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Theatre and Performance Studies Seminar Series

Wednesday 27th May 4.30-6.00 (via Microsoft Teams)

Speaker: Jim Davis
Paper: Theatre and Visual Culture: Interpreting Visual Representations of Spectators as Evidence

I am currently in the early stages of researching for a monograph on the visual representation of theatrical spectators in the nineteenth century. This paper will focus on three representations of theatrical spectators by the French Artist Leopold Boilly and the 'referential dilemmas', to use Christopher Balme's term, encountered in assessing their value as evidence.


Speaker: Pat Smyth
Paper: Remediating History: From Romantic Drama to Virtual Reality

This presentation looks at the representation of history in Alexandre Dumas’ sensationally popular drama of life and death in the Renaissance court, Henri III et sa cour of 1829. I look at the strategies Dumas used to create the sensation of an eyewitness experience and at how his play was subsequently remediated in painting, film, television and virtual reality.


Spring 2020

Processes, Participations and Networks of Engagement

Wednesday 15th January, 17.00-18.30, G56

Speaker: Max Dean

Title: Ergodic Literature: Process Drama for the Information Age

“Nothing is going to remain the way it is. Let us, in the present, study the past, so as to invent the future.”[1]

A defining characteristic of Process Drama as a medium has always been its participatory nature. The narratives of Process Dramas are not predetermined by a writer or a director and enacted for an audience physically separate from the narrative, but rather are written/created through a process of collaborative engagement between all those present.

Paulo Freire, (an Educational Theorist extremely influential on Process Drama) highlighted the importance participation in a process has within an educational context in order for people to engage in education as ‘Subjects’: those who know and can act, as opposed to being ‘Objects’: which are known and acted upon.[2] Whilst this blurring of the barrier between actor and spectator historically was utilised in pursuit of Process Drama’s objectives to engender critical consciousness and reflection in its participants; this blurring of traditional differentiations between audience and participant is occurring across different mediums in the 21st century, such as journalism, politics and media. This phenomenon is referred to as Ergodic literature by Espen J. Aarseth in his book Cybertext—Perspectives on Ergodic Literature. Aarseth states that: “In ergodic literature, nontrivial effort is required to allow the reader to traverse the text.”[3]

Whilst participatory engagement in 21st century forms maybe increasing, a rise in dichotic social discourse, populist ideologies and increasing economic disparity can also be seen: exactly the opposite of what Freire and Boal would have espoused. Augusto Boal argued that for theatre to be a weapon for liberation, “It is necessary to create appropriate theatrical forms. Change is imperative”.[4]

This presentation will explore how my practice as research seeks to utilise this rise of ergodic literature as a form of participation across wider society to create an ‘appropriate theatrical form’ for the 21st Century, utilising Process Drama methodologies in pursuit of “conscientização” combined with the popular 21st Century medium of digital games.


Speaker: Bobby Smith

Title: Lessons from Rwanda/Navigating Silence

Rwanda's recovery following the genocide in 1994, in which around one million people were murdered, has led the Rwandan government and global media to portray the country as a 'beacon of hope' from which we can learn how to respond to trauma and prevent violence in the future. In July 2019, coinciding with the 25th anniversary of the genocide, I travelled to Rwanda to research theatre and peacebuilding as part of the early stages of a project involving practitioners in the UK, Rwanda, Kenya and Uganda. The aim of this project is to create networks of learning and exchange between these countries. Initially struck by the signs of economic and social development despite the horrific events of 1994, I was confronted by a range of silences which began to destabilise the narrative of Rwanda as a 'beacon of hope'. To navigate these silences I focus on three events: Kwibuka, the annual month-long commemoration of the genocide; selected performances staged as part of the Ubumuntu Arts Festival in Kigali; and activities related to a Theatre for Development project. Whereas silence is understood by some as a powerful aesthetic choice, as well as a valid response to traumatic events, this paper demonstrates that in Rwanda silence is often imposed and serves the current government’s attempts to maintain power and the refusal of certain international actors to engage with legacies of genocide. Conversely, at other times, the imposition of silence can more clearly and powerfully demonstrate legacies of genocide and violence. In this sense, silence can be considered as productive, highlighting continued injustices – albeit accidentally. In attempting to navigate the silences I encountered, it became clear that the positionality of the spectator shapes how silences are read, and how much ‘reading between the lines’ is possible. A complicated picture thus emerges in relation to theatre and performance in post-genocide Rwanda, which throws into question what might be learnt by practitioners and researchers elsewhere in the world. I therefore argue we need to resist essentialising and simplistic representations of Rwanda as a place of hope offering lessons to follow when it comes to the role of the arts in fostering peace and addressing conflict. Instead, I suggest those of us involved in theatre and performance can learn a range of other lessons. In particular, we must consider whether silences in relation to current contexts of violence mirror the silence that enabled the Rwandan genocide to take place.

[1] Augusto Boal, Theatre of the Oppressed, Pluto Press, London, 2000, pg ix

[2] Paulo Freire, Pedagogy of the Oppressed, Penguin Classics, Random House, London, 2017, pg 10

[3] Espen J. Aarseth, Cybertext—Perspectives on Ergodic Literature. Johns Hopkins University Press. (1997) pg 1

[4] Augusto Boal, Theatre of the Oppressed, Pluto Press, London, 2000, pg xxiii


Art and Theatre / Theatricality and Authenticity

Wednesday 4th March, 17.00-18.30, G56

Speaker: Patricia Smyth
Title: ‘Sublime Triviality: Bodily Expression in French History Painting’
Respondent: Paul Smith, History of Art