Queering Utopia: Circus Amok at the Scholar & Feminist Conference on Utopia Favorite 

Practitioner: 

Date: 

Apr 22 2013

Location: 

New York NY

“Stay cool, stay calm, you have the right to remain silent. / Don’t run, don’t resist, and get that badge number.”

So goes the catchy and campy tune performed by Circus Amok! that teaches people what to do when they are stopped and frisked by police. A “New York-based, one ring, no animal, queerly-situated, political circus spectacular,” Circus Amok! has been touring since 1989 to bring free shows to NYC parks. Exploring topics that include citizenship and healthcare access, the circus educates audiences on social justice issues through vivacious performances that involve acrobats, puppeteers, and stilt dancers. Circus Amok! founder and Pratt Associate Professor Jennifer Miller delivered an afternoon keynote address at the Scholar & Feminist Conference at Barnard College, in which she talked about queer pedagogies in public spaces. Viewing Circus Amok! as a locus of solidarity and education, Miller looked to performance as an enactment of utopia.

At Circus Amok! the bearded woman is the ringmaster, not the sideshow. In queering the circus, Miller has revealed the potentiality of queer pedagogy. She advocates employing the body in queering performance work. Queer stylings of the body through song and dance disrupt the normalized (i.e., racialized, classed, gendered, etc.) terms of engagement in public spaces. The Pratt professor of performance extends this thinking to the classroom, where she destabilizes heteronormativity to create a welcoming, inclusive space, where students are “all out [of the closet].” In this genderqueer classroom, Miller advises her students to learn with their bodies—to “[try] on different gendered behaviors” and “stretch” in new directions.

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