Dr. David Fancy

Professor, Theatre Praxis
Marilyn I. Walker School of Fine & Performing Arts

The first of our series is an interview with Dr. David Fancy, Professor of Theatre Praxis at the Marilyn I. Walker School of Fine and Performing Arts.

What is your connection to the Canada Summer Games?

I was a member of the cultural committee of the wider 2021 Canada Summer Games Niagara Bid Committee. As part of this work, I prioritized Niagara’s historical significance as a gathering place for many indigenous groups as we prepared the cultural case for holding the games in Niagara. Working with colleagues at Zacada Circus in Stoney Creek, I created a mini-ceremonies sampler for 800 spectators at the First Ontario Performing Arts Centre in 2017, with the national bid evaluation committee in attendance.

How did you draw upon your research/scholarship to present the bid?

We were careful to tell a very specific and inclusive story with this hour-long production: one that featured an indigenous graduate of the Department of Dramatic Arts as a host for the event, and also involved individuals of a range of genders and ethnicities from across Canada as performers. Attention to these details in the process of creation, and understanding how they would be ‘read’ by an audience, helped us generate a narrative that was simultaneously engaging as well as being sensitive to the complexities of identities in the current Canadian context.

How is Humanities research/scholarship related to major sport events such as the Canada Summer Games?

Humanities scholarship can provide the opportunity for historical and contextual understanding of the social, political, and cultural important of sport. These analyses can intersect with larger geopolitical questions – such as questions about the relationship between ‘nationality’ and athletic performance. However, it is not always a question of larger scale inquiries: studies of sport in Humanities contexts can engage the more local significance of athletics as practices of embodiment that stages assumptions about what bodies can do.

The areas of inquiry I work in — theatre studies and performance studies — provide the intellectual tools to help us understand how sport as entertainment and spectacle make meaning in the broader cultural sphere.

The study of how ceremonies associated with sports event also provide excellent opportunities to see what kinds of overall stories and narratives are prioritized about sport. How will the eventual 2021 Canada Summer Games ceremonies ‘perform’ notions of ‘Canadianness’ in a fashion that is different from how this slippery ideal has been presented at large sporting events in the past? Who will be included and/or excluded from the depictions in the ceremonies? What story of Canada will these events tell through the spectacle that they stage for a national audience? The increased cultural sensitivity to the politics of representation (around gender, sexuality, ethnicity, ‘race’, ability, and so forth) will mean a culturally articulate public will have less tolerance for minoritizing depictions of minoritized populations than in the past.

Can you provide a couple of specific examples of Humanities research and scholarship that has provided this historical and contextual understanding?

Realistically, the possibilities are endless. A number of programs in North America focus on the history and sport, such as the Centre for Sports History and Culture (ICSHC) at De Montfort University, or any number of dynamic colleagues in Classics in this country looking at sport in the Ancient World. Frequently colleagues in Sport Management and Kinesiology or Sociology will also employ Humanities methodologies in interdisciplinary contexts to investigate how issues of history, aesthetics and culture affect choices made in sporting activities.

Do you have any research/scholarship ideas for your colleagues in theatre and, more broadly, Humanities?

I find a useful go-to for the intersection of sport and performance studies is to investigate the politics of spectatorship in sport. This allows us to ask questions about inclusion and exclusion of the body politic as I refer to above, and also questions about what constitutes a successfully ‘sportive’ physicality — in other words whose bodies are counted or discounted as being athletic and worthy of participation and attention in athletic activity.

Additionally, key questions about how the circulation of affect in collective sporting spectatorship circumstances — be the sport engaged with digitally or in ‘live’ circumstances — contributes to dominant political norms around what constitutes citizenship. Why for example is the military always showing up at NFL and CFL games, dropping in by parachute, etc.? What does this say about the relationship between sport, dominant notions of masculinity and nationality, and the relationship between aggression on the field on one level, and geopolitical aggression on the other?