Kelsey Blair

B.A. Film Studies, University of British Columbia

M.A. Cinema Studies, University of Toronto

M.A. Theatre Studies, University of British Columbia

Ph.D. English – Performance Studies, Simon Fraser University

Assistant Professor in Digital Writing, Department of English, Concordia University

Research project

Every night of the week in 2019, thousands of people travelled to into downtown Montreal partake in a range of grand cultural events from Cirque du Soleil shows, stadium concerts, and Canadiens’ games at Centre Bell to Opera de Montreal productions and les Grands Ballet Canadiens’ performances at Place des Arts. Then, in March of 2020, the novel coronavirus surged throughout the city. To help contain the virus, indoor gatherings were restricted, and large-scale cultural events were cancelled. Between April 2020 and June 2021, no one travelled into downtown Montreal to experience large-scale theatre, circus, sport, or dance events. The effects of the cancellation of such events were manifold: thousands of workers lost jobs; training programs were postponed or altered; opportunities for diverse audience members to gather and experience contemporary cultural productions temporarily vanished. Using the unique circumstances of 2020-2021 as an entry point, my research aims to investigate how the production and cancellation of large-scale performance events impact specialized training programs, employment in the cultural industries, and the formation of collective identities in Montreal.

As part of her SSHRC-funded postdoctoral research with Dr. Erin Hurley at McGill (2019-2021), Kelsey Blair examined large-scale cultural performances, what she calls “ordinary spectacles,” or regularly scheduled, secular spectacle performances such as Cirque du Soleil-style “nouveau cirque” shows, professional sporting contests, and arena-housed musical performances. As a resident scholar with CIRM, she intends to expand out from this work to examine three distinct vectors of ordinary spectacles and their effects on the cultural industries in Montreal between 2000 and 2022: the development of specialized training programs in the performing arts; the creation of employment opportunities in sports and the performing arts; and the formation of collective experiences and identities through large-scale performance.

More specifically, she endeavors to examine how large-scale professional circus influences admissions and curricula at the National Circus School; how opera and dance shows produced by resident companies at Place des Arts Opera Montreal and Les Grands Ballet Canadiens de Montreal affect music-theatre and dance employment; and how Montreal Canadiens’ games impact community gathering and collective identity in the city. Between January 2022 and December 2022, she intends to focus, in particular, on the circus and performing arts case studies. In undertaking this research, she aims to illuminate how ordinary spectacles influence Montreal’s cultural industries and shape a segment of the city’s collective imaginary. This will not only facilitate a stronger understanding of the complex network of cultural production in the city, it will also help scholars, activists, and artists imagine new strategies for effecting change in and through such large-scale gatherings.

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