Participatory Performance and the Making of Meaning
Scott Magelssen


At an ecopark in Mexico, tourists pretend to be illegal migrants, braving inhospitable terrain and the U.S. Border Patrol as they attempt to cross the border. At a living history museum in Indiana, daytime visitors return after dark to play fugitive slaves on the Underground Railroad. In the Mojave Desert, the U.S. Army simulates entire provinces of Iraq and Afghanistan, complete with bustling villages, insurgents, and Arabic-speaking townspeople, to train soldiers for deployment to the Middle East. At a nursing home, trainees put on fogged glasses and earplugs, thick bands around their finger joints, and sandbag harnesses to simulate the effects of aging and to gain empathy for their patients.

These immersive environments in which spectator-participants engage in simulations of various kinds—or “simming”—are the subject of Scott Magelssen’s book. His book lays out the ways in which simming can provide efficacy and promote social change through affective, embodied testimony. Using methodology from theater history and performance studies (particularly as these fields intersect with cultural studies, communication, history, popular culture, and American studies), Magelssen explores the ways these representational practices produce, reify, or contest cultural and societal perceptions of identity.

Simming is a terrific book. Scott Magelssen’s case studies are ably contextualized in the relevant scholarly literature, drawing widely from critical theory, theatre and performance studies, history, cultural studies, and elsewhere.”
—Susan Bennett, University of Calgary

“An engaging book, gracefully written with a strong first-person narrative that draws the reader in while simultaneously serving as rich ‘data’ for the author's careful and sophisticated theoretical investigations.  It persuasively argues that simulation practices or ‘simming’ is both widespread and worthy of scholarly analysis.”
—Jane Desmond, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign

Photo: Follow the North Star Underground Railroad Experience at Conner Prairie Interactive History Park.  Courtesy of Conner Prairie.

Scott Magelssen is Associate Professor of Drama and Performance Studies at the University of Washington

Praise / Awards

  • "Magelssen leads the reader on a pleasurably dizzying journey through embodied simulations of car crashes, border crossings, growing old, and even being dead. Engaging with both Jill Dolan’s concept of the utopian performative and José Esteban Muñoz’s theory of queer futurity, Magelssen deftly weaves the narrative of his travels with a trenchant analysis of how simmings can work both to imagine a new and better future and to revise an unsatisfactory past."
    --Lindsay Adamson Livingston,The Drama Review

  • "What is most remarkable about this book is not so much its contribution to the growing field of performance studies—and certainly it has a proud place in that literature—but its penetrating study of early twenty-first-century American culture and politics. Magelssen carefully demonstrates how all of the simulations described have blatant or covert political agendas, reified through a remarkable employment of sophisticated theatre techniques."
    --Martha S. Lomonaco, Theatre History Studies

Look Inside

Product Details

  • 264 pages.
  • 9 illustrations.
Available for sale worldwide

  • Ebook
  • 2014
  • Available
  • 978-0-472-12030-7

  • PDF: Adobe Digital Editions e-book (DRM Protected)

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  • Simulation, Simming, Reperformance, Preenactment, Theatre Immersion, Reenactment, Museums, Military Training, Aging and Performance, Tourist Performance