1st Edition

Mess and Contemporary Performance Complexity, Containment, and Collapse

By Harriet Curtis Copyright 2025
    200 Pages 23 B/W Illustrations
    by Routledge

    This book identifies and theorises mess in contemporary performance and argues that mess offers a site from which subjects might mobilise and find agency, even as the complexity (and indeed messiness) of everyday life conditions and contains.

    Using a queer, feminist, and intersectional critical framework, this book analyses how established and emerging artists mess with and mess up capitalist tendencies towards productivity, usefulness, and efficiency. Whilst the materiality of mess provides a starting point and emerges in many of the works analysed, the implications of mess as related to vulnerability, shame, and resistance occupy a larger space in the book’s chapters. These performances are messy not only in content or style; they reveal critical readings of how perceived-as "messy" subjects and practices are shaped and regulated. In attending to the public, personal, and structural uses of mess, and emphasising the critical possibilities of what might otherwise be skipped over or cleared away, this book develops and opens out shared understandings of mess as creative chaos and as a practice of political action or change.

    This book will be of great interest to students and scholars in theatre, performance, and art.

    List of Figures



    1.     Introduction: locating mess


    2.     Mess, materiality, and labour


    3.     Holding space: mess, complexity, and containment


    4.     Hot mess: vulnerability and exhibitionism in performance


    5.     The uses and misuses of mess


    6.     Conclusion: mess, exhaustion, and collapse


    Harriet Curtis is Senior Lecturer in Drama at De Montfort University, UK.