Love Songs and Awkwardness: Non-Professional Performers and Affective Labour

Eleanor Massie


An oft-repeated distinction made in critical discourse between professional and amateur spheres of cultural production is that the former consists of those who work for money and the latter of those who work for love.1 As Giulia Palladini (2012) has argued, however, when applied to theatre and performance this is a distinction that creates a ‘social system of theatre production [...] that does not recognize amateur labor as labor’ (96). In recent years theatre and performance studies has increasingly focussed on the terms ‘non-professional’ and ‘amateur’, with publications that recuperate these terms within the vocabulary of critical practice, for instance to refer to artists who use associations with amateurism as aesthetic or political strategies (Bailes 2011; Jackson 2012; Ridout 2013), or to explore specific traditions and histories of amateur dramatics (Cochrane 2003; Dobson 2011).2 This strengthening of interest in the figure of the amateur is in many ways an encouraging move that signals the continuing diversification of cultural practices under examination in theatre and performance studies. However, each time a performer is labelled professional, non-professional, or amateur, a nexus of power relations is brought to bear upon that performance moment, constructing performers’ identities and dividing performance communities. In a detailed article on the tension between amateur and professional statuses of performers in US YouTube videos, Nick Salvato (2009) attends to the contextual complexities within these terms and warns that, in theatre and performance studies, ‘when we use the qualifiers “amateur” and “professional” to describe both contemporary and historical performance, we use them as though their meanings were transparent’ (69). With Salvato’s warning and Palladini’s work in mind, then, this article seeks to question what it means to say that non-professionals work for love.

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