlike a painting, a piece of theater can change every time it is performed.”

Warden will share her insights on “Weak (Theatrical) Modernisms” May 31 at 5 p.m. at the Volstorff Ballroom in University Student Union on the South Dakota State University campus. Her keynote address is free to attend and open to the public. Her address is part of the annual conference, The Space Between Society: Literature and Culture, 1914 to 1945, which is held May 30-June 1.

Claire Warden
Claire Warden

Her recent scholarly work focuses on the German playwright Ernst Toller and the history of British professional wrestling. “Yes, I will be talking about wrestling in my keynote,” said Warden, who is co-editor of “Performance and Professional Wrestling,” published in 2016, and the academic lead on the Wrestling Resurgence project, which explores wresting as an artistic form.

This is the first time the three-day international conference will be held in South Dakota, according to conference organizer Nicole Flynn, an associate professor in the SDSU Department of English. The theme is “Staging the Space Between, 1914-1945.” Flynn estimates about 50 society members will attend the conference.

“Performance studies—theater, music and drama are often left out of academic conversations about modernist studies,” Flynn said.

Warden said, “One of the things I particularly love about the performances of this era are their diversity. On the one hand, you have serious, wordy realist plays; on the other hand, there are fun, playful avant-garde games. The idea of what theater is came under challenge during this period and paved the way for a lot of what we see on the stage today, such as documentary verbatim and physical theater.”

About a dozen SDSU School of Performing Arts faculty members will do what Flynn called “informances” June 1 at 3:30 p.m. in Founders Recital Hall at the Oscar Larson Performing Arts Center. SDSU Assistant Music Professor Andrew Robinette is in charge of “Music of the Space Between: Performance and Discussion.”

“The musicians will present information about a piece (from the era) and then perform it,” Flynn explained. “I am encouraging people to pop in and watch this new, exciting event.”