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Past Events

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

Spring 2019

Wednesday 6th March, 16.30-18.00, G56

Speaker: Fintan Walsh

Title: Viral Hamlet: History, Memory, Kinship

A chorus of overlapping voices announce the opening of Dickie Beau’s Re-Member Me (Almeida, 2017-). Resounding like a ghostly incantation, the words evoke a séance in which the voices of deceased or long-standing players in UK theatre are conjured in the present, to query the compulsory invocation of the past. These figures’ comments have been cut from recorded interviews – some found, some conducted by Beau himself – as they reflect on their careers, in particular the experience of playing Hamlet or watching the drama performed. These observations circle around the largely forgotten and final performance of Scottish actor Ian Charleson (1949-90) as Hamlet in Richard Eyre’s production at the National Theatre in 1989, a role he played while dying of AIDS related illness. In Beau’s production, the ghost’s injunction ‘remember me’ reverberates more as question than a demand. It queries the same words uttered in Robert Icke’s production of Hamlet, which it was originally programmed to precede, and ripples across the theatre industry and British culture, including the nation-wide events which surrounded it to mark the fiftieth anniversary of The Sexual Offences Act 1967.

This paper examines how Beau’s production finds form in Charleson’s illness, to elaborate a dramaturgy of contagion that insists the past infects the present. It considers how Beau’s production asks us to consider how certain forms of cultural remembrance and production operate by wilfully forgetting or inoculating against others, in particular queer histories. Beau’s approach offers compelling ways for thinking more broadly about medical and cultural interplay, by demonstrating the latter’s capacity to translate death, disappearance and amnesia into life-sustaining engagements with history, memory and kinship production.

Fintan Walsh is Reader in Theatre and Performance in the Department of English and Humanities at Birkbeck, University of London, Co-Director of Birkbeck Centre for Contemporary Theatre, and Director of Birkbeck Gender and Sexuality (BiGS). His books include Queer Performance and Contemporary Ireland: Dissent and Disorientation (2016), Theatre & Therapy (2013), and Male Trouble: Masculinity and the Performance of Crisis (2010) and the forthcoming Theatres of Contagion: Transmitting Early Modern to Contemporary Performance (Bloomsbury 2019). He is Senior Editor of Theatre Research International.

Speaker: Emine Fişek

Title: Remembering Istanbul: Theatre, Memory and Gentrification

What is the relationship between theatre and memory in contemporary Turkey? In a national context historically dominated by centrally funded state and municipal theatre institutions, recent years have witnessed the proliferation of “alternative theatres”: small, independent ventures that draw on a rich genealogy of political and experimental theatre and seek new forms of theatrical expression. Political developments, meanwhile, have challenged the foundations of Turkey’s modernization project and produced new frameworks for interpreting the Turkish past, from rethinking the memory of the country’s military coups to re-framing its Ottoman history. How has alternative theatre responded to these developments? In this presentation, I approach this question by focusing on how alternative theatre has addressed the relationship between urban transformation and public memory: while some performances examine the memories of dispossession and exile that haunt Istanbul’s formerly non-Muslim neighbourhoods, others focus on contemporary waves of Syrian migration to interrogate Turkey’s historical identity as a “host” country, its changing migratory regime, and the relationship of migration to patterns of gentrification. Alternative theatre’s connection to gentrification is also a question of site-specificity, as these stages are often located in neighborhoods that have themselves been subject to layers of urban transformation. Theatre, I argue, is part of the broader coterie of voices that seek to participate in the re-branding of “old” Istanbul, and alternative theatre is an exemplary site to consider the ambivalent and ever-vulnerable participation of arts practices in the broader transformations of this city in the twenty-first century.

Emine Fişek is Assistant Professor in the Department of Western Languages and Literatures at Boğaziçi University. She is the author of Aesthetic Citizenship: Immigration and Theater in Twenty-First-Century Paris (Northwestern University Press, 2017) and Theatre & Community (Palgrave Macmillan, forthcoming 2019). Her articles on the relationship between immigration, theatre and civil society in contemporary France have appeared in Theatre Journal, Theatre Research International, Text and Performance Quarterly and French Cultural Studies and she is currently developing her oldest research interest on political theatre in modern Turkey.

Wednesday 16th January, 16.30-18.00, G56

Speaker: Nick Drofiak

Title: Tongues, Branches, Red Fish: Relating with things in repertoires of identity in the village of Baklaniha.

Baklaniha is situated at 64°N on the Enisej river in the Russian Far North. While the Enisej is a major shipping artery (linking Russia’s southern cities and railway with the mining-metallurgical centre of Noril’sk and, ultimately, the Kara Sea and northern route to the Atlantic), the region is sparsely populated and Baklaniha has a population today of approximately thirty persons. This liminality, in combination with the failure of the village’s electricity generator (and hence communications and water supply) led to a regional government attempt to close the village in 2008, fended off in part due to a local perception of the village as a specifically indigenous settlement. Roughly half of the population identify as members of the Ket community, and are either descended from or are themselves survivors of two previous forcible relocations from sites more remotely located on tributaries of the Enisej. Progressively restricted access to significant cultural landscapes has been accompanied by a correspondingly decreased presence of physically portable artefacts upon the ongoing possibility of whose encounter collective identities may be said to be predicated – artefacts among which I count the Ket language, now considered moribund (while known to varying degrees by a handful of older residents in Baklaniha, it is the language of first resort in no social situation and its use is a conscious performance). The region’s long history as a site of exile means that there is no resident, Ket-identifying or otherwise, who has not some complex experience of the relationship between a now inaccessible territory (distant or disappeared, remembered or imaginatively constructed) and a language or register of speech with which it is associated, itself fading. It is this possibility of exploring the roles played by languages (including attitudes toward language use and change) and geographies – each understood to be both culturally constructed and agentive – in the consolidation and exchange of cultural memories and identities that initially suggested Baklaniha as the site of the research project “Performing indigenous identities, memory and belonging in the Russian Far North”. The presentation will set out these inceptive motivations – in terms of the project’s thematic focus, methodology and intended practical outputs – and the current process of their reappraisal and change as a result of recent fieldwork. The research seminar is an opportunity to receive feedback on the narratives emerging so far, and the various potential next stages for the investigation suggested by them.

Speaker: Laurens De Vos, University of Amsterdam

Title: GOING HOME. An analysis of the history of the homecoming

What is home? This is the central question of my research project that will primarily focus on the motif of the homecoming, and in most cases the estrangement that emerges from the disruption of old constellations. Does one get back to one’s family, or to one’s home country? And is the former a more intimate reflection of what is at stake on a more political level, i.e. that of the nation? Home is inextricably bound up with one’s identity. Can we conceive of a history of the homecoming that reflects or challenges the poetics of its own time? From Agamemnon’s homecoming in Aeschylos’ Oresteia over Kafka’s Heimkehr to Pinter’s enigmatic play, coming home has long been a recurring theme that has intrigued playwrights and authors. But in many cases, home does not offer the comfort and protection that it has gained in the bourgeois society of the 18th century. Around the turn of the 19th century, with the emergence of symbolism and psychoanalysis, the homecoming gets an uncanny interpretation. In line with Freud’s essay on ‘das Unheimliche’, what is felt to be home amounts to the return of the repressed, resulting in the uncomfortable feeling of familiar alienation. This is most poignantly made explicit by the entrance of death, as in Maeterlinck’s The Intruder. In recent times, the theme of returning home after warfare is again much in the foreground, and again it is no place to relax. Soldiers return with what is now called PTSS, and cannot integrate in their society anymore. Once more, ‘home’ has become an estranged place. Yet there is another side of the coin to this phenomenon. A homecoming always works in two ways. Apart from the person coming home, there are the ones left behind – the core family, or the nation – who await the former’s arrival positively, negatively or indifferently. Thirdly, homecoming is not always a return to a familiar place. In search of a new home, refugees and migrants leave behind their old homes and for some time will have to call a most unfamiliar place home. Also for those staying home, the arrival of newcomers contributes to the estrangement of a familiar environment. One of the issues in my research is in what way the idea of ‘home’ changes because of growing migration and influence from other cultures colouring European societies and how this is reflected in contemporary theatre.

Autumn 2018

Interdisciplinary PhD Panel

Wednesday 28th November, 16.30-18.00, G56

Speakers: Theo Aiolfi and Julia Evangelista

Charting the populist repertoire and analysing political performances: an introduction to the stylistic approach to populism

Theo Aiolfi

From Donald Trump to Jair Bolsonaro, from Pablo Iglesias to Luigi Di Maio, the global rise of political actors that bypass mainstream political rules has been crystallised within both academia and the media into the nebulous concept of populism. Appearing on both sides of the political spectrum and defying most attempts to pin its nature down, populism has simultaneously been called a discourse, a strategy and a thin ideology, among others. In this paper, I will provide a brief introduction to the stylistic approach to populism which is located at the intersection of politics and performance studies. Initially coined by Moffit, I seek in this work to showcase the productive insights that can be gained from a more sustained interdisciplinary collaboration with performance studies. Borrowing in particular from Taylor and Schechner, I define the populist style as a repertoire of three performative clusters: performances of identity, performances of transgression and performances of urgency. After developing each of these three ideal-typical categories, I will then discuss the complex issue of methodology and make the case for an adaptation of Pavis’s performance analysis to political performances in general, and to populist performances in particular.

Performing decolonisation through carnival on the streets of Rio de Janeiro

Julia Evangelista

This research is concerned with the role of cultural participation of the ‘mad’ in challenging fixed notions of space and identity created by a legacy of colonisation in Brazil. Crucial to challenging such notions is the ability to blur the lines between two spaces that have conventionally been kept apart: ‘asylum’ and ‘street’. This paper deals specifically with the role of public performance – mediated through the rituals of carnival – that are created in the ‘asylum’ but then taken to the ‘street’. In taking these performances to the street, the excluded reaffirm their right to occupy symbolically important parts of the city, and in doing so create opportunities to challenge fixed notions of their own identity imposed from those on the outside looking in, and re-build notions of their own sense of self-empowerment and self-worth from the inside looking out. Today, such processes have become even more urgent in the context of Brazil where political and economic crisis has threatened to reverse advances in the field of mental health that began with psychiatric reform in the 1990s. These reforms sought to counterpose the homogenic western psychiatric model centred on hospitalization, isolation and institutionalization of the ‘mad’ away from ‘normal’ society. The reversal of these reforms risks escalating social divisions further as Brazil sees a revival of colonial ideologies fuelled by an increasingly divisive political rhetoric that values white European cultures over and above the many diverse cultures of Brazil.

This paper sets out initial findings that demonstrate how the project Loucura Suburbana (Suburban Madness) resists such oppressive contexts. It does so by engaging ‘mad’ and ‘normal’ together in the making of carnival that leads to public performances in symbolically important public spaces of Rio de Janeiro.

What is Research Impact?

Wednesday 10th October, 16.30-18.00, G56.

Speakers: Nadine Holdsworth and Yvette Hutchison

Research impact is an increasingly important aspect of an academic’s career and this session is designed to explore what it is, why it matters and what it might look like. We will talk through some of the practical considerations that come into play when trying to make research impactful. We will explore ways to establish research collaborations and networks. We will consider different examples of impact and how we might capture and evidence examples of research impact. To illustrate this discussion we will draw on two impact case studies being worked up in the Theatre and Performance Studies Department – we will look at the language around impact, offer some insights into how impact might be assessed as part of the Research Excellence Framework (REF) and share some of the ways that we are talking and writing about our research to demonstrate impact.

The Royal Navy Theatre Association: Heritage and Invented Traditions
Nadine Holdsworth, University of Warwick

I have recently completed a research collaboration with the Royal Navy Theatre Association (RNTA) that lasted over five years as part of a wider project on amateur theatre in England. This research entailed an extensive period of primary research embedded within the RNTA community that included observation of rehearsals, attending productions, committee meetings, interviews with key personnel and serving as the RNTA’s festival adjudicator in 2016. The issues I have been exploring range around ideas of cultural value; heritage and traditions; places of performance and the relationship between labour and performance. In this talk I will outline how this research has been conceived and framed as an impact project and what issues have arisen around planning for and capturing diverse forms of impact (Individual, group, institutional, societal) and what strategies have been successful and not so successful.

Networking and performing on and off-line, in and out of Africa: African Women Playwright Network
Yvette Hutchison, University of Warwick

I am currently working on analysing research I have conducted through the African Womens’ Playwright Network that SA film and playwright Amy Jephta and I set up in 2015. In this paper I set out to analyse and compare online and live networking, as spaces for artistic and critical engagement both within Africa and beyond. It will explore the contexts, benefits, limits and potentialities of technologies in shaping creative and professional networks, particularly from the perspective of African gendered identity construction and performance. I draw particularly on David White and Alison Le Cornu’s (2013) new typology for online engagement, which analyses online behaviours as being of a digital resident and/ or visitor; and the significance of these patterns of preference for different platform usage when networking; and Linda Tuhiwai Smith’s (2012) use of indigenous research methodologies.