Interventions 25.4 (October 2015)

In a recent post responding to a symposium on the ‘Future of Practice Research’, Rachel Hann suggests that the disciplines of Theatre and Performance are approaching a second wave of Practice Research.1 Where the first wave was characterized by the need ‘to win the right to conduct research through practice from the administrators’, the pressing question now is how to evidence this research in sustainable ways so that it is accessible to those both within and outside the discipline, with an eye to future researchers as well. It is far from clear what ‘evidence’ means in the context of theatre and performance practice, and there are many unresolved practical, conceptual and political questions. However, the four pieces collected in this issue of Interventions might all be said to offer responses to the question of how the ‘research’ of practice is evidenced.

This issue includes a multi-disciplinary forum responding to the recent production of World Factory, an immersive performance created by Zoë Svensden that puts audience members in the position of factory owners, and highlights the complexities of global manufacturing and labour practices. The forum shows how, in World Factory, research is expressed through practice, as ways of thinking about political and economic realities both feed into and are encouraged by the structures of the production. It also show how practice might become the occasion for further research and interdisciplinarity, as experts in the fields of political science, international relations, business, geography and performance all draw on the production to think broadly about the issues it raises. In this case, then, the ‘evidence’ of this research is dynamic, lively and in conversation.

A piece from Brian Lobel and Hannah Maxwell on their recent initiative The Sick of the Fringe similarly foregrounds conversation and exchange as vital components both of Practice Research and of the evidence of that research. TSOTF was a Wellcome Trust-funded programme of talks and events exploring the relationship between medicine and the arts at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival this year. An important strand of the programme was a series of ‘Diagnoses’, short written responses to shows at the Fringe that were designed not as reviews, but as critical entry points to ideas around medicine and health that these shows explored. These ‘Diagnoses’ offer an alternative to the star-rating system prominent at the Fringe and elsewhere, and encourage a form of peer review which is less about evaluation and more about expanding on the critical possibilities of performance. Lobel and Maxwell also touch on thorny practical issues like funding, pointing out both the potentialities and the complexities of working with a private foundation like Wellcome, particularly in the context of ongoing cuts to public funding sources in the UK. This self-reflexivity on material questions is an especially challenging and important aspect to the evidencing of Practice Research.

The last two pieces involve artists reflecting on particular aspects of their practice. In an interview with Johanna Linsley, London-based performance artist Martin O’Brien speaks about his work in collaboration with Los Angeles-based artist Sheree Rose. He speaks particularly about their work with the Bob Flanagan archive at the ONE Lesbian and Gay Archive at the University of Southern California. Flanagan was Rose’s partner until his death in 1996, and like O’Brien, drew on his experience living with cystic fibrosis to make challenging, body-based performance. O’Brien and Rose approached the archive as something that is incomplete, not because it excludes existing documents, but because it is missing evidence of performances that were never made due to Flanagan’s death. Performance documentation and archives have received plenty of theoretical attention in the past decades, but from the perspective of practice, the questions of how to approach an archive, what to make of evidence, and how to address the limits of evidence are still unresolved and full of potential.

Finally, performance-maker Karen Christopher offers a document evidencing her own making process, which in Christopher’s work is difficult to separate from the outputs she produces. The piece takes the form of a diary of sorts, reflecting on two specific residencies she undertook in London last year. Christopher’s work nearly always addresses questions of possibility, and the residency situation is a particularly valuable place to consider the forms possibility can take. Further, the residency itself is a form that rarely gets sustained attention on its own, even though it is often a vital part of the development of a practice. Christopher’s piece shows the value of evidencing the small decisions and associations that over time become masterful technique.

By focusing this issue of Interventions on these aspects of Practice Research, we hope to use the website to complement the more scholarly analyses contained within the print journal’s Articles and Documents, and we welcome your comments on the range of issues that these examples raise.

– Johanna Linsley

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  1. Hann convincingly champions a shift noted at this event to the term ‘Practice Research’ as an alternative to the various ‘practice-as/led/by-research’ configurations.

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