possibility, potentiality, and
the future of performance
by Daniel Sack

University of Michigan Press 2015


In the dark of the blackout before the curtain rises, the theater holds its many worlds suspended on the verge of appearance. How can a performance sustain this sense of potentiality that grounds all live production? Or if a stage-world does begin, what kinds of future might appear within its frame? Conceiving of the theater as a cultural institution devoted to experimenting with the future, this book begins and ends on the dramatic stage; in between it traverses literature, dance, sculpture, and performance art to explore the various futures we make in a live event. The book theorizes two outlooks on the future: one composed of projected outcomes (possibility), and another expressing an unarticulated capacity to do (potentiality).

After Live conceives of traditional dramatic theater as a place for taming the future and then conceptualizes how performance beyond this paradigm might stage the unruly nature of futurity. Chapters offer insights into the plays of Beckett, Churchill, Eno, and Gombrowicz, devised theater practices, and include an extended exploration of the Italian director Romeo Castellucci. Through the lens of potentiality, other chapters present novel approaches to minimalist sculpture and dance, then reflect on how the beholder him or herself is called upon to perform when confronted by such work.


The question what if? is a core propeller for Daniel Sack’s thoroughly engaging After Live: Possibility, Potentiality, and the Future of Performance, in which he argues for the invigorated presence of potentiality in the spaces of performance. Sack does not write in prescriptions or offer solutions. A rigorous and gracious thinker, he deftly tracks this slippery idea from Aristotle to Giorgio Agamben to Richard Schechner and others, leading his readers through a precise survey of potentiality’s winding history as we think through its implications for the evolution of the live arts, now and in the future. He allows potentiality to possess dimension, contradiction.

-Jennifer Krasinski in Theater, January 2017

Daniel Sack, in his marvelous new book After Live – which brings sustained forensic attention to these two literary-philosophical and art-historical scenes, alongside a virtuosic critical survey of the later career of contemporary Italian theatre-maker Romeo and Castellucci – dramatises that discomfort for us. He does so while weaving throughout a host of theatre-history instances, from the unforthcoming response of Cordelia to her father’s demand for a public – and quantifiable – account of filial love, to the imminent but ever-non-occurring arrival some centuries later of a character called Godot.

[...] It is another virtue of After Live that it does not presume – even if it probably does, on balance, side with, or root for – an inherently progressive character to the potentials of live performance. The book's careful and recurrent worrying at this question is not the least of the factors that mark After Live's indispensable contribution to studies and debates on liveness and theatricality in the field more wildly. In this, as in much else, Sack's work goes to the heart of the matter.

-Joe Kelleher in Contemporary Theatre Review, December 2016

Evocative and important [...] Sack’s book arrives at a crucial political time, and although it prefers not to engage explicitly with politics, the political is always just below the surface. The book speaks to an embodied existence forever realigned by 9/11, the 7/7 bombings in London, ongoing crises in the Middle East and Africa, the more recent attacks in Paris and Brussels, and a persisting sense of terror, yet its study of the darker side of potentiality is always somewhat mitigated by its attempt to propose theatre as a place to face the unknown unknowns, to begin again – or, as expressed by the title of Sack’s concluding chapter, “preferring not to end.”

-Jennifer Parker-Starbuck in Modern Drama, September 2016

 What excites about After Live is not that it disavows the logic, practice or aesthetics of perspectives [around liveness], but that it adds further possibilities for how scholarship might configure its objects. Sack teases out a sense of futurity, of potential as well as actual difference, to make a case for a theatre and performance scholarship that for all the ephemerality of the mythical moment, is not always quite so entrained to its passing. What excites further is the sheer loveliness of some of the language by which he elicits this, as well as the range of examples he employs from across an (anti)disciplinary perspective excites about.

-Martin Welton in Studies in Theatre and Performance, June 2016

After Live: Possibility, Potentiality, and the Future of Performance is a major theoretical achievement and an important addition to the extant body of performance scholarship.

-Brad Rothbart in American Theatre magazine, February 2016