Queen's University

Dr. Keren Zaiontz

Assistant Professor, Cultural Studies Program, Department of Film and Media
LinkedIn profile for Dr. Keren Zaiontz

Queen's National Scholar in Creative Industries in the Global City


I am an Assistant Professor and Queen’s National Scholar in the Department of Film and Media and the Cultural Studies Graduate Program. My research examines how contemporary performance is changing practices of spectatorship, shaping progressive social movements, and charting  the right to the global city.

My most recent publication is Theatre & Festivals (2018), part of the Theatre& series co-edited by Jen Harvie and Dan Rebellato, from Palgrave Macmillan. Theatre & Festivals includes forewords by Jenny Sealey, Artistic Director of Graeae Theatre, and award-winning writer and actor, Alex Bulmer. The book seeks to overturn the rigid divides between merrymaking and stagecraft by asking why it is that festivals art often cast as fun, liberating, and unruly and theatre as instructive, edifying, and conventional. In addition to acting as my lead editor for Theatre &, Jen Harvie and I have also collaborated on a special issue for Contemporary Theatre Review, ‘The Cultural Politics of London 2012’ (23.4). This issue critically examines the 2012 Summer Olympic and Paralympics, as well as Cultural Olympiad, and includes my own article about art-activist responses to the staging of the London Summer Games. 

I recently completed co-editing the anthology Sustainable Tools for Precarious Times: Performance Actions in the Americas with Natalie Alvarez and Claudette Lauzon (Palgrave Macmillan, forthcoming 2019). The book charts the changing frontiers of activism in the Americas and travels Canada, the US, the US-Mexico border, Chile, Argentina, Brazil, Cuba, Colombia, and Indigenous territories on Turtle Island. The collection invite readers to identify networks, clusters, and continuities of art-activist tactics designed to exceed the event horizon of the performance protest. Essays feature Indigenous artists engaging in land-based activism and decolonial cyberactivism, grass-roots movements imagining possible futures through cross-sector alliance building, art-activists forwarding tactics of reinvention, and student groups in the throes of theatrical assembly. Artist pages, interspersed throughout the collection, serve as animated, first-person perspectives of those working on the frontlines of interventionist art. Taken together, the contributions offer a vibrant picture of emergent tactics and strategies over the past decade that allow art-activists to sustain the energy and press of political resistance in the face of a whole host of rights emergencies across the Americas.

Sustainable Tools follows on the heels of a series of co-edited projects with Peter Dickinson and Kirsty Johnston about the role of artists and audiences in the production of mega-events. The first ‘Vancouver After 2010’ for Canadian Theatre Review (164, 2015), brings together scholars, artists, and cultural producers to ask what kinds of resources remain after a mega-event has left town. From public art and sound walks, to hockey games and real estate speculation, this issue reveals the pervasive power of the Olympics to continue to shape how Vancouverites move through and live within the city. The second special issue, ‘MEGA-EVENT CITIES: Art, Audiences, Aftermaths’ was published in PUBLIC (53, 2016) and includes an autoethnographic account of my auditions for the London 2012 opening ceremonies. The issue also features a script by Jenny Sealey, and interviews with socially-engaged artists Neville Gabie and Liz Crow, both of whom contributed evocative documentation of their art and performance practice.

Before joining Queen’s, I taught at the University of Roehampton, was a SSHRC Postdoctoral Fellow at Queen Mary, University of London, and a Banting Fellow in the English Department at Simon Fraser University. I am affiliated with Queen’s Cultural Studies Graduate program and welcome working with students engaged in practice-based research.  

Most Recent Project

Theatre & Festivals

Theatre and festivals posterTheatre & Festivals rethinks the common wisdom that festivals, sites of collective celebration and play, provides a temporary reprieve from the grind of everyday life. The book explores the ways in which cultural performances of resistance that have their basis in festivals can migrate to other contexts, making festivals as much the domain of free markets and state power as that of vanguard artists and progressive social movements.

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Other Projects

  • Inelastic Olympic hopefuls: Rhythmic mis-interpellation in three auditions for the London 2012 ceremonies

    Between 2011 and 2012, I participated in three auditions for the London Olympic and Paralympic opening and closing ceremonies. Unable to execute the choreographic commands of West End dance captains – those charged with selecting UK residents and citizens for the ceremonies – I found myself out of step with the other Olympic hopefuls on the dance floor. What does my acute lack of rhythm reveal about the necessity for synchrony in national performances? The Olympic Games is a celebration of national belonging on a global stage that unfolds through corporeal solidarity. As my body foreclosed upon the possibility of coordination, it took on a physical inelasticity closer to that of the ‘mechanical inelasticity’ Henri Bergson’s uses to describe the pratfalls in slapstick comedies. I frame my failures on the dance floor as rhythmic mis-interpellation, which is my way of describing how my body’s involuntary refusal of technique cancelled me out without anyone ever having to usher me offstage.

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  • Vancouver after 2010

    Co-edited by Peter Dickinson, Kirsty Johnston, and Keren Zaiontz.

    According to the International Olympic Committee (IOC), planning for and working to realize an event legacy for a host city is an essential part of being awarded the Olympic and Paralympic Games. The IOC also mandates that each host city mount a Cultural Olympiad showcasing, often over successive years, the best in local, national, and international art and performance. What, then, is the cultural legacy of an Olympics—and how do we measure it? As playwright and theatre director Marie Clements asks in this special issue of Canadian Theatre Review, what is the equivalent for a local arts community of a gleaming new hockey rink or a sleekly designed swimming pool?

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