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The stranger

Performing ‘out- of- placeness’ in the UK and Europe

Stephen Greer

Building on scholarship concerning migration and exile, this chapter deploys the figure of the stranger in reading solo works in and around the border regimes of the UK and EU. If – as Sara Ahmed suggests – stranger recognition involves (often unmarked) assumptions about which bodies belong and which are out of place, performance interventions in and around border regimes bring such beliefs to light while demonstrating how misrecognition and uncertainty are preserved as technologies of control. Though associated with cosmopolitan fantasies of mobility and hospitality, the stranger allows us to follow how a selective distribution of legitimacy serves to limit access to Western Europe’s territories of wealth.

Featured practitioners: Kay Adshead, Zodwa Nyoni, Oreet Ashery, Nassim Soleimanpour, Tanja Ostojić.

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Queer exceptions

Solo performance in neoliberal times

Stephen Greer

This book is a study of solo performance in the UK and Western Europe since the turn of millennium that explores the contentious relationship between identity, individuality and the demands of neoliberalism. With case studies drawn from across theatre, cabaret, comedy and live art – and featuring artists, playwrights and performers as varied as La Ribot, David Hoyle, Neil Bartlett, Bridget Christie and Tanja Ostojić – it provides an essential account of the diverse practices which characterise contemporary solo performance, and their significance to contemporary debates concerning subjectivity, equality and social participation.

Beginning in a study of the arts festivals which characterise the economies in which solo performance is made, each chapter animates a different cultural trope – including the martyr, the killjoy, the misfit and the stranger – to explore the significance of ‘exceptional’ subjects whose uncertain social status challenges assumed notions of communal sociability. These figures invite us to re-examine theatre’s attachment to singular lives and experiences, as well as the evolving role of autobiographical performance and the explicit body in negotiating the relationship between the personal and the political.

Informed by the work of scholars including Sara Ahmed, Zygmunt Bauman and Giorgio Agamben, this interdisciplinary text offers an incisive analysis of the cultural significance of solo performance for students and scholars across the fields of theatre and performance studies, sociology, gender studies and political philosophy.

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The pariah

Queer outcasts and the politics of wounded attachment

Stephen Greer

Starting with Neil Bartlett’s AIDS-era work A Vision of Love Revealed in Sleep, this chapter explores performances of singular individuality in which the state of being neither wholly included nor fully excluded invites us to reconsider liberal narratives of historical progress. While mainstream LGBT activism emphasises the possibilities of assimilation as a means of recovery from exclusion in the past, the singular figure of the pariah offers a new way of thinking marginal and politicised identity’s investment in its own history of hurt.

Featured practitioners: Neil Bartlett, Marc Rees, Seiriol Davies, Jon Brittain and Matt Tedford, David Hoyle

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The optimist

Alternatives in the here and now

Stephen Greer

Reading against futural accounts of utopia in the work of Jill Dolan and Jose Esteban Muñoz, this chapter examines the significance of solo works which emphasise the ‘here and now’ as a space of personal, social and political intervention. By juxtaposing shows which tackle the uncertain task of planning for a future with intimate, one-to-one performances, it suggests how vulnerability may be deployed to address the exposure to harm faced by marginalised and/or minority subjects while also inviting audiences to recognise alternatives to the status quo. Understood as a focused attentiveness to the present that is not straightforwardly affirmative – and which may paradoxically involve feelings of doubt and vulnerability – optimism in performance describes how opportunities for resistance and change already exist. Such opportunities, though, are also riven with risk – particularly for queer, trans and other non-conforming subjects.

Featured practitioners: Deborah Pearson, Ivana Müller, Duncan Macmillan, FK Alexander, Rosana Cade, Nando Messias.

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The misfit

Illness, disability and ‘improper’ subjects

Stephen Greer

Drawing on ‘queer-crip’ theories which expose the normative conditions of social participation, this chapter examines a range of works concerning illness, impairment and disability to examine the relationship between bodily propriety and neoliberalism’s preference for self-sufficient, ‘immune’ citizens. First exploring notions of responsibility which surround the representation of illness and disability, discussion examines the tension between care and self-care, and the cultural narratives which link charity, responsibility and individual agency. By challenging narrow and prejudicial notions of atypical bodies and neurologies, solo performance suggests new ways of understanding the ethics of intersubjective exposure.

Featured practitioners: Brian Lobel, Robert Softley, Katherine Araniello, Bobby Baker, the vacuum cleaner, Martin O’Brien.

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The martyr

Dramaturgies of endurance, exhaustion and confession

Stephen Greer

Drawing on the cultural tradition of the martyr as a figure whose suffering confirms the truth of his testimony to a cause, this chapter examines the precarious terms on which singular individuals are allowed – or called upon – to speak for themselves and others. Moving from live art practices of self-injury where blood is really flowing through performative renditions of endurance to works which invoke the logic of the confessional, it examines the narratives of self-sacrifice and redemption which surround martyrdom – and the contemporary works which challenge their logic.

Featured practitioners: Ron Athey, Kira O’Reilly, Franko B, Eddie Ladd, Adrian Howells, Scottee.

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Stephen Greer

Since the late 1990s, the figure of the creative entrepreneur has played an increasingly significant role in the working life of performers and theatre-makers across the UK and Europe. Focusing on the burgeoning economy and ecology of contemporary arts festivals as a key environment for the creation and staging of solo work, this chapter explores the increasing demand for self-employed artists to pursue individualised risk and reward, and to self-exploit. While unjuried events like the Edinburgh Festival Fringe emphasise that they are ‘open to all’, participation requires artists to take on the risk of significant personal debt and embrace often narrowly drawn industry standards. In this context, ‘free’ fringe festivals – and the work of artist-led groups like Forest Fringe and BUZZCUT – suggest alternative modes of practice in resistance of neoliberal economies.

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The killjoy

Public unhappiness and theatrical scapegoats

Stephen Greer

Framed by an examination of neoliberalism’s emphasis on individual agency – and claims that feminism is no longer needed or relevant – this chapter animates the figure of the killjoy to explore solo works in which public displays of unhappiness, dysphoria and ingratitude force a re-examination of the relationship between gender, individual responsibility and the social. If the killjoy is imagined to spoil everyone else’s good time, it is only because they draw attention to the bad faith social contracts – exemplified and exaggerated by the politics of austerity – which oblige some but not all to practice self-sacrifice in the name of a greater social good.

Featured practitioners: Bridget Christie, Ursula Martinez, Adrienne Truscott, La Ribot, Cristian Ceresoli and Silvia Gallerano, Gary Owen.

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Stephen Greer

This short chapter provides an overview of Queer exceptions: solo performance in neoliberal times, and locates the study in relation to debates concerning solo performance, individuality, neoliberalism and the politics of exceptionality.

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Stephen Greer

Drawing together the key features of post-millennial solo works preoccupied with identity, individuality and subjectivity in neoliberal times, this short chapter theorises the potential of queer exceptionality as characterised by the generative powers of complicity, misrecognition, uncertainty and vulnerability.

Featured practitioner: Chris Goode.