Next London Theatre Seminar: 7 December 2017, with Caoimhe Mader McGuinness (Kingston University)

Our next London Theatre Seminar (and the final one for 2017) will take place on 7 December 2017 in Senate House (Room TBC). We are pleased to welcome Dr Caoimhe Mader McGuinness of Kingston University.

As usual, start time is 6:30 PM. The seminar will close at 8:30, to reconvene in a local pub. Wine and refreshments will be served.

We hope to see you there!

Broderick, Louise, and Bryce

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Intempentestive dissensus: reproducing possible proletarian public spheres in You Should See the Other Guy’s Land of the Three Towers

This paper will analyse You Should See the Other Guys performance Land of the Three Towers, a show devised by and with members of the Focus E15 campaign narrating the campaign’s activists’ successful occupation of the Carpenters estate in Newham, East London. The women-led Focus E15 campaign occupied these empty flats in October 2014, angered by the fact that Newham council was refusing to house residents locally whilst letting the estate’s flats decay while waiting for the highest bidder. This proved a successful strategy, as the women obtained many concessions to their demands, including the rehousing of certain families on the estate. Land of the Three Towers’ restages the occupation and subsequent victory, also occasionally deploying the performance as an organising tool. This choice, as well as the use of song, audience participation and site specificity created a piece of work which expanded beyond agit-prop or community theatre, offering a certain amount of self-reflexivity about its own constitution.

As I will argue, certain staging choices in the performance demonstrated not only how certain aspects of the campaign had manifested a form of Rancièrian dissensus but also how the performance might gesture toward an expansive understanding of collectice experience and its representation. Here, the work of Oskar Negt and Alexander Kluge on the possibilities of a proletarian public sphere offers a productive addition to Jacques Rancière’s arguments around dissensus as the essence of politics. Furthermore, the ways in which both the campaign and its representation in Land of the Three Towers centred on questions of social reproduction – motherhood and childrearing but also cleaning cooking and domestic labour – might also further contribute to an understanding of Rancièrian dissensus grounded in explicit material concerns. I will thus consider how theorisations of the relationship between work, social reproduction and primitive accumulation articulated by Silvia Federici, joined with considerations surrounding artistic labour offered by Dave Beech, might also further the dissensual potential of the performance.

Caoimhe Mader McGuinness is a lecturer in Drama at Kingston University of London. Her research and publications look at the politics of reception (spectatorship, criticism and institutional identities) of contemporary theatre and live art through a Marxist, feminist, queer and post-colonial lens. She also more broadly focuses on the specific histories of Western liberalism as these apply to theatrical production and reception.

Further interests are social reproduction in feminist performance, the 1951 Festival of Britain and Marxist approaches to theatre and performance, especially in the work of the Frankfurt School and Jacques Rancière.

11 January 2018: Joint Seminar with European Theatre Research Network
1 February 2018: Giulia Palladini (Roehampton University)
1 March 2018: Performing Oceans, interdisciplinary panel on dance and English Literature with Arabella Stanger (Sussex) & Matt Kerr (Southampton)
26 April 2018: Postgraduate Panel TBC
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Next London Theatre Seminar, 9 November 2017 with Steve Greer (Glasgow): Queer Optimism (and theatre at the end of the world)

Our next London Theatre Seminar will take place on 9 November 2017 in the University of London Senate House (Room TBC but will be posted in the foyer). We are delighted to be welcoming Dr Steve Greer of the University of Glasgow. It starts at 6:30 PM and will close at 8:30 PM, to reconvene at a local pub. Wine and refreshments served.

We hope to see you there!

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Jonny Donahoe in Every Brilliant Thing, by Duncan Macmillan. 

Steve Greer: Queer optimism (and theatre at the end of the world)

This paper reads against accounts of utopia in performance offered by Jill Dolan and Jose Esteban Muñoz to explore the unpredictable relationship between the present and the future explored in early c21st solo performance. If neoliberalism’s preferred subject is characterised by their willingness to anticipate disasters – and task themselves with inventing biographical solutions – works as varied as Deborah Pearson’s The Future Show, Duncan Macmillan’s Every Brilliant Thing and Nando Messias’ The Sissy’s Progress suggest the significance of paradoxically wilful surrender to uncertainty and vulnerability.
Reading these and other performances in the context of contemporary demands for resilient, individuated responsibility, I explore how uncoupling optimism from futurity may allow us to reconsider the present as a space of social and political intervention. This reading of optimism is not straightforwardly affirmative: to borrow from Judith Butler, to acknowledge how we are ‘undone by each other’ is to understand that we do not always survive that encounter intact. If queer optimism elaborates how ‘worlds of transformative politics and possibilities’ (Muñoz 1999: 195) are already available, it also demonstrates their uneven and precarious social distribution.

Dr Steve Greer is Lecturer in Theatre Practices at the University of Glasgow where his research and teaching focuses on the intersection of queer theories, popular cultural and contemporary theatre. He is the author of Contemporary British Queer Performance (2012) and host of The Soloist, an occasional podcast about solo performance and solo performers. His next book is a study of the contentious relationship between solo performance, identity and individuality in neoliberal times.


London Theatre Seminar PG Panel 5 October: Leah Sidi (Birkbeck) and Nina-Marie Gardner (RHUL)

Our next London Theatre Seminar will take place on 5 October 2017 in the University of London Senate House (Room TBC). This is a postgraduate panel featuring Leah Sidi (Birkbeck) and Nina Marie Gardner (RHUL). It starts at 6:30 PM and will close at 8:30 PM, to reconvene at a local pub. Wine and refreshments served.

Please also see below for the LTS schedule for 2017-18.

We hope to see you there!

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Leah Sidi (Birkbeck): Sarah Kane, Psychiatry and Dramaturgies of Dislocation

The recent opera version of Sarah Kane’s 4.48 Psychosis at the Lyric Hammersmith clearly contextualised Kane’s final piece as a ‘medical-humanities’ work. The set evoked the blank walls of a psychiatric ward and the opera’s dramaturgy led its audience along the lines of the play’s doctor-patient conflict. This interpretation is in line with several productions of the work, which wholly or in part understand the play as a critique of the UK mental health system’s failure to recognise the subjectivity of the psychiatric subject. This concern with psychiatric subjectivity, which is so prevalent in discussions of Kane’s final work, is in fact traceable throughout her oeuvre, from the unpublished monologues onwards. Kane reimagines the psychiatric subject as dislocated from the medical in the works preceding 4.48 Psychosis – a dislocation which is historically situated in the crisis of representation provoked in the 1990s by the Community Care Act. Examining Kane’s works in relation to political and public discourses surrounding mental health and psychiatric care in the 1990s, her plays emerge as a flashpoint for the tensions surrounding the construction and experiences of psychiatric subjects, in a profoundly transitional moment in the history of UK psychiatric care. Kane’s penultimate play Crave embeds this dislocation into its form. By contextualising the dramaturgy of this play in relation to specific legislative and discursive changes in the decade it was written, this presentation aims to examine the extent to which the play can be understood as a form of embodied critique of conceptions of the psychiatric. It also asks how far these my remain pertinent in 21st century, austerity-era productions.

Leah is a PhD student at Birkbeck. Her thesis explores Sarah Kane’s dramaturgy in relation to developments in psychiatry and psychoanalytic theory from the 1980s to the present. Before beginning the PhD Leah worked supporting student activists, especially in the areas of mental health and disability rights. Her first publication, ‘A Director in Search of a Narrative: Reality-Testing in Katie Mitchell’s Cleansed’ is available in the most recent issue of Performance Research journal.

Nina-Marie Gardner (RHUL): ‘Collaborating with Ghosts to Inhabit the Body: Adapting Women’s Literary Modernism to the Stage’

The novels and short stories of the modernist women writers were considered radical in their time, not just for the ways they experiment with language and narrative style, but also for their content. My research explores the challenges of adapting these novels to the stage. The manner in which many of these narratives perform – specifically, modernist women’s autobiographical novels – effects a strong ‘woman’s presence’, one that fosters a point of interaction, reflection and identification between author/narrator and reader/audience. What is performed in the text is a search for a distinctly female identity; a search that as translated to the stage might offer in the performing body a dialectical image of history that also speaks to how women ‘perform’ in the present. As such, adapting these texts for the stage becomes a process of foregrounding and activating what is already in place. I consider my own stage adaptation of American modernist Margery Latimer’s This Is My Body (1930); conceived through an approach that sees adaptation as a conversation and collaboration, the play also responds to the ideological conflict between modernism and theatre. Strategies considered include how the relationship between history and fiction is addressed, which in turn sets up a dialogue between the past and the present; the splitting of the subject, which in turn allows for the performance of the search for and construction of identity; and finally, approaching the play as a performance of women’s history, which highlights the elision of that history and in turn justifies revisionist nature of the work itself.

Nina-Marie Gardner recently completed a PhD in the Department of Drama, Theatre and Dance at Royal Holloway, University of London, where she is also a Visiting Lecturer. A novelist and playwright, her short stories, essays and reviews have been published in 3AM Magazine, The Fix, The Frisky, Flavorpill and the anthologies Bedford Square and 3AM London, New York, Paris. Her novel Sherry & Narcotics was published in 2012 by Future Fiction London, and the stage adaptation was selected as part of the Arcola Theatre’s PlayWROUGHT Festival in 2014, directed by Yael Shavit and starring Lucy Ellinson and Michael Colgan. She is a recipient of the Royal Holloway International Excellence Award and a Crossland Research Award. http://www.ninamariegardner.com


LTS Postgraduate Panel: Jessica Worden (Brunel) and Yaron Shyldkrot (Surrey), 11 May 2017

Please join us for the final London Theatre Seminar of the academic year on Thursday, 11 May 2017 in the University of London Senate House (Room 104 Torrington Room). This is a postgraduate panel featuring Jessica Worden (Brunel) and Yaron Shyldkrot (Surrey) It starts at 6.30 PM and will close at 8.30, to reconvene in a local pub.

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Jessica Worden, Brunel University London

Writing Mutability: Written Scores for Performance

Mutability indicates a tendency towards change – it describes an attribute rarely associated with writing. Rather than focussing on the practical implementation of writing to document and fix the orality of language, my research explores the transformative and transient properties of written scores in performance writing practice. Looking to mutability as a characteristic of live permutations of writing, written scores both dissipate into and materialise as live iterations of writing. These permutations of performance highlight the agency of the performer to interpret the written score according to their individual subjectivities and environments. In this sense written scores generate live performance through mutability, allowing writing to shape and be shaped by performance. This approach to generating performance consequently undermines hierarchies of authorship and generates space for muted voices to come to the fore. Rather than presenting about written scores, I will perform from an excerpt of a written score, Echo/plasm, that I have developed for use in durational performance work.
Jessica Worden is completing a PhD at Brunel University College, where she has also worked as a visiting lecturer (2014-2015). She is a recent recipient of the Vice-Chancellor’s Travel Prize, 2017. Her practice-based research focuses on performances of breathlessness, written scores and writing as performance. She regularly performs in the UK and abroad. Recent peer-reviewed publications include a book chapter in in Syncope in Performing and Visual Arts (2016) and ‘Bonneville Salt Flats: This Place’ in The Journal of Writing and Creative Practice 8.1. Commissioned writing includes publications such as EROS, Salt and Lyra and for the ACE-funded performance platform ]performancespace[.

Yaron Shyldkrot, University of Surrey

Set the tone: On the Composition of Atmospheres

Can we think of theatre without atmosphere? Atmospheres have been an emerging subject of exploration – mostly in philosophy, architecture, urban planning and cultural geography. Yet, when it comes to theatre and performance, while being very prominent in everyday speech and used as a way to describe various experiences, atmospheres remain relatively unexplored. In the theatre, we are constantly immersed within, and are part of, an atmosphere. From the entrance and the foyer, through the auditorium with its houselights, to the stage, scenography and the performance itself. All of these elements colour, shape and contribute to the emergence of different ambiances and tones. Atmospheres are everywhere, but what are they, exactly? And what constitutes an atmosphere? In this presentation, I explore the composition of atmosphere in conditions of obstructed visuality. In response to the recent proliferation of studies regarding atmospheric encounters, I seek to bring forward both a critical and practical approach to atmosphere. I will start by asking what atmospheres are, and how an understanding of atmosphere might inform artistic practice. Then, I will focus on the process of atmosphere production and consider what kind of atmospheres might emerge when we cannot see clearly. As a practitioner-researcher making work in conditions of challenged visuality (using darkness and haze), I aim to show first how atmosphere can be used as a dramaturgical and scenographic tool; and second, how artistic practice might illuminate the cloudy notion of atmosphere.

Yaron Shyldkrot is a practitioner-researcher undergoing a Practice-as-Research PhD at the University of Surrey, exploring the composition of uncertainty and performance in the dark. Yaron currently serves on the Executive Committee of the Theatre and Performance Research Association (TaPRA). As a performance maker, he works as a director and lighting designer and co-founded Fye and Foul, a theatre company exploring unique sonic experiences, darkness and extremes. http://www.yaronshy.com


Political Theatre(s) in Europe, 27 April 2017

Please join us for our next London Theatre Seminar on Thursday, 27 April in the University of London Senate House (Room 102 Athlone Room). We will be presenting a panel discussion on Political Theatre(s) in Europe in conjunction with the European Theatre Research Network. It starts at 6.30 PM and will close at 8.30, to reconvene in a local pub.

We hope to see you there!

Broderick, Louise, and Bryce

“Political Theatre(s) in Europe“
Panel Discussion 

Thursday 27 April, 6.30-8.30pm
Senate House 102

In collaboration with the European Theatre Research Network (ETRN), LTS is hosting a special panel discussion on the politics of contemporary European theatre. Peter Boenisch, Clare Finburgh, Helen Gush and Bryce Lease will offer perspectives from different parts of the continent. Presenting some provocations, reflections and examples of current practice, this seminar intends to develop broader exchanges about the role of politics in theatre, conceptualizations of the political in relation to performance, and current attempts to critique or confront changing political landscapes. Key themes will include democracy, inclusion, pluralism, national identity, counterpublics, resistance and the rise of the right.

Peter M Boenisch is Professor of European Theatre and Director of the European Theatre Research Network (ETRN) at the University of Kent. His primary interest is in the intersections between aesthetics and politics in contemporary theatre. His research areas are the fields of directing, dramaturgy, and contemporary dance, with a particular focus on the German- and Dutch-speaking European countries. His books include Directing Scenes and Senses: The thinking of Regie (Manchester UP 2015), and The Theatre of Thomas Ostermeier, which he co-authored with Ostermeier (Routledge 2016). With Rachel Fensham, he is co-editor of the Palgrave book series New World Choreographies.

Clare Finburgh is Senior Lecturer in the department of Drama at the University of Kent. Her research focuses on French and UK contemporary performance, notably innovations in French modern and contemporary playwriting and directing; and representations of conflict in UK theatre. She has co-written Jean Genet (with David Bradby, 2011), and co-edited Genet: Performance and Politics (2006) and Contemporary French Theatre and Performance (2011). She is currently leading a team of researchers and artists who are investigating the legacy in contemporary performance of the Situationist International, a group of radical artists and activists from the 1950s and 1960s. The project is entitled Reviewing Spectacle.

Helen Gush is Assistant Curator in the V&A Department of Theatre and Performance and is doing a PhD between the museum and Queen Mary University of London. Her PhD focuses on international theatre on the post-war British stage, with particular reference to the legacy of the World Theatre Season, an annual season of international productions which took place at the Aldwych Theatre, London, from 1964 to 1975. At the museum her responsibilities include the Performance Festival; producing TheatreVOICE, a website for oral content about British theatre; and coordinating installations and displays.

Bryce Lease is Senior Lecturer in Drama & Theatre at Royal Holloway, University of London. He has published widely on Polish theatre, including his recent monograph After ’89: Polish Theatre and the Political (Manchester University Press, 2016). He is Subject Editor for European Theatre/Performance for the Routledge Performance Archive, Book Reviews Editor for Contemporary Theatre Review, and is currently co-editing Contemporary European Playwrights (Routledge) with Maria Delgado and Dan Rebellato.


Next London Theatre Seminar, 9 March 2017, with Dariusz Kosiński (Jagiellonian University, Kraków)

Dear colleagues,

Please join us for our next London Theatre Seminar on Thursday, 9 March in the University of London Senate House (Room G35 Bloomsbury Room). We are pleased to bring you Dariusz Kosiński (Jagiellonian University, Kraków), a foremost expert on the theatre of Jerzy Grotowski. It starts at 6.30 PM and will close at 8.30, to reconvene in a local pub.

This talk is supported by the Grotowski Institute and TAPAC (Theatre and Performance Across Cultures)

We hope to see you there!

Broderick, Louise, and Bryce

Dariusz Kosiński: ‘Profanations: Jerzy Grotowski versus Polish national drama’

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Jerzy Grotowski (1933–1999) is well-known as the creator of a kind of ‘theatre of ritual’ and of new approaches to acting. These achievements in the later stages of his work on productions at the Laboratory Theatre have overshadowed his earlier practice as a radical director and dramaturg. Even in Poland, the performances he created in the company’s initial phase of work in Opole in the early 1960s were long interpreted only as intermediary stages along the road towards his renowned ‘poor theatre’. This seminar will attempt to challenge this view, by analyzing three early performances by Grotowski and what was then known as the Theatre of the ‘13 Rows’ that were based on three canonical texts of Polish drama: Dziady (Forefathers’ Eve) by Adam Mickiewicz (premiere 18 June 1961), Kordian by Juliusz Słowacki (14 February 1962), and Akropolis by Stanisław Wyspiański (10 October 1962). Each of these productions was radical, both in the relationship to its source text(s) and in the particular theatrical environment established by Grotowski and his collaborators (especially the architect Jerzy Gurawski). However, the main thread that this lecture will follow is the way these works attacked Polish national myths, not only through acts of ‘blasphemy’ (as Grotowski later saw them) but through acts of profanation (in Giorgio Agamben’s sense of the term). In the specific historical context of the early 1960s, these profanations were more political than anthropological or ritualistic. This largely forgotten or overlooked political aspect of the performances will be addressed alongside core aspects of Grotowski’s dramaturgy and mise-en-scene.

Dariusz Kosiński is a professor in the Department of Performativity Studies at the Jagiellonian University, Kraków, Poland. At the beginning of his career, he specialized in the theory and history of nineteenth-century acting, publishing two books on the subject and editing a series of primary source materials. Later he focused on the tradition he named ‘Polish theatre of transformation’, developing as a throughline in the work of key Polish artists from Adam Mickiewicz to Jerzy Grotowski. His major publications in the field are Polish Theatre of Transformation (Polish edition 2007, English edition 2017), Grotowski: A Guide (Polish edition 2009, English edition 2017), and an alternative history of Polish performance Teatra polskie. Historie (Polish Theatre Histories) (Polish edition 2010, German edition 2012). From 2010 to 2013, he was Programme Director of the Grotowski Institute in Wrocław, and he also served as a member of the editorial board for Grotowski’s Teksty zebrane (Collected Texts, 2012). Since 2014, he has been Research Director of the Raszewski Theatre Institute in Warsaw. His most recent publications include a monograph on Polish performances after the presidential plane crash in Smolensk, titled Teatra polskie. Rok katastrofy (Polish Theatres: The Year of the Catastrophe, 2013), and a book on Grotowski’s early performances, Grotowski. Profanacje (Grotowski: Profanations, 2015).


Next London Theatre Seminar, 2 February 2017, with Ayumi Fujioka and Jim Davis

Please join us for our next London Theatre Seminar on Thursday, 2 February in the University of London Senate House (Room 104 Torrington Room). This seminar will feature two papers from Ayumi Fujioka  (Sugiyama University, Japan and Visiting Scholar, SOAS) and Jim Davis (University of Warwick). It starts at 6.30 PM and will close at 8.30, to reconvene in a local pub.

This talk is supported by the Japan Society for the Promotion of Science (JSPS) London.

We hope to see you there!

Broderick, Louise, and Bryce

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Ayumi Fujioka, ‘Early 20th Century Transcultural Popular Entertainment in the British and Japanese Theatre: From Edwardian Musical Comedy to Teigeki Actress Plays’ 

Musical comedy performed by the Gaiety Girls was noted as an enormously popular genre by attracting a large number of audiences in Britain at the turn of the 20th century, and this unique theatre entertainment soon spread and flourished in various parts of the world. However, it is barely known that Japanese modern theatre encountered British Edwardian musical comedy and adapted it to its own theatre entertainment, Teigeki (the Imperial Theatre) Actress Plays. A Japanese playwright, Taro Masuda and an actress, Ritsuko Mori, both stayed in the UK and later contributed to the sparkle of Teigeki Actress Plays (1911–1929). This paper explores how British musical comedy was introduced to Japanese modern theatre by focusing on the work of Masuda and Mori to clarify the transferring of femininity on stage and consider audience perception of it in both countries.   

Ayumi Fujioka is a visiting scholar at SOAS, University of London (UK, 2016-2017) and an associate professor in Theatre Studies, School of Cross-Cultural Studies at Sugiyama University (Japan). Her research is centred on various aspects of the Edwardian Theatre. She currently conducts research on the intercultural relationship between British and Japanese theatre during Edwardian era. She has edited a book: ‘Dan Leno and Pantomime-Wonderland’, ‘An Imagined National Theatre: the Royal Court Theatre’, Theatres and Theatre-World in London: A History of Modern British Theatre, Asahi Press (2015), and co-edited books: ‘The Birth of Repertory Theatre Movement’, Critical Aspects of Theatre Studies vol.2, Sankei-sha (2015), ‘The Emergence of an Actress Who Tells the Story of Herself; Elizabeth Robins in British Modern Theatre’, Critical Aspects of Theatre Studies vol.1, Sankei-sha (2011). Her research is aided by grants both from Sugiyama University and the Japan Society for the Promotion of Science. 

Jim Davis, ‘Some Aspects of Anglo-Australian Cultural Exchange 1880-1960’  

This paper seeks to investigate cultural exchange between England and Australia 1880-1960, suggesting that the performing arts enjoyed a certain degree of two-way traffic between the two countries. Anglo-Australian cultural relations in the late-nineteenth and early-twentieth century have often been discussed in terms of cultural imperialism and cultural cringe. The visit of Laurence Olivier and Vivien Leigh to Australia in 1948, for instance, has been described as a royal progress and they and many other English actors and performers have been defined in terms of the ambassadorial role they played when visiting Australia. There is no doubt that some visiting performers could be quite patronising and condescending in their attitude towards the Australian public, while some Australian audiences were quite sycophantic in their response to English actors. Yet there is also a need to recognise the complexity of cultural interaction between Australia and England from the 1880s onwards and to move towards a more sophisticated model for its analysis. Taking several cases, including Bland Holt’s Australianised melodramas in the early twentieth century and Robert Helpmann’s career in Britain and Australia, the paper will argue for a more complex cultural relationship between the countries, especially through more popular forms of entertainment, than is sometimes acknowledged.

Jim Davis is Professor of Theatre Studies at the University of Warwick holds a BA (Hons) in English and MA from Oxford University and a PhD in Drama from Exeter University. He joined the University of Warwick in 2004 after eighteen years teaching Theatre Studies at the University of New South Wales in Sydney, where he was latterly Head of the School of Theatre, Film and Dance. In Australia he was also President of the Australasian Drama Studies Association (the tertiary association of drama teachers), and member of the Board of Studies of the National Institute of Dramatic Art. He was an assessor for the Australian National Playwrights’ Conference, and co-organiser of the first conference held in Australia by the International Federation for Theatre Research. Prior to leaving for Australia he spent ten years teaching in London at what is now Roehampton University.