Video of S.W. Brooks Public Lecture on Wednesday, 22 August 2018


In this talk, I reflect on the highly performative and provocative reign of Toronto mayor Rob Ford, a figure who raised important questions about the boundaries between public and private life, about the constant demand for self-exposure on a highly public world stage. Here I explore the media’s frequent characterization of Ford as a both witting and unwitting “performance artist”—even leading one blogger to wonder “if Rob Ford is secretly the greatest performance artist in the history of Toronto.” 

Toronto Mayor Rob Ford at 2010 Toronto Santa Claus Parade
Toronto Mayor Rob Ford at 2010 Toronto Santa Claus Parade
Photo by Jason Verwey, courtesy of Creative Commons on

Looking at the theatrical acts of self-staging in which Ford engaged—from public weigh-ins, to arm wrestling with Hulk Hogan, to appearances on YouTube—as well as the wide range of performative works that have been created about Ford (operas, musicals, solo shows, theatrical bus tours), I ask what it might mean to take these claims seriously and to read politicians as performance artists. How are Ford’s public actions ghosted by a history of “real” performance artists who have run for public office in Canada (Mr. Peanut, The Hummer Sisters, Chris Lloyd), and how do they shape public understandings of performance art in general, a form often associated with the resistant aesthetics of the political left?

Evict Rob Ford Rally, 2011
Evict Rob Ford Rally, 2011
Photo by Danielle Scott, courtesy of Creative Commons on 

In grappling with these questions, I consider how “performance” as an idea circulates in contemporary political culture, both as an image of politics-gone-wrong and as a form of cultural capital manipulated by public figures—especially by populist politicians like US President Donald Trump and Canada’s newly elected provincial premier, Doug Ford (Rob’s controversy-courting brother).

 In doing so, I build on emerging conversations in theatre and performance studies about the appropriation of performance models within non-aesthetic contexts, and ask how these alternative articulations of performance shake up well-worn assumptions about the radicality and resistant nature of performance as theatrical and social form.

RSVP by 22 August 2018

Presenter Bio:

Dr. Laura Levin is Associate Professor of Theatre & Performance Studies at York University and Director of Sensorium: Centre for Digital Arts and Technology. She is a member of the editorial team of Canadian Theatre Review (former editor in chief); editor of Theatre and Performance in Toronto and Conversations Across Borders (with Guillermo Gómez-Peña); and co-editor (with Marlis Schweitzer) of Performance Studies in Canada, winner of the Canadian Association for Theatre Research’s 2018 Patrick O’Neill Award. Professor Levin is author of Performing Ground: Space, Camouflage, and the Art of Blending In (2015 Ann Saddlemyer Book Award), which explores the relationship between body and environment in contemporary performance. She is currently writing a book on performance and political culture in Canada and co-editing an issue of CTR (with Alana Gerecke) on the politics of gathering and moving together in public space (Choreographies of Assembly, forthcoming 2018). Her research focuses on contemporary theatre and performance art, performing gender and sexuality, site-specific and urban intervention, and political performance. Levin has worked as a director and dramaturg on a number of productions in North America and co-curated research-based art projects that investigate intersections of performance, geography, and digital technologies. She is a co-investigator for the SSHRC-funded Canadian Consortium on Performance and Politics in the Americas (a partnership with NYU’s Hemispheric Institute), and collaborates with a feminist performance art collective to produce hemispherically-oriented, activist performance actions.


Terrace Room, Level 6,
Sir Llew Edwards Building (#14), St Lucia

Light refreshments will be served following the lecture

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