Skip to main content

Theatre and Performance Studies Seminar Series

Spring 2018

Wed 17 January, 15.30-17.00, G56.

Speakers: Claire French and Nicola Shaughnessy
Topics: On applied theatre, titles to follow

Professor Nicola Shaughnessy (School of Arts, University of Kent): ‘Re-imagining Autism: interacting with neurodiversity through participatory, interdisciplinary and creative research practices.

’This paper emerges from interdisciplinary work with autistic communities using creative and embodied methodologies as research tools to engage with neurodiversity. It begins with some reflections on an interdisciplinary collaboration between drama and psychology: “Imagining Autism” (AHRC, 2011-2014) and considers how different communities of practice negotiate different languages, methodologies and values in a process that moved beyond arts/science dualisms to a third space of transdisciplinary research. Tensions between the medical and social models of disability are considered in relation to radical changes to autism research and funding structures (diagnosis, education and support). The role of the autistic community as participants in research processes is considered in a second case study, working with self-identified autistic women through participatory arts to explore their experiences of perceiving differently.

Claire French (Theatre and Performance, University of Warwick): ‘Facilitating translingual methodologies: beyond the monolingual orientation in applied performance praxis’

This paper problematises the communicative practices of applied performance praxis in Britain (UK) that are characterised by an English-only monolingual orientation, and makes suggestions through praxis-based analyses how exactly alternatives to this orientation might be facilitated. Communicative practices are defined as embodied linguistic discourse produced by interlocutors, and that index or signal social meaning. Within applied performance praxis, each interlocutor can be understood as a participant, whose discourse is also influenced by the discourse of both the facilitator and connected or partnered institutions. Problematising communicative practices in applied performance praxis thus involves a critical engagement with both the discourse produced by participants and these other influencing factors. As part of my critical engagement, I will call on the concept language ideologies, defined as socially shared beliefs that are legitimised in and through discourse, to analyse how such beliefs are indexed in communicative practices. Through a socio-historical discursive analysis, I will then make connections with the language ideologies that have been constructed and maintained by certain influencing factors. Due to an interest in this study informing applied performance praxis in Britain, I will focus on how language ideologies emphasising monolingualism or English have been indexed, and how this dialogues with, and impacts, language ideologies about linguistic minorities. One identified response to the monolingual orientation is translingual practice, a model that draws on the linguistic repertoires of participants to engage flexible and fluid communicative practices that are a departure from mono- and multilingual binaries. South Africa, which constitutionally self-identifies as a multilingual nation, provides a range of theatre and performance examples of such translingual practice. I will draw from and analyse two of these examples in their performance devising and rehearsal processes to lay out how alternatives to the monolingual orientation might be facilitated.


Wednesday, 29th November 2017 5.30-7.00 in G56

Anna Harpin: ‘I watch myself disappear in their eyes, in their tesses, I talk loud but still I don’t exist’: Women’s Bodies and Psychopathology
Abstract: Women and girls learn quickly. We learn from an early age that our body is the most important thing about ourselves. We learn to be the observed sex. We learn that there are visual and behavioural parameters of acceptable being-in-the-worldness that are particular to our gendered flesh. Susie Orbach reasons, therefore, that ‘As long as bodies are by proxy the standard for women’s self-evaluation and the evaluation of others, women will have difficulty with their food and with their body image.’ It is logical, then, that women’s political conflicts are commonly written on and through the body. However, the focus of this paper is less on a given set of observable behaviours – self-starvation, body augmentation, bingeing, extreme exercise and so on – and more with what those bodies and behaviours might be attempting to communicate. I depart from an a priori sense that the surface manifestations of ‘disorder’ (for example, drinking too much, eating too little, cleaning too often) ought not to be understood as pathological in and of themselves. Rather, I wish to argue that such activities may well be survival strategies and modes of managing pain, distress, and excitation. The paper will examine three works: Mike Leigh’s 1990 film Life is Sweet, Lee Daniels’s 2009 film adaptation of Sapphire’s 1996 novel Push, entitled Precious, and Duncan Macmillan’s 2015 play People, Places, & Things. These works are markedly different with respect to form, tone, social context, and plot. However, all three feature young women in violent dialogue with their own bodies. Moreover, all three offer an expanded landscape of experience in which bodies like theirs can be seen, heard, and allowed to actually exist. This paper will examine the cultural politics of these portraits of bodies in pain.
(Anna’s full paper is attached)

Liz Barry: 'Beckett, Disability and the Politics of Performance'
Abstract: This talk addresses the politics and aesthetics of disability in Beckett's work. It focuses on Endgame and explores how this play, and Beckett's theatre in general, might subvert the operation of what Rosemarie Garland-Thomson has called the ableist 'stare'. It thinks about the way in which what Sianne Ngai calls 'ugly feelings' connected to disability on the part of both disabled and able subjects might be turned to aesthetic effect and, in so doing, be shared, critiqued and laughed at. Beckett's theatre productively dismantles the idea of passing (as either able-bodied or disabled) as it has been applied in disability studies, in the process troubling the distinctions upon which the concept of disability rests.

* Please note that we are starting an hour later than usual due to the Open Day activities. Even though the day might be a bit long, we are ending on a high note with two inspiring talks and of course, wine :-).

Research Seminar – 11th October 2017 4.30-6.00 in G56

Patricia Smyth: 'Illusion in Nineteenth-Century Popular Theatre: Representations of Old London'.

Jim Davis: 'Looking and Being Looked at: Visual Representations of Spectatorship in the Long Nineteenth Century'.


Research Seminar – 8th March 2017 4.30-6.00 in G56

Carolyn Deby: Choreographing audience experience: being permeable, in the world

The question of how to get inside of (and create meaning from) the moment-to-moment of a lived experience in time–space is at the core of my practice as sirenscrossing. This paper will introduce sirenscrossing’s approach to choreographing ‘audience experience’ as an assemblage of flows, convergence, and being, sited within the urban–wild, by which I mean a continuous field where the urban and the wild are mutually manifest, indistinct, and utterly entangled. sirenscrossing’s approach to audience experience will be articulated in relation to a turn in theatre/performance, from the late 20th Century until now, towards a more active spectator, with a particular emphasis on sensory experience, attention to site, and social engagement. Amongst other things, Lavender (2016), Alston (2016), and Machon (2011) identify an increased tendency towards hybrid forms of performance where several art forms might be employed, the boundaries between them ignored or blurred. Alston’s emphasis on ‘immersive’ theatre as a reflection of neoliberal and capitalist values will be considered. Of relevance will be Machon’s articulation of a particular sort of performance work as (syn)aesthetics, a term “which defines and embraces fused corporeal and cerebral experiences” (2011, p. 4). White’s (2012; 2013) consideration of ‘immersive theatre’ specifically in relation to audience participation and the ‘invitation’ will be cited, alongside Lavery and Williams’ interview with Lone Twin (2011). The paper will itself be framed as an experience or container for possible meanings in relation to the context within which it is presented. Meaning will emerge via an experiential, verbal and non-verbal collage.

Nicolas Whybrow: Folkestone perennial: the enduring work of art in the reconstitution of place

Ostensibly contemporary art biennials seek to engage with the places that host them, yet frequently they are viewed critically as elitist ‘art world’ events that are disconnected from their localities. The aim of this paper is to establish how public art works in a given context, both as part of a format prescribed by the art event and in its potential to intersect with the intricate, contingent and varied constellation of the urban location in question. It addresses this central tension by examining the case of Folkestone, a town on the south Kent coast in the UK that once enjoyed a thriving identity as both seaside resort and gateway to Europe. From the 1960s onwards a gradual decline set in with the advent of mass global travel, culminating in the deathblow that was dealt by the nearby Eurotunnel’s inauguration towards century’s end, which signalled the end of the town’s ferry link to the continental mainland. A concerted attempt has been underway for a decade now to revitalise the town using the arts, creative industries and education as the drivers of regeneration. One of the main initiatives in this endeavour was the introduction in 2008 of the Folkestone Triennial, a three-month summer event in which high-profile international artists were commissioned to produce sited artworks for the town, turning it into a form of urban gallery. With successive Triennials occurring in 2011 and 2014, and several works from all three being retained as permanent acquisitions, this paper takes stock of the impact of these artistic engagements with the town, showing how, as an ensemble, they interact with one another and asking whether they have the capacity to contribute to a reconstituted identity for Folkestone in an integrated and lasting way. Artworks considered include interventions by Christina Iglesias, Tim Etchells, Mark Wallinger, Richard Wentworth and Michael Sailstorfer.

Research Seminar – 18th January 2017 4.30-6.00 in G56

Liz Turne: Staging Risk and Negotiating Failure in Russian Roulette and Dive of Death

Graham M. Jones describes magic as a genre of performance that ‘[seems] to require risk as a precondition for satisfactory performance’ (9). Yet, as with much academic literature on magic, Jones presupposes magic performances as an encounter where performer and spectator are physically co-present, a paradigm that does not reflect the proliferation of magic available through mediated forms. This paper examines the notion of risk specifically in televised performances by magicians, exploring the tension between the necessarily distanced form of viewing offered by television, and the need to engage audiences through a staging of indeterminacy. Two case studies will be examined. The first is Derren Brown’s Russian Roulette (2003), staged as a live televisual event. The reality status of Russian Roulette was later called into question when local police made a statement denying that they would have allowed the events as represented in the broadcast to go ahead. The second is David Blaine’s Dive of Death (2008), an endurance feat performed in a live setting that catastrophically overexposed the risks involved to Blaine’s body, and in doing so undermined the staging of jeopardy. The live broadcast was later edited into a documentary that avoided any reference to the various issues that prevented the feat from being accomplished as planned. The paper is concerned with understanding how preconditions of risk are shored up in these performances, and how inadequate staging can render performances ‘unsatisfactory’. Ultimately, it argues that their failure resides in the undermining of risk as a precondition for satisfactory performance.

Works Cited Jones, Graham M. Trade of the Tricks: Inside the Magician’s Craft. London: U of California Press, 2011. Print.

Tim White: Entertaining risk

In much the same way that Kant argues for aesthetic judgement necessitating disinterest lest it be corrupted by desire, I suggest that the appreciation of risk requires the subject to be displaced from that which is at risk. In both situations, avoidance of contamination is most easily achieved by requiring distance from the object, thereby privileging sight and sound over those senses that presume proximity. Elizabeth Telfer speculates that regarding the eye and the ear as the more noble of the sense organs "might stem from a sense that the body taints what it is associated with, and that the freer we are of it the better we are" (19). The appreciation of risk, I argue, requires distance, but for exactly the opposite reason; to insulate the body from corruption. To 'get one's fingers burnt', to be 'left with a sour taste in the mouth' or to conclude that 'something smells fishy' are idiomatic expressions that allude to risk understood as the intentional interaction with uncertainty: moreover, each registers a sense of physical discomfort arising from getting too close.
I would pay - have paid - good money to be in the presence of risk - physical, reputational, financial, a veritable storm-battered waterfront of jeopardy - on the understanding that I gamble only with my time and the agreed-upon price of admission. Whether I am complicit or culpable in those instances where the outcome is unfavourable or if, when perceived odds are overcome, I can feel much affinity with the distanced victor are questions for another paper. Here I intend to reflect on the possibility and desirability of risk in performance in circumstances where it is offered to, and accepted by, the spectator.

Works Cited

Telfer, E. "Food as Art." Arguing About Art: Contemporary Philosophical Debate. Eds. Neill, A and A Ridley. New York: Routledge, 2002. 9-27. Print.

Research Seminar – 30th November 2016 5.00-6.30 in G56

Aida Bahrami: Paranoia and Narrative of Alterity in Thomas Ostermeier’s Hamlet

Abstract: In his first manifesto of the Theatre of Cruelty, Artaud asks for a Shakespearian adaptation that resonates with “our present confused state of mind”. A contemporary production that accomplishes this feat is Thomas Ostermeier’s Hamlet, first staged at the Schaubühne theatre in 2008. The director’s distinctly meta-theatrical approach is an attribute which distinguishes this production from a traditional staging of the play. Moreover, by projecting Hamlet’s subjective point of view unto the stage, Ostermeier envisions a portrayal of the eponymous character’s mentality which is surrealistic in its oneiric quality.This article explores Ostermeier’s adaptation as a representation of Hamlet’s paranoia, originating from his desire to predict, codify, and contain a narrative of alterity that enables him to slip on a vestige of autonomy. Ostermeier’s Hamlet is analysed through three contextually consistent frameworks: a) Freud’s definition of paranoia; b) Salvador’s Dalí’s application of the paranoid-critical method as an artistic technique that seeks to re-present madness; and c) Lacan’s theory of Mirror Stage and its consequences on the formation of otherness. The juxtaposition of these frameworks facilitates the study of various surrealistic techniques that appear in Ostermeier’s Hamlet, with the view of addressing queries on: the nature of Hamlet’s madness in this adaptation; the impact of Hamlet’s delirious associations on his perception of the other characters; and, the implications of Hamlet’s playfulness and Ostermeier’s depiction of the prince as a mad child.

Anna Harpin: Dirty Realism

Abstract: This paper is part of a longer chapter which explores the representation of reality and delusions in late twentieth century theatre and cinema. If we accept that reality is not simply spontaneous and universal and instead is enculturated, then it becomes important to dissemble the practices that fashion its sights and sounds. In this purview, reality, like truth, has moral and political textures and thus warrants interrogation until the means of production of perceptual legitimacy and authority are more evenly distributed. In related manners to Joanna Bourke’s critical understanding pain as an event encountered within a web of stories (personal, biological, social and so on), this chapter proposes that we attempt to think of reality as a relational, always incomplete, encounter. The artists considered in this chapter are all engaged with the contours of realities and collectively illuminate how far reality is neither a place nor a thing, but rather an experience to be explored. In so doing, all these works excavate rich political terrain for a widened understanding of here and now. What is particularly valuable for this purposes of this chapter is how far the artists discussed are engaged with redirecting the cultural conversation from symptom to experience, from void to meaning. Furthermore, when situated alongside a rapid expansion in advocacy movements such as the hearing voices networks, one can begin to perceive a wider, growing concern to rethink and reimagine the limits of perceptual horizons. The artists ask us to consider, if unusual perceptual phenomena have value, meaning, and insight, then what does attending in detail to these experiences allow us to see, feel, or hear differently? Indeed, they pay attention to the structure and conditions of both sensory and intellectual reality making practices. Moreover, their works, through an acute attention to form and genre, invite us to consider what the clinical lessons of artistic practice might be, particularly with respect to empathy and the legibility of pain and difference. In short, this chapter will demonstrate how artists attempt to expose the constructedness of reality and, thereby, make room to imagine non-normative, legitimate ways of being, feeling, and sensing. More specifically, the works – though distinct – collectively explore questions of cause and effect, mood and atmosphere, haunting, and the temporality of reality in order to shift the coordinates of perceptual understanding on to new ground.

Research Seminar – 12 October 2016 4.30-6.00 in G56

Dave Calvert: Negative Dialectics and the work of learning disabled performers. 

Abstract: This paper employs Theodor Adorno's theory of Negative Dialectics to offer a reading of learning disabled performance, focussing particularly on the work of the Australian ensemble Back to Back Theatre. Adorno refashions the idealist Hegelian dialectic, in which contradictory ideas are reconciled through a progressive synthesis. For Adorno, the source of dialectics is the encounter with a material object that inevitably negates the abstract concept being applied to it. Rather than resolving this contradiction in a synthesis, the encounter merely provokes new concepts which the object continues to elude. Dialectics is thus a restless, open-ended process.

Negative Dialectics underpins my analysis of Back to Back's work for three reasons: first, that the company's own aesthetics embrace competing but unresolved contradictions; second, that the provocative encounter between a thinking subject and a material object - which is, perhaps, implicit in all theatrical encounters - appears as a particularly characteristic feature in readings of Back to Back's work; and third, that this encounter in theatrical performance unsettles the abstract understanding of the concept of learning, or intellectual, disabilities in the work of Back to Back and other performers. My own reading of the company's work centres on the arresting 'freak porn' moment in the 2011 production Ganesh Versus the Third Reich and also considers two earlier productions, small metal objects (2005), and Food Court (2008).


Matt Hargrave: ‘Dance with a Stranger: Torque Show’s Intimacy (2014) and the experience of vulnerability in performance and spectatorship

 Abstract: This paper is a critical enquiry into Intimacy, a show by Australian company Torque Show in collaboration with Michelle Ryan. The piece, which made its international debut at Unlimited 2014, is: part confessional, part cabaret and part flirtatious dance with an audience seduced into participating. Ryan, accompanied by musician, singer and a male dancing partner, is at the centre of the work. The piece deals with the reality of her life living with Multiple Sclerosis, a condition that first affected her at the age of thirty, when she was at the prime of her dancing career. Intimacy deals with the emotional fallout of her MS: marital break-up, loss of physical capacity; need for constant support and the appearance of an array of unsuitable men. The musical score creates a sleazy cabaret atmosphere; Ryan’s dreams are surreal, savage yet funny; comedy arises too from frequent audience interaction. At one point Ryan asks for help changing her dress; three men are enlisted to help. Others are called on to create a campfire scene, helping Ryan’s fictive partner (Vincent Crowley) overcome his resistance to intimacy. Performers and spectators hold each other; gaze in to one another’s eyes; flirt publically; embarrass easily. This work is about the risk of vulnerability; it is also about teasing, playing at the edges of commitment. The paper explores both and argues that their juxtaposition – in performance - is what generates new knowledge. This chapter explores aesthetic implication of Margrit Shildrick’s critical work on vulnerability: that the normative ideal (corporeal and psychic wholeness) is based on denial of our always vulnerable bodies.[i] Not only is the show’s structure dependent on the kindness of (spectating) strangers, it is also underpinned by the risk of cancellation: Ryan has no way of knowing if her body will permit her to perform from one day to the next. This paper acknowledges Adam Phillips’ point that ‘flirtation is among other things a way of acknowledging the contingency of our lives – their sheer unpredictabilty’[ii]. It is thus a contribution not just to the poetics of disability but to the politics of precarity more widely.[iii]

 [i]Shildrick, M. (2009) Dangerous Discourses of Disability, Subjectivity and Sexuality, Basingstoke: Palgrave

[ii] Phillips, A. (1994) On Flirtation, London: Faber and Faber, p. xii

[iii] See Berlant, L (2011) Cruel Optimism, Durham: Duke University Press; Butler, J. (2013) Dispossession: The Performative in the Political, Cambridge: Polity Press; Gilson, E. C. (2014) The Ethics of Vulnerabilty, London: Routledge.