Wednesday 16 October 2019

Molly McPhee

Miasmatic Performance: Carceral Atmospherics in the Theatre of Clean Break


Pests by Vivienne Franzmann. Photo by Jonathan Keenan

Pests by Vivienne Franzmann. Photo by Jonathan Keenan


In Clean Break’s Pests (2014), two rat-women scamper around a debris-strewn ‘nest’ of rotting mattresses; the company’s production Charged (2010) puts audiences on the case of a charged woman, yet the charge is never given or resolved; and the prison van of Sweatbox (2015-2016, 2019) drenches audiences in a slick of sweat, as women locked up in cells bang on the doors. In this presentation of doctoral research, I investigate the aesthetics that allow Clean Break Theatre Company, who work with women in prison and women at risk in the community, to plunge audiences into atmospheres of imprisonment, resilience and subversion at the theatre. Through an exploration of six plays made while I was a company member (2009-2015), I propose that concepts of prison and criminality in Clean Break’s theatre become porous, atmospheric events – miasmas as I argue here – which both elicit, and simultaneously confound, a collective desire to attribute a clear function for prison in society. Instead of treating prison as a setting through which storylines of incarceration move, in these productions ‘prison’ becomes a carceral logic, organising the dramaturgical semantics, temporalities and atmospheres of the play, to signify conditioning, coercive society at large. I call this ‘miasmatic performance.’ Miasmatic performance, I suggest, conjures juridical atmospheres, policing atmospheres and contagious atmospheres at the theatre. Yet while it works to reveal to audiences how the social imaginary of women and crime creates the material conditions for women to enter the criminal justice system, it also creates domains of solidarity, pleasure and radical subversion, designed to decompose carceral subject positions between performers and audience. A miasmatic register in these Clean Break productions becomes both hopeful, and encourages collective responsibility, as it provokes an affective experience of carceral power within audiences who are often only latently aware of their own participation in carceral society.


Molly McPhee is a doctoral candidate at the Victorian College of the Arts, University of Melbourne, and a Teaching Associate at Queen Mary University of London. Her publications include ‘Miasmatic Performance’ for Performance Research (2018); ‘“I don’t know why she’s crying”: Contagion and Criminality in Dream Pill and Little on the inside’ in Theatres of Contagion, edited by Fintan Walsh (2019); and ‘Theatre as Collective Casework’ in Applied Theatre: Women and Criminal Justice, edited by Caoimhe McAvinchey (2020). She holds an MFA from the California Institute of the Arts, and was the recipient of a Fulbright grant for research at University of Hamburg.


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Wednesday 2 October 2019

Some Thoughts on the Interdependence of Theatre & Dance


Kate Elswit  

Royal Central School of Speech and Drama

Wednesday 2nd October 2019, 6.30pm

Rehearsal Room 2, Arts One Building

This event consists of a short talk followed by a conversation between Kate Elswit and Nicholas Ridout. Following Elswit’s 2018 Theatre & Dance book, the talk traces a broad disciplinary and interdisciplinary set of concerns to argue that artificial divisions between theatre and dance in both academic and artistic spheres have overshadowed the interdependence between them. Key areas of focus are the interconnected ecosystems of practice in the past, the expansion of theatre and dance forms in the present, and the disciplinary methods that scholars use to understand both. The talk proposes an alternate genealogy of knowledge in which such ampersands are more the rule than the exception they are often seen to be. The conversation will unpick some of these threads and engage with the implications of this argument for researchers in our field(s).
Kate Elswit is a scholar–artist whose research on performing bodies combines dance history, performance studies theory, cultural studies, experimental practice and technology. She is the author of Watching Weimar Dance (2014), which won both the Oscar G. Brockett Book Prize for Dance Research and honorable mention for the Callaway Prize, and of Theatre & Dance (2018). With Harmony Bench, she leads the AHRC-funded digital humanities project “Dunham’s Data: Katherine Dunham and Digital Methods for Dance Historical Inquiry.” She received her PhD from the University of Cambridge, and is currently Reader in Theatre and Performance at the Royal Central School of Speech and Drama, University of London.

Everyone welcome

Refreshments will be served

Free of charge


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Quorum: QMUL Theatre and Performance Research Series 2018-2019

We would like to thank our speakers, the Queen Mary staff, and everyone who supported our sessions this year!

Quorum will return in September 2019 with a new committee and an exciting new programme of academic seminars.

Best wishes from the committee:
Vanessa MacAulay, Genna Gardini, Sarah Harper, and Tatjana Kijaniza

Wednesday 27th March 2019 


Nicholas Ridout

 Complex Smoking: Brecht, Tobacco and Bourgeois Philosophy



This paper explores a contradiction in Bertolt Brecht’s image of the ideal spectator as someone who watches while smoking. The contradiction lies in the fact that Brecht’s conception of such a spectator appears to depend upon an entirely bourgeois conception of knowledge, but is deployed as part of an attempt to produce a new and anti-bourgeois theatre. The exploration of this apparent contradiction moves by way of a consideration of the history of tobacco’s transatlantic transculturation. This exploration offers an opportunity to retrieve a history of the refunctioning of a social practice which Brecht’s smoker simultaneously promises and conceals. It suggests that attending to this forgetting might be one way of producing an alternative epistemology for the theatrical spectator.


Nicholas Ridout studied at Cambridge University and has a PhD from Birkbeck, University of London. He is currently Professor of Theatre at Queen Mary University of London, where he has taught since 2002. He is the author of Stage Fright, Animals and Other Theatrical Problems(Cambridge University Press, 2006), Theatre & Ethics (Palgrave, 2009) and Passionate Amateurs: Theatre, Communism and Love (Michigan, 2013). He is the co-author, with Claudia Castellucci, Romeo Castellucci, Chiara Guidi and Joe Kelleher, of The Theatre of Societas Raffaello Sanzio(Routledge 2007) and co-editor, with Joe Kelleher, of Contemporary Theatres in Europe(Routledge, 2006). His new book, Scenes from Bourgeois Life, is currently in preparation.

Wednesday 27 March 2019, 18.00

RR2 Arts One Building (Mile End Campus)

Everyone welcome

Refreshments will be served

Free admission

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With best wishes,

QUORUM Committee 2018-19

Vanessa MacAulay, Genna Gardini, Sarah Harper, Tatjana Kijaniza

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