For 2014-15 the committee were:

  • Sarah Barnes
  • Lewis Church
  • Helen Gush
  • Emily Hunka
  • Eleanor Massie
  • Philip Watkinson

Wednesday 1st October 2014

Dr Aoife Monks, Queen Mary University

Dancing Machines: Virtuosity, Nostalgia and Modernity

This paper engages with the concept of virtuosity, examining the role of technique, entrepreneurialism and nostalgia in the performance of Stage Irishness. I examine the twin figures of Dion Boucicault in the mid-19th Century and Michael Flatley in the 1990s and noughties. These are both diasporic Irish figures that have been lauded and reviled for their virtuosity as performers, as ‘authors’ (Boucicault as playwright of Irish melodramas and Flatley as choreographer of Riverdance and other spectacular dance shows), and as theatrical entrepreneurs, with their financial acumen forming a companion narrative to their theatrical success. Notably, both Boucicault and Flatley produce nostalgia through the highly skilled figure of the Irish dancer. In both cases, Irish dance offers the fantasy of escape from, and amelioration of, the disorienting experience of modernity – but the modernity that they engage with is very different – Boucicault’s industrial landscape contrasting with the post-Fordist service economies that Flatley’s work emerged from.  Examining the industrial roots of Irish dance, its use onstage and in state-organised competitions, this article will argue that the highly skilled dancing body enables a set of nostalgic fantasies that both ameliorate the audience’s anxieties about modernity and simultaneously induct them into the very affective structures that they so long to escape.

Aoife Monks is a Reader in Theatre Studies at Queen Mary University of London. She is the author of The Actor in Costume (Palgrave, 2010) and the forthcoming Readings in Costume with the designer Ali Mclaurin (Palgrave Macmillan). She is co-editor of Contemporary Theatre Review Journal and is currently working on a monograph on virtuosity and stageIrishness.

Wednesday 8th October 2014

Making Verbatim Theatre: a discussion between Lloyd Newson, Alecky Blythe and Chris Goode

A joint event hosted with QMUL’s  Centre for the History of the Emotions.

Verbatim Theatre is a form of theatre where the text is based on testimonials from real people. In this talk, Lloyd Newson (QMUL Artist in residence), Chris Goode and Alecky Blythe, who have all created successful verbatim plays, will explain why they chose this medium. They will compare their different working methods and discuss why truth, authenticity and responsibility are recurring themes in the production of verbatim plays. The talk will be chaired by Dr Maggie Inchley, lecturer in drama at Queen Mary, University of London.

 Wednesday 29th October 2014

Professor Helen Nicholson, Royal Holloway, University of London

Affective Geographies of the Ballot Box: Voting as a Performative Practice

This paper tells the story of one solo, rural walk to the Polling Station in May 2014, and uses this narrative to explore how issues of subjectivity, temporality and spatiality are refracted in the experience of voting. It takes the history of a suffrage campaigner and actress who lived locally to explore how communities of memory might be implicated in contemporary acts of voting. Stephen Coleman’s concept of democratic sensibility informs this journey, a term he uses to bring together the aesthetic, sensory and affective dimensions of everyday life with constitutional proceduralism. Helen Nicholson is Professor of Theatre and Drama at Royal Holloway University. She joined the university in 2000 from the Faculty of Education at the University of Cambridge, where she lectured in

Helen Nicholson is Professor of Theatre and Drama at Royal Holloway University. She joined the university in 2000 from the Faculty of Education at the University of Cambridge, where she lectured in drama for undergraduate and PGCE courses. For the last decade, her focus has on contemporary theatre and applied drama, and she has worked in schools, care homes for the elderly, day centres for people with head injuries, prisons, hostels for the homeless and orphanages in Africa. Recent research focuses on theatre in education and how far theatre and performance practices are compatible with learning, public engagement and civic participation. Her book  Theatre, Education and Performance: The Map and the Story was awarded the Distinguished Book Award by the American Alliance for Theatre and Education in 2012.   Helen is principal investigator for a major AHRC funded research project, Amateur Dramatics: Crafting Communities in Time and Space. and is also currently leading a research project in residential care homes for older adults, many with dementia and the contribution made by artists to the emotional geographies of older adults.Helen is co-editor of the leading international journal in applied theatre and drama education, RiDE: The Journal of Applied Theatre and Performance, published by Routledge, and serves on the international board of the journal The Applied Theatre Research.

Wednesday 12th November 2014

Dr Joslin McKinney, University of Leeds

Contraptions and assemblages: scenography and spectatorship

A contraption is an intricate, elaborate mechanism. In the context of theatre, scenographic ‘contraptions’ frame and shape the stage space and intervene in the physical performance. Sometimes these contraptions seem to overstep their mark and are seen to be cumbersome or excessive. At other times their action is more effectively integrated to the performance as a whole and they can be considered more as a contribution to a conglomeration of parts or as actants within an assemblage. Often the behaviour of stage objects has been discussed either in relation to or as an extension of, the actor (e.g. Sofer, McAuley). But I want to look at these contraptions as active elements in their own right and focus on the ways in which they work on the spectator. The examples I will refer to will include work such as Royal de Luxe’s giant puppets, Kris Verdonck’s installations such as Actor#1, Heiner Goebbels’ Stifter’s Dinger and Verdenteatret’s The Telling Orchestra, but I will also make reference to examples from the past such as Lyubov Popova’s set for the Magnanimous Cuckold, and the ‘poor’ objects and ‘bio-objects’ of Tadeusz Kantor. I will be focusing on the materiality and agency of the things themselves and the ways in which contraptions make an active and agentive contribution to the aesthetic event. To do this I will call on the ideas of affordance (J J Gibson), draw on phenomenological and new materialist perspectives (Tim Ingold and Jane Bennett).

Joslin McKinney is an Associate Professor in Scenography at the University of Leeds, UK and Programme Manager for the MA in Performance Design at Leeds. Joslin has a first degree in Theatre Design and 10 years professional experience as a set and costume designer. In 2008 she was awarded a PhD for her practice-led study into the communication of scenography. She is lead author of the Cambridge Introduction to Scenography (CUP, 2009) and has published articles and chapters on the spectacle of scenography, empathy and exchange in scenography and scenographic research methods. Joslin was co-director of the Performance Studies international (PSi) conference in Leeds, UK, 2012 and a member of the PSi board from 2011 -2013. In April 2014 she directed Performance, Place, Possibility, a one day symposium aimed at exploring ways in which the relationships between performance and place impact on audiences, communities, citizens and the city which was organised in tandem with Ludus Festival Leeds: http://ludusfestival.org

Wednesday 26th November 2014

Diana Damian, Royal Holloway University/Royal Central School of Speech &

DramaCriticism as a political event in the public sphere: Resistance, Affect and the construction of political subjectivity 
This paper concerns itself with the relationship between criticism and the public sphere under neoliberalism. I do so through the poetics of the critical figure that mutates and migrates criticism in the contexts that render it visible conceptually, politically or formally.  I examine the ways in which criticism as a political event emerges within the public sphere. Under the current political, cultural and ideological circumstances, criticism can no longer be positioned as a process of mediation; this would fundamentally appropriate an assumption disproven by contemporary critiques of the public sphere that there is a sole carrier of public opinion within contemporary society. I consider the ways in which political subjectivity informs the figure of criticism under these circumstances. I touch on processes of manufacturing of political subjectivity via two lenses: Eva Ilouz’s concept of emotional capitalism and Jennifer Doyle’s articulation of difficulty in contemporary art. Questions of individual versus collective will be implicitly considered in close relationship to notions of public and private, as elements implicated in the construction and performance of political subjectivity.

Diana Damian is a critic, writer and dramaturg working in the fields of theatre and performance criticism, live art and contemporary dramaturgies. In her work on criticism, she draws on cultural and literary theory, political philosophy, affect studies and performance studies to examine notions of judgment, discourse, action and process in the context of contemporary criticism and performance in neoliberal societies. As a critic, she has published extensively in both print and online in the UK, France, Belgium, Germany, Czech Republic and Romania, for Scenes, Divadlo andTheaterHeute, amongst others. She is co-founderofWritingshop, a collaborative, pan-European project examining the processes and politics of contemporary critical practice, and Institute of Critical Practice, a nomadic [non]organisation that aims to explore the ways in which criticism currently manifests itself in contemporary performance as a mode of inquiry and production, strategy for visibility and practice of dissemination. She has taken part in numerous European residencies exploring the meeting point between performance making and critical practice and has collaborated with a range of festivals as a mentor and writer, including Spill Festival of Performance and Next Wave Festival, Australia.Criticism as a political event in the public sphere: Resistance, Affect and the construction of political subjectivity.

Wednesday 10th December 2014

Jamie Lewis Hadley, Artist’s Talk

Wednesday 14th January 2015

Matthew Shlomowitz, University of Southampton

The Theatre of Music Making

With performances by dancer Nefeli Skarmea and percussionist Serge Vuille, composer Matthew Shlomowitz discusses the incorporation of interdisciplinary elements within his recent work.

Nefeli Skarmea (b.1977, Athens, Greece) is an independent curator and performer, living and working in London and Berlin. She studied at the Royal Ballet School in London and at the Codarts in Rotterdam and danced with various theatres and independent companies, among others, Alias/Guilherme Botelho, Sergiu Matis, Colette Sadler, and Toula Limnaios. In 2012 she worked in the project management team of dOCUMENTA (13) in Kassel. In 2013 she completed an MA on Curating at the Academy of Visual Arts Leipzig. Nefeli is interested in the intersection between choreography and exhibition space; thereby redefining her artistic approach over the past few years and collaborating more often with visual artists, such as Martin Creed, Claire Fontaine, Joanna Piotrowska and Marina Abramovic.

Serge Vuille is a Swiss freelance percussionist established in London. He co-curates the contemporary music series Kammer Klang based at Cafe Oto in London and in 2008 founded ‘We Spoke’ : New Music Company, which performs in Switzerland and internationally. Serge performs regularly as a soloist, drums with the Martin Creed Band, baroque timpani with the Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment and Music for Awhile, and plays with ensembles such as the BBC Symphony Orchestra, London Sinfonietta, London Philharmonic Orchestra, London Contemporary Orchestra, Colleguim Novum Zurich, Nouvel Ensemble Contemporain and Usinesonore Festival.  He is a professor at the Royal College of Music in London where he coaches the RCM percussion ensemble and lectures in experimental music.

Matthew Shlomowitz (b.1975, Adelaide, Australia) is a composer of concert music and performance pieces. He has received commissions from the Adelaide (Australia), Maerzmusik (Germany), Huddersfield (UK), Transit (Belgium) and Ultima (Norway) festivals. He has two ongoing projects: Popular Contexts, a series of pieces combining field recordings with instrumental music; and Letter Pieces, which combine physical actions, music and text. He formed the Letter Piece Company with dancer Shila Anaraki and together they created a one-hour theatre work, “A to Zzz”, for five performers that was premièred at Vooruit in Gent in 2012. Matthew is Lecturer in Composition at University of Southampton and co-directs the new music ensemble Plus Minus.

Wednesday 28th January 2015

Clark Baim, Birmingham Institute of Psychodrama/Exeter University

Applied Theatre and Personal Narrative – Ethical and aesthetic considerations when people’s personal stories are used in performance.

This workshop focuses on the risks, responsibilities and ethics associated with performance that uses the personal stories of participants.  We will examine a decision-making model I have developed for applied theatre artists/practitioners who incorporate the personal stories of participants into their work. I call this model the Drama Spiral (the ‘Spiral’).  The Spiral is intended to offer a clear and effective means for safely regulating the degree of distance and focus as required in any drama-based process, from single sessions to long-term groups. The Spiral is designed to help facilitators ensure that material and issues explored are pitched at the right level of dramatic distance in order to maintain safety and respect for personal and ethical boundaries. At the outer edge of the Spiral are purely fictional characters and scenarios, or shared cultural and art practices such as dancing, singing, playing music or taking part in cultural rituals, while at the centre of the Spiral are highly personal characters and scenes.

Clark Baim, M. Ed. is a Senior Trainer in Psychodrama Psychotherapy (UKCP, BPA) and Co-Director of the Birmingham Institute for Psychodrama in the UK. In 1987 he was the founding Director of Geese Theatre Company UK, a company focusing on the use of applied drama in criminal justice settings. He has facilitated theatre-based workshops in more than 200 prisons and probation centres in the USA, UK, Ireland, South Africa and Australia, and has worked in 17 countries. He is currently the Chair of Geese Theatre Company’s Board of Trustees. He is the recipient of the David Kipper Scholar’s Award from the American Society of Group Psychotherapy and Psychodrama. Clark is a past Honorary Fellow of the University of Birmingham, a Fellow of the Berry Street Childhood Institute in Melbourne, Australia, and a founding member of the International Association for the Study of Attachment. He is a M. Phil. /PhD candidate at the University of Exeter, studying applied theatre and performance. A native of Chicago, he has lived and worked in the UK for 28 years.

A recording of Clark’s talk can be found here

Wednesday 11th February 2015

Katie Beswick, Queen Mary University of London

The Council Estate as Hood: Grass-roots arts practice as cultural politics

The popular media discourse surrounding British social housing estates (or ‘council estates’ as they are colloquially known) depicts a state of crisis. This was highlighted during the UK riots in the summer of 2011, when the ‘crisis’ of the council estate became a point of focus for those seeking to explain the motivations of the rioters. Many scholars (see for example: Reay and Lucey 2000, McKenzie 2009, Rogaly and Taylor 2011) have pointed to the damaging effect that such stigmatising representations have on council estate residents. McKenzie argues that negative representations work as part of a series of structures which reify the council estate as the space of the dangerous criminal ‘other’ (McKenzie 2009:23).

However, contemporary representations of the council estate and its inhabitants also resonate with the definition of the ‘hood’ offered by Richardson and Skott-Myhre. In their edited collection Habitus of the Hood (2012) they argue that the hood (an abbreviation of ‘neighbourhood’ often used in North American slang to refer to the urban inner city) is subject to damaging, negative representations while it is, at the same time, paradoxically fetishised in spectacular and seductive narratives of ‘community’.  Within this context, Richardson and Skott-Myhre propose that ‘creative works produced within the hood and outside of it (re)present a cultural politics’ (2012: 22). This paper will examine the ways in which grass-roots artists and activists have responded to the discourse of ‘crisis’ and the correlating fetishisation of the council estate in popular representation. Drawing on an understanding of ‘council estate as hood’, developed from Richardson and Skott-Myhre’s work, I will argue that these grass-practices constitute cultural politics and are part of a significant oppositional global discourse.

Katie joined Queen Mary in September 2014, after completing her doctoral research at the University of Leeds, where she also worked as a Research Associate, teaching across degree programmes in the School of Performance and Cultural Industries. Her PhD thesis examined the representation of council estates in 21st Century performance practices, with a focus on space, place and socially engaged theatre. Outside academia she has worked as a writer, performer, facilitator of applied theatre and as a housing officer.

A recording of Katie’s talk can be found here.

Wednesday 4th March 2015

Jacqueline Bolton, James Hudson & Agnes Woolley, University of Lincoln/Royal Holloway University of London

‘Britain’s Ambassadors’: The British Council 1939-1989

The British Council, originally known as ‘The British Committee for Relations with Other Countries’ was established with the support of the Foreign Office in 1934. The creation of the Committee, soon Council, brought together a coalition of interests, from government departments, industry, arts and science, to actively promote an understanding of Britain across the world, as well as develop closer cultural and commercial links with other countries.

In January 2014, Dr Jacqueline Bolton (University of Lincoln), Dr James Hudson (University of Lincoln) and Dr Agnes Woolley (Royal Holloway, University of London) were awarded funding from the University of Lincoln to conduct a pilot research project investigating the archives of the British Council, held at the National Archives, Kew. The focus of this project, “‘Britain’s Ambassadors’: The British Council 1930-1989”, was the Arts Division of the British Council, which is comprised of five departments: Literature, Music, Film, Dance and Drama, Fine (latterly Visual) Arts, and, the most recently founded, Architecture, Design and Fashion.

This research seminar will discuss the aims and objectives of the research, together with our preliminary findings regarding the scope, content and organisation of the archives; it will also present a more in-depth look at two different areas of the archives, by way of indicating the sort of material the archive contains and its potential for future scholarship. The first of these case studies, delivered by Dr Woolley, will consider the work of the British Council within a postcolonial context, focusing on examples from its film and literature departments. The second will be delivered by Dr Hudson, and focus upon the British Council’s support for touring drama overseas between 1946 and 1966. The seminar will conclude with an open discussion regarding the potential of the British Council archive to illuminate significant periods of social, cultural and political history.

Jacqueline Bolton is a Lecturer of Theatre and Drama in College of Arts. After graduating from Royal Holloway, University of London in 2005, Jacqueline completed an MA in Arts Criticism at City University, London, before taking up an AHRC-funded Collaborative Doctoral Award at the University of Leeds in conjunction with West Yorkshire Playhouse. Upon successful completion of her doctoral thesis, ‘Demarcating Dramaturgy: Mapping Theory onto Practice’, she was appointed Post-Graduate Research Assistant on the AHRC-funded project, ‘Giving Voice to the Nation: The Arts Council of Great Britain and the Development of Theatre and Performance in Britain 1945-1995’, a joint research venture between the University of Reading and the Victoria & Albert Museum. She spent a year with this project, working in the archives of the ACGB, before being appointed as Lecturer of Theatre and Drama at the University of Lincoln.

James Hudson joined the Lincoln School of Performing Arts as a lecturer in May 2012 after completing his PhD thesis ‘Interrogations of Socialist Theatre in Twentieth-Century Britain and France’ at the University of Leeds in 2010. He is interested in both contemporary playwriting and British and French political theatre of the twentieth century, particularly the work of Edward Bond, Sarah Kane, Simon Stephens and Howard Barker.

Agnes Woolley joined Royal Holloway in September, 2014. She has previously taught at the Universities of Leeds, Derby and Lincoln. She completed her BA in English at the University of Leeds in 2003 and an MA in Comparative Literature: Africa/Asia from SOAS in 2004. After working in the voluntary sector and abroad, she completed her PhD at the University of Leeds in 2011. Her interests are in postcolonial literature, theatre and film, with a focus on concepts of migration and diaspora. She is working on developments in postcolonial ecocriticism, the ethics and politics of climate change and the relationship between literature and activism. She is a regular contributor to openDemocracy, reporting on migration issues.

Wednesday 11th March 2015 

Dr Michael Shane Boyle, Queen Mary University London

Container Aesthetics, Blockade Logistics: The Supply Chain Logic of Shunt’s The Boy Who Climbed Out of His Face

Shipping containers are everywhere. Without the estimated 20 million containers circling the globe today, the world as we know it would not go round. But shippingcontainers are not just found on the high seas or highways–they occupy an increasing part of our cultural imagination. They make cameos in popular films and star on television shows. What’s more: they are not only ubiquitous, but also amazingly versatile. Shipping containers may house your favourite cafe, shopping mall, or even boutique hotel. And with the application of “container architecture” to jails in New Zealand and Australia, they have proven their profoundly democratic potential: shipping containers are as fit to be playgrounds for the rich as they are prisons for the poor. The shipping container is both the emblem and a literal lynchpin of supply chain capitalism.

This paper responds to the emergence of ‘container aesthetics’ in contemporary theatre–that is, the ways artists are repurposing shipping containers for performance. We will consider a range of recent theatre, but will focus on The Boy Who Climbed Out of His Face by Shunt (2014), an immersive performance in London’s rapidly ‘regenerating’ Greenwich Peninsula that unfolded in a complex of intermodal shipping containers. By contrasting container aesthetics with the creative tactics people recently have used to blockade ports in cities like Oakland, California, this paper envisions a role for theatre in growing anticapitalist projects that take aim at the global logistics network. Instead of repurposing supply chain flotsam in innovative ways, how can theatre help disrupt supply chains themselves?

Michael Shane Boyle is a lecturer in the Department of Drama at Queen Mary University. He joined the department in 2014 after receiving his PhD in Performance Studies at University of California, Berkeley. He is presently at work on a book titled The New Spirit of Performance: Antiauthoritarian Aesthetics and Resistance to Work in Postwar West Germany. His research focuses on the use of performance in social movements, the relationship between performance and labour, and theatre historiography–mostly in Germany and the United States. 

Wednesday 25th March 2015 

Professor Peter M Boenisch, University of Kent

The Politics of Regietheater: Some thoughts on staging classics today

The momentous decade of the 1960s saw, alongside the political and other revolutions of the day, the emergence of performance art in the US, and the breakthrough of engaged “directors’ theatre” in Europe. Half a century later, the contexts and paradigms both of theatre making and of theatre’s socio-political context have significantly changed. In this presentation, I will discuss the relevance and challenges of staging classical drama in the early twenty-first century. My aim is to outline what we may describe with a term coined by philosopher Jacques Rancière as ‘politicity’ of directing classical drama today. My main example for this purpose will be German theatre director Thomas Ostermeier, and in particular his most recent production, Shakespeare’s King Richard III, which premiered in February 2015. I will argue that the principal site of the political in theatre is not captured by the conventional dramatic representation of characters and plots the audience then identifies with and reflects upon from a distance. Instead I draw on Hans-Thies Lehmann’s recent study of Tragedy and Dramatic Theatre to suggest that the true political site is the situation and experience of playing and spectating theatre, precisely where and as it short-circuits the fiction of the drama and the reality of the theatre.

Peter M Boenisch is Professor of European Theatre at the University of Kent, where he was, with Paul Allain and Patrice Pavis, one of the founding directors of the European Theatre Research Network (ETRN). His primary interest is in the intersections between aesthetics and politics in contemporary theatre, drawing on critical philosophy by Hegel, Žižek, Rancière and others. His research areas are the fields of directing, dramaturgy, and contemporary dance, with a particular focus on the German- and Dutch-speaking European countries. With Rachel Fensham, he is co-editor of the new Palgrave book series New World Choreographies. Boenisch’s monograph Directing Scenes & Senses: The Thinking of Regie will be published by Manchester University Press in 2015. Alongside Thomas Ostermeier, he is currently co-authoring the book The Theatre of Thomas Ostermeier (Routledge 2016).