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Theatre and Performance Studies Seminar Series


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

Choreographing audience experience: being permeable, in the world

Carolyn Deby

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.

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

Nicolas Whybrow

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 Turner

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

Paranoia and Narrative of Alterity in Thomas Ostermeier’s Hamlet

Aida Bahrami

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.

Dirty Realism

Anna Harpin

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

Negative Dialectics and the work of learning disabled performers. 

Dave Calvert

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).


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

Matt Hargrave


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.