Next London Theatre Seminar, 24 January 2019, 6:30 PM: Performing Oceans with Arabella Stanger (Sussex) and Matt Kerr (Southampton)

Dear colleagues,

Our first London Theatre Seminar for 2019 will take place on 24 January 2019 at 6:30 PM, at 11 Bedford Square (RHUL Central London), Room 1-01. Please note change of venue owing to the ongoing boycott of UoL Senate House.

We are delighted to host an interdisciplinary panel on “Performing Oceans” with Matt Kerr (Lecturer in British Literature, 1837-1939, University of Southampton) and Arabella Stanger (Lecturer in Drama: Theatre and Performance, University of Sussex). As usual, start time is 6:30 PM. The seminar will close at 8:30 PM, to reconvene in a local pub. Wine and refreshments will be served in the break.

We look forward to seeing you there!

Broderick, Louise, and Bryce

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JMW Turner, The Slave Ship, 1840

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Sondra Perry, Typhoon Coming On (Installation View), 2018

Performing Oceans

This panel presents new research on oceans and performance from the perspectives of literary studies and of performance and dance studies. Thinking about the sea’s capacity to conceal and be concealed, we explore contemporary works of film and video installation that in various ways reimagine the sea as a (non)place of social dispersal.

‘Seas Unseen’

As a number of critics have recently pointed out (Urry 2014, Mack 2013, Blum 2010), the most distinctive feature of the sea in modernity is its disappearance. In spite of the surge in international shipping since the nineteenth century, and advances in marine science and oceanography, the sea has faded gradually from view, both literally and figuratively. As Allan Sekula put it in 1995, ‘The metropolitan gaze no longer falls upon the waterfront, and a cognitive blankness follows.’ Thus, although central to histories of trade, exploration, and cultural exchange which have shaped our modern world, oceans are the hidden spaces of modernity, represented as a vast empty terrain, a sublime realm of spiritual purity, or an out-of-sight zone of resource extraction, waste disposal, and dispersal. Using a new short film by the artist Simon Roberts as a test case, and focussing on the port at Southampton as a particular example, this paper takes some steps toward addressing that blankness by considering what strategies of visualisation might be appropriate for representing it. Also drawing on examples from J. M. W. Turner, Jane Austen, and John Keats, I will consider the links between the sea’s occlusion, modernity, labour, sublimity, and boredom.

Matt Kerr is a Lecturer in British Literature from 1837 to 1939 at the University of Southampton. His research centres on Victorian literature and culture. His work on the sea spans both well-known figures— Dickens, Mill, Ruskin—and neglected ones, such as Captain Marryat. His articles have appeared in Essays in Criticism, Review of English Studies, and Dickens Studies Annual, among other places.

‘Bodily Wreckage and the Middle Passage in Sondra Perry’s Typhoon Coming On (2018)’

In Sondra Perry’s installation Typhoon Coming On (2018) a digitally manipulated ocean flows around three walls of London’s Serpentine gallery, drawing visitors into the catastrophic seascape of a nineteenth-century abolitionist painting. The projection reworks J. M. W. Turner’s The Slave Ship (1840), depicting the Zong massacre of 1781 where the captain of a British slave ship threw 133 enslaved people overboard to claim compensation for their loss as ‘property’. A maritime catastrophe revealing antiblackness and finance capital to be co-constitutive phenomena, the Zong massacre provides both artists with the means to contemplate the Atlantic as a site for the transformation of bodily wreckage into economic salvage. This paper focusses on Perry’s remediation of Turner’s painting by thinking through their mobilizations of bodies-in-the-water. Where Turner figures brown limbs as debris in a tormented sea, Perry’s work melts Turner’s scene into a tranquil surround where the absence of detritus calls to the invisibilized, structural violence with which colonial modernity secures its futures. Perry’s is an anti-racist installation that moves its visitors beyond the moral content of Turner’s painting. In her dispersal of bodily wreckage from the Middle Passage, Perry presents that sea-born calamity as neither exceptional event punctuating the history of seafaring nor allegory for the tragedy of the slave trade but as the very foundation of racial capitalism.

Arabella Stanger is Lecturer in Drama: Theatre and Performance at the University of Sussex. Her work moves across dance and performance studies and explores the sociopolitical nature of choreography. Her current book project excavates the histories of spatial and racial dispossession underwriting idealistic dances of the Euro-American theatre dance canon, and she is embarking on new research into histories of maritime protest.

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Next London Theatre Seminar, 13 December 2018 at 6:30 PM, with Alyson Campbell (VCA, Melbourne)

UPDATE: VENUE CHANGE

Tonight’s London Theatre Seminar will now take place at Birkbeck School of Arts, 43 Gordon Square, WC1H 0PD, room G02. This is to respect the current academic boycott of the University of London Senate House.

We are delighted to welcome Alyson Campbell from Victorian College of the Arts, University of Melbourne. As usual, start time is 6:30 PM. The seminar will close at 8:30 PM, to reconvene in a local pub. Wine and refreshments will be served.

We hope to see you there!
Broderick, Louise, & Bryce

Going Feral: queerly de-domesticating the institution (and running wild).
My current work looks at the position of the queer-identifying theatre practitioner-scholar and interrogates their relationship to the academy and, to a lesser extent, the theatre ‘industry’. The queer-identified artist, like the queer-identified researcher, is always functioning in a deeply ambivalent position. What does it mean, when one of the fundamental principles of queer is that it sets itself up against what is normative, for this queer-identified person to exist within, be paid or salaried within, or seek approval from, one or more of these institutions? What happens to (their) queerness? The parallels between theatre and the academy are close and multiple; I suggest this is particularly so around the field of queer Practice as Research (PaR). I will reference some of my recent PaR work on HIV and AIDS in performance, GL RY/WHoLE (Belfast, 2016) and some ‘feral androgogies’ at the Outburst Queer Arts Festival (2018), to argue that the uncomfortably-placed queer artist-scholar might appropriate a feral modus operandi in order to radically de-domesticate the domesticating strictures and privileges of these institutions. In other words, to take the money and knowledge and run wild.
Alyson Campbell is an Associate Professor in Theatre at the Victorian College of the Arts, Faculty of Fine Arts and Music, The University of Melbourne, and is a theatre director. She was co-founder and co-convenor of IFTR’s Queer Futures working group 2011-14. Her research, practice and teaching share a focus on gender and queer theories and performance practices, affect in theatre, dramaturgy, and HIV and AIDS in performance. She has published widely on queer performance, including as co-editor with Stephen Farrier of Queer Dramaturgies: International Perspectives on Where Performance Leads Queer (Palgrave, 2015) and co-editor with Dirk Gindt of Viral Dramaturgies: HIV and AIDS in Performance in the Twenty-First Century (Palgrave, 2018). Alyson collaborates regularly with long-time her creative partner, playwright Lachlan Philpott, through their queer performance assemblage wreckedallProds.


Next London Theatre Seminar: 15 November 2018 at 6:30 PM, with Prarthana Purkayastha (RHUL) and Janet O’Shea (UCLA)

Dear colleagues,

Our next London Theatre Seminar will take place on Thursday, 15 November 2018 in the University of London Senate House (Room G26). We are delighted to feature two speakers tonight, Prarthana Purkayastha from Royal Holloway, University of London, and Janet O’Shea, from the University of California Los Angeles. As usual, start time is 6:30 PM. The seminar will close at 8:30 PM, to reconvene in a local pub. Wine and refreshments will be served.

We hope to see you there!

Broderick, Louise, & Bryce

Decolonizing Human Exhibits: dance, re-enactment and historical fiction
This lecture-performance focuses on decolonizing exhibition practices and colonial archives. It begins with a survey of literature on nineteenth-century colonial exhibitions and world’s fairs as a cultural practice and the complicity of academic disciplines such as anthropology and ethnology in promoting violent forms of pedagogy. It examines the failed Liberty’s 1885 exhibition in London, specifically analyzing the nautch dancers whose moving bodies both engaged and disrupted the scopophilia framing such live human exhibits. The talk examines how re-imagining the Liberty’s nautch experiences by embodying archival slippages might be a usefully anarchic way of exhuming the memories of those dancers forgotten by both British and Indian nationalist history. The talk will discuss the structural limitations of reenactments, a current trend in contemporary Euro-American dance, and argues that historical fiction as a corporeal methodology might be a viable decolonizing strategy for dance studies.

Prarthana Purkayastha is Senior Lecturer in Dance at Royal Holloway University of London. Her monograph Indian Modern Dance, Feminism and Transnationalism (2014) won the 2015 de la Torre Bueno Prize from the Society of Dance History Scholars and the 2015 Outstanding Publication Award from the Congress on Research in Dance. She has published in Performance Research, Dance Research Journal, Asian Theatre Journal and CLIO: Women, Gender, History, among others. Prarthana is currently working on the British Academy/Leverhulme funded project ‘Decolonising the Body: Dance and Visual Arts in Modern India.’ Her research examines race, gender and nationhood through dance.

MMA Progressives and Far-Right Fight Clubs: Martial Arts as a Model for Agonistic Democracy

I have spent the last few years writing about physicalized opposition in combat sport, exploring how full contact martial art practices such as sparring and grappling differentiate themselves from violence even as they use the components of violence. In my book, Risk, Failure, Play: What Dance Reveals about Martial Arts Training, I suggest that martial arts provide an opportunity for practicing disagreement with respect, engaging a sense of oppositional civility that neither assumes all viewpoints are equally valid nor that opposition is inherently suspect. As such, when handled with reflection and intention, martial arts have the potential to act as a space where, in Chantal Mouffe’s terms, participants can rehearse agonistics. In the face of rising right-wing populism, opportunities to practice radical democracy are both rare and necessary.

Two recent, unrelated events complicate, and potentially deepen, this consideration of combat sport as a site of agonistic respect: the appearance of far-right mixed martial arts leagues or “fascist fight clubs” and the election of the Sharice Davids, former pro-MMA fighter and grassroots progressive, to Congress. In this talk, I examine the nuances and contradictions that these examples reveal within martial arts practicing, considering if and in what ways combat sport can operate as a practice of radical democracy.

Janet O’Shea is author of Risk, Failure, Play: What Dance Reveals about Martial Arts Training (2018, Oxford University Press) and At Home in the World: Bharata Natyam on the Global Stage (2007, Wesleyan University Press). Recipient of a UCLA Transdisciplinary Seed Grant to study the cognitive benefits of Filipino Martial Arts training, she gave a TEDx Talk on competitive play and has offered keynote presentations at the Martial Arts Studies conference and Dance/Performance in Interdisciplinary Perspective Symposium. Her essays have been published in five languages and seven countries. She is professor of World Arts and Cultures/Dance at UCLA.


Next London Theatre Seminar, 18 October 2018: PG Panel with Martin Young (QMUL) and Jaz Blackwell-Pal (Birkbeck)

Dear colleagues,

Our next London Theatre Seminar will take place on Thursday, 18 October 2018 in the University of London Senate House (Room G26). This will be a postgraduate panel featuring Martin Young (QMUL) and Jaz Blackwell-Pal (Birkbeck). 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, & Bryce

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Bread and Theatre: Price-Riots and Commodification
Martin Young

The price-riots which disrupted London’s theatres in the mid-eighteenth century have generally been read through the lens of the formation of the public sphere and as the contestation of the relative authority of managers and audiences in theatrical culture. Here, I present price-riots in a different context: as a revealing historical background to more recent debates about theatre’s ambivalent status as a commodity. This perspective helps situate the politically problematic comparison that is often made between theatre riots and bread riots; moving beyond superficial similarity, this paper pursues the relationship between theatre and food through their specific relations of commodification and consumption.

Martin Young is a doctoral candidate and Teaching Associate at Queen Mary University of London. His research focuses on backstage labour and the political economy of the theatre industry. He also works as a freelance lighting and sound technician at a range of London venues.

Generating ‘the joy of Pret’
Jaz Blackwell-Pal

At Pret a Manger emotional labour is central to the business and its brand. Staff at the chain are expected to provide ‘genuinely’ happy, enthusiastic customer service and their behaviour is both encouraged and measured – for example, by allowing staff to distribute free food to customers of their choosing, and through the use of mystery shoppers and collectivised discipline. Pret’s methods exemplify wider trends within the food and hospitality industry, where increasing emphasis is placed on the creation of ‘experience’, ‘buzz’ and ‘authenticity’. For staff at these businesses, going to work now involves performing desired characteristics, perfecting skills in emotional management and becoming confident in improvisation and interaction. Drawing from recent interviews with Pret employees, this research argues for the similarities between such work and that of classically trained actors in the Stanislavskian tradition, focusing in particular, on the ways in which selfhood and authenticity are conceived of, and enacted, in the workplace.

Jaswinder is a PhD student in Arts and Humanities at Birkbeck College. Her research is interdisciplinary, combining insights from theatre and performance studies with methods from the social sciences to examine the rise of ’emotional labour’ in the service sector, and its similarities with the work of professional actors.


Next London Theatre Seminar: 26 April 2018, Postgraduate Panel with Cathy Sloan (RCSSD) and Sarah Bartley (QMUL) **Please note venue change**

Our next London Theatre Seminar will be 26 April 2018 and will be a postgraduate panel with Cathy Sloan (RCSSD) and Sarah Bartley (QMUL).

Owing to the cleaner’s strike at Senate House on 26 April, the seminar will instead take place at Birkbeck School of Arts, 43 Gordon Square, WC1H 0PD, room G10.

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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Pins, Spoons, Bowls and Gongs: The Materiality of Recoverist Performance.

The phrase ‘people, places and things’ is not just the title of Headlong Theatre’s West End production written by Duncan MacMillan, but is most commonly found in the recovery parlance of Twelve Step recovery meetings. For people in early recovery from addiction, previous associations of human and non-human form are potential triggers for relapse. Nonetheless, it is these past associations that form the very materiality of their lived experience. To move beyond addiction must therefore involve a readjustment in the very fabric of one’s relations in the world.

My performance practice and research is underpinned by an interpretation of affect theory which understands our way of being-in-the-world as an ‘ecology of processes’ (Erin Manning, 2013). I explore applied theatre practice as an ‘affective performance ecology’ that considers how the affective experience of theatre-making may contribute to our capacity to affect and be affected. Combined with practices of recovery from addiction, theatrical performance can generate sensation that can open the potential for change by forming newly imagined relations with people, places or things.

As Jane Bennett (2010) highlighted, the narcissistic reflex of human language and thought underestimates the power of the non-human. Similarly, the ‘things’ in MacMillan’s People, Places, Things are primarily a prop for the exposition of the subjective experience of its main character, Emma. Reflecting on two examples of practice (my collaboration with Simon Mason to stage his autobiography Too Far Too High Too Soon and FK Alexander’s radical sound performance Recovery), I analyse how objects associated with addiction and recovery might become affective agents in socially engaged performance, generating a ‘recoverist’ political affect.

Cathy Sloan has worked as a teacher, facilitator and director/theatre-maker. She was Associate and later Artistic Director of Outside Edge Theatre Company, specialising in performance with and by people in recovery from drug and/or alcohol addiction. Currently she is a PhD candidate at the Royal Central School of Speech and Drama, exploring an affective ecology of theatre-making that supports practices of recovery. She was awarded the TaPRA essay prize 2017 and is also a co-opted member of the TaPRA post-graduate committee 2018.

‘Sitting Idle’: The Prison Workshop and Economies of Participation

A desire to reconceive of prisons as ‘industrious places of productive work’ was central to the UK Coalition government’s penal reforms (MoJ, 2011: 3). In 2012 the then Justice Secretary, Kenneth Clarke, identified prisoners as ‘simply a wasted resource – thousands of hours of manpower sitting idle’ (Clarke, 2012). In this paper, I examine prison performance projects and interrogate how they intervene in and operate alongside the contentious legal status of the prisoner in relation to work, labour, and remuneration. In doing so, I argue that the figure of the paid prisoner participant is generative for understanding the idiosyncratic economies of participation within applied performance more broadly.

I use histories of labour in prison to reflect on the rhetorical and economic transition of the prisoner from idle to industrious and consider how this relates to discourses of instrumentality in applied performance practice. Against this backdrop I explore practices of payment for participants, increased levels of volunteerism among emerging practitioners, and the reproductive labour of non-public prison performances to reveal how the status of worker and non-worker is subverted in this site. This paper points to the ways in which prison arts projects can reconstitute notions of work and, as such, advocates for increased attention to the economic conditions of participation in applied arts practice.

Sarah Bartley recently completed a PhD in Drama at Queen Mary, University of London. She is a visiting lecturer at Queen Mary; Royal Central School of Speech and Drama; and Goldsmiths, University of London. Her research explores artistic representations of the welfare state, with a particular focus on participatory practices engaging unemployed people. She is also a community arts practitioner and has worked with a number of prison arts organisations including Rideout, Unlock Drama, and Shifting Point. Sarah’s work has been published in Research in Drama Education and has been presented at a number of national and international conferences.


Performance and Sport Panel: Recorded Talks

Unfortunately, owing to this week’s snowfall across the UK, our two speakers for the Performance and Sport panel hosted by London Theatre Seminar / Dynamic Tensions were unable to travel to give their talks.

However, both Solomon Lennox and Claire Warden were kind enough to record their talks to share with an online audience. Please share!

Towards a Heterotopology of the Boxing Ring on the Contemporary Stage, by Dr P. Solomon Lennox

‘Rest in peace’: performing silence in professional wrestling

Youtube videos for Claire’s Talk:

0:34 (The Undertaker vs. Mankind)

8:44 (The Nexus Invasion — starting at 14:20)

19:19 (Shinsuke Nakamusa Debut)


Next London Theatre Seminar: Theatre and Sport Panel with Solomon Lennox (Northumbria) and Claire Warden (De Monfort)

Dear all,

We are pleased to announce a seminar on Theatre and Sport, in conjunction with the Dynamic Tensions Research Network for Theatre, Performance, Sport, and Physical Culture. Our speakers will be Dr Solomon Lennox of Northumbria University, and Dr Claire Warden of De Monfort University, and the seminar will investigate the theatrical/sportive stage of the boxing and wrestling ring.

It takes place 1 March 2018 in the University of London Senate House (Room G35). 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.

Please note that our panel on Performing Oceans with Arabella Stanger and Matthew Kerr has been postponed.

Theatre and Sport Seminar: Staging the Boxing and Wrestling Ring

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The Royale, by Marco Ramirez. The Old Globe, San Diego

Towards a Heterotopology of the Boxing Ring on the Contemporary Stage

Boxing rings have the potential to be heterotopias, wherein specific and peculiar heterochronic performance practice takes place. Boxing rings as counter-sites are capable of juxtaposing in the single real place several spaces. They are part crisis heterotopia and part heterotopia of deviation; spaces of the illusory and spaces that are other. Boxing rings are paradoxical spaces. They close in on their boxer-occupants to produce feelings of isolation and loneliness, whilst simultaneously providing temporal, sensorial, and spatial openings, which disturb isolating boundaries by producing networks of connection. This paper provides a heterotopology of the boxing ring on the contemporary stage and grapples with the paradoxical nature of boxing rings as heterotopias. The main arguments are framed through a reading of the ring activity of two professional fighters, Naseem Hamed and Sugar Ray Leonard. This is followed by an examination of Marco Ramirez’s The Royale and Kemp Powers’ One Night in Miami in order to produce a heterotopology of the boxing ring on the contemporary stage.

Solomon Lennox is Lecturer in Performing Arts at Northumbria University. His research sits within the field of performance studies, particularly performance ethnography, and explores the relationship between physical performance practices (such as training and competing in combat sports) and narrative identity. As a freelance contemporary practitioner, Solomon works with butoh, psychophysical acing approaches, and martial arts-based movement. Solomon has recently worked with Burn the Curtain, a site-specific theatre company that creates immersive performance events. Solomon is the Treasurer of the Standing Conference of University Drama Departments (SCUDD). His research has been supported by the HEA, and he has published in the journals, Theatre Dance and Performance Training, and Sport in Society. Solomon has also produced a chapter for the edited collection, Performance and the Medical Body.

‘Rest in peace’: performing silence in professional wrestling

The ‘squared circle’ of professional wrestling is a space, in Nicholas Sammond’s words, of ‘blood, sweat and spit’. Contemporary professional wrestling is a noisy, visceral performance form full of shouting antagonism, booming pyrotechnics and crashing bodies. Undeniably it is, in Roland Barthes’s famous phrase, a ‘spectacle of excess’.

However, in honour of The Undertaker’s recent Wrestlemania retirement, this paper takes a different tack. While it acknowledges professional wrestling’s raucous, glitzy spectacle, it seeks to uncover another contradictory facet, claiming professional wrestling as a mode that increasingly plays with the notion of silence. As part of the US-based behemoth the WWE (World Wrestling Entertainment), The Undertaker’s dead man persona has always used silence in interesting ways. But, I suggest, silence is a recurring motif, especially in the modern product. It can be an awkward barrier to successful performance, a means of ‘voicing’ fan displeasure, or, indeed, a key part of a storyline, increasing tension or allowing a stronger focus on the physical action.

This paper explores ideas from Martin Heidegger, Mikhail Bakhtin and Judith Butler, alongside specific moments in professional wrestling history to make a case for the importance of silence. Ultimately silence, once an obstacle to the success of a professional wrestling show, has become a powerful method of creating character, establishing narratives or encouraging ‘heat’. It is also now a potent way of disturbing the contemporary Twitter-led, neon-t-shirt-dominated clatter of modern pro-wrestling.

Claire Warden is Reader in Drama at De Montfort University. Her research interests include modernism, theatre history, performance practice and sport. She is the author of ‘British Avant-Garde Theatre’ (2012), ‘Modernist and Avant-Garde Performance: an introduction’ (2015), and ‘Migrating Modernist Performance: British Theatrical Travels through Russia’ (2016, funded by the British Academy). She is also co-editor of the 2016 ‘Performance and Professional Wrestling’ and the academic lead for the public engagement project ‘Wrestling Resurgence’.