Literature and Theatre

Open Access (free)
Translating globalised knowledge in performance
Simon Parry

This chapter discusses three different examples of experimental socially engaged creative practice. In each case artists and community groups worked with biomedical professionals in processes of collaborative knowledge co-production. The chapter argues that these processes should be understood as performances of translation with linguistic and spatial dimensions. The three different examples engage with inherited breast cancer, khat and skin colour respectively. The creative projects all responded to dominant ways of articulating an issue by redefining the problem. They got to grips with complex social contexts marked by diverse experiences of globalisation and various forms of inequality. The formation of new biosocial alliances that crossed boundaries between professionals, patient groups, artists and other groups was central to all these projects. Such creative networks can rebalance knowledge inequalities in a process of commoning sense.

in Science in performance
Gob Squad, a funny robot and dancing scientists
Simon Parry

Over two years, the experimental Anglo-German art collective Gob Squad worked together with a neurorobotics laboratory and a major Berlin opera house, the Komische Oper. This chapter offers a detailed analysis of this process and the performance, My Square Lady, which emerged from the collaboration. It explores the entangled histories of theatre and computer science identifying political problems with tendencies for new technologies to be taken too seriously. It argues that laughing at science might be an important way of both understanding it and registering discomfort and uncertainty about scientific ideas and associated technologies. Comic theatricality offers particular choreographies for holding humans and nonhumans together with their multiple modes of existence.

in Science in performance
Open Access (free)
Simon Parry

This chapter synthesises the ideas in the book through discussing the performance of cosmopolitics. It discusses the need for creative ways of practising cosmopolitics particularly as a response to climate change. The chapter explores the ship-based artist residencies offered by the organisation Cape Farewell, focusing on creative responses to the experience by the performer Cynthia Hopkins and the choreographer Siobhan Davies. It argues that, through hybrid forms of performance, these artists find productive ways of grappling with the particular difficulties of climate change, including its scale, different forms of knowledge about it and the associated sensory conflict we might experience.

in Science in performance
Open Access (free)
Convergence, emergence and divergence
Simon Parry

This chapter introduces the book’s focus on theatre, performance and science. It sets out the context of the work in twenty-first-century knowledge economies and the politics of science under conditions of globalisation. It shows how science is subject to performance pressure like many areas of contemporary life and explains how this has been manifested in a variety of modes of science communication and public engagement with science. Science-communication practices are often seen as responses to a crisis of trust in scientific knowledge. The chapter introduces the idea that theatre and theatricality can offer both critique and repair to the process of knowledge-making. Theatrical practices of sense-making recognise science’s passions at the same time as they articulate feelings from emergent levels of sensory perception. Theatre does not produce engagement; it is a particular and peculiar mode of engagement. While theatre audiences may form a proxy for a public, a crowd, a group of consumers or a nation, they are not quite any of these collectives. Rather, theatrical events constitute collectives in mobile ways, tracing emergent associations and solidarities articulated through various modes of sensory perception.

in Science in performance
Open Access (free)
Theatre and the politics of engagement
Author: Simon Parry

This book is about science in theatre and performance. It explores how theatre and performance engage with emerging scientific themes from artificial intelligence to genetics and climate change. The book covers a wide range of performance forms from the spectacle of the Paralympics Opening Ceremony to Broadway musicals, from experimental contemporary performance and opera to educational theatre, Somali poetic drama and grime videos. It features work by pioneering companies including Gob Squad, Headlong Theatre and Theatre of Debate as well as offering fresh analysis of global blockbusters such as Wicked and Urinetown. The book offers detailed description and analysis of theatre and performance practices as well as broader commentary on the politics of theatre as public engagement with science. It documents important examples of collaborative practice with extended discussion of the Theatre of Debate process developed by Y Touring theatre company, exploration of bilingual theatre-making in East London and an account of how grime MCs and dermatologists ended up making a film together in Birmingham. The interdisciplinary approach draws on contemporary research in theatre and performance studies in combination with key ideas from science studies. It shows how theatre can offer important perspectives on what the philosopher of science Isabelle Stengers has called ‘cosmopolitics’. The book argues that theatre can flatten knowledge hierarchies and hold together different ways of knowing.

Dystopian performatives and vertigo aesthetics in popular theatre
Simon Parry

This chapter examines two Broadway musicals, Wicked and Urinetown, and two plays first staged at London’s National Theatre, Earthquakes in London and The Effect. It looks at how these examples of popular theatre register public feelings about contemporary science and technology. Their various modes of theatricality establish a relationship between performers and spectators but also articulate connections between a range of scientific discourses on climate change, population change, water management, genetics and neuroscience; apparently anti-scientific cultural forms such as myth, mysticism and magic; and aesthetic conventions from literary fiction, pop music and fashion. The chapter argues that speculative theatrical practices offer ways of engaging with uncomfortable knowledge.

in Science in performance
Theatre of Debate
Simon Parry

This chapter provides a case study of the theatre company Y Touring and their development of a dramaturgical process known as Theatre of Debate. The work of the company over more than twenty-five years touring secondary schools across the UK and beyond provides an important benchmark for collaborations between scientists, theatre-makers and educators. The chapter charts the development of the company’s extensive repertoire of plays covering major areas of biomedicine including genetics and neuroscience. It goes on to discuss how Theatre of Debate offers a distinctive approach to an education in somatic expertise opening up emerging ethical issues to contest and debate.

in Science in performance
Can performance care?
Maurice Hamington

Extending Laura Cull’s question of whether performance thinks to caring, this chapter reimagines the relationship between caregiver and cared for as one of improvisational moral performance that provides the means to not only understand the emergent dynamics and phenomena of care but also reorient our approach to teaching ethics and cultivating ethical behavior. A caring improvisation is a moment when we draw upon a set of rehearsed cognitive and bodily skills of inquiry and action to responsively perform care on behalf of the needs of others. This approach assumes that moral normativity is emergent rather than fixed thus requiring the caregiver to have developed attention skills as well as an openness or disponibilité toward others. The aesthetic approach found in the relatively recently developed field of performance philosophy provides a means to think about care ethics/theory in non-authoritative ways beyond traditional analytical and a priori approaches to morality favoured by Western philosophy.

in Performing care
Open Access (free)
An examination of Godder’s socially engaged art and participatory dance for Parkinson’s work
Sara Houston

This chapter examines whether an aesthetics of care may redefine dance performance and a choreographer’s artistic process. It discusses this idea by exploring a specific symbiotic relationship between a community dance programme and a professional artistic production, both directed by the choreographer Yasmeen Godder. Godder’s Stabat Mater (now performed under the title Simple Action) is examined in relation to the company’s programme for people with Parkinson’s. The chapter argues that Stabat Mater is an illustration of a different way of thinking about arts and health engagement: it is not about care for participants who are ill, but about the responsive and attentive relationship between artist and participant. Care operates within Stabat Mater and the dance work, which involves audience participation, is seen as an outcome of how the Parkinson’s dance programme has influenced Godder’s artistic process and production. In other words, Stabat Mater, as a performance of care, has to be understood in the context of Godder’s artistic engagement with people who can be seen as vulnerable movers (traditionally seen as ‘cared for’), but who changed the way Godder thought about her work.

in Performing care
Open Access (free)
A practical politics of care
Caoimhe McAvinchey

Clean Break, founded in 1979 by two women serving sentences in an English prison, has developed over the last four decades into an influential theatre, education and advocacy organisation, positioning narratives of women affected by the criminal justice system centre stage. In this chapter, Joan Tronto’s work on care, markets and justice ([1993] 2009, 2013) informs my reading of Clean Break’s organisational practices as care. From its distinctive approach to developing new writing for theatre, to its enduring commitment to reach audiences through partnerships with criminal justice, cultural and voluntary sector organisations, Clean Break creates structures of care for women who have fallen beyond the reach of state systems of welfare: the subjects of stigma, regulation and punishment. In this chapter, I argue that Clean Break not only critiques the intersectional oppressions that shape the lives of many women who experience the criminal justice system but, through its responsive and interconnected practices, attends to a care deficit in society, integral to the company’s commitment to equality and justice.

in Performing care