CfP: TDPT Special Issue, Training and Agency

Theatre Dance and Performance Training Journal (TDPT)

Special issue: Training and Agency to be published in June 2024.

Call for contributions, ideas, proposals and dialogue with the editors

Guest editors:

Dr Jane Turner, Manchester Metropolitan University (J.c.Turner@mmu.ac.uk)

Dr James McLaughlin, University of Greenwich (J.a.mclaughlin@gre.ac.uk)

Dr Sarah Weston, University of Bolton (S.Weston2@bolton.ac.uk)

Training Grounds Editor: Aiden Condron (condrona@gmail.com)

Training and Agency (Issue 15.2)

Training could be thought of as a regime. A repeated practice with structures and boundaries, which the subject is required to conform to. Yet, this subject is an agent with their own thoughts, feelings and instincts who needs to both serve the discipline and rigour prescribed by training while retaining a sense of autonomy. In this Special Issue, we will be exploring performer training in relation to the idea of agency. Developed out of the TaPRA Performer Training Working Group 2021 Conference, the issue will examine to what extent the subject has agency within frameworks of training, through a variety of themes including: agency and creativity; the drama school or training institution; agency and consent; and the possibility of subversion within the structures of performer training. Contributors will come from a wide range of performance disciplines such as actor training; critical pedagogy; applied theatre; opera; studio practice; circus; and dance.

Agency, the ability of the subject to act according to their own will, is temporal: dependent on the past, present and projected future of the subject (Emirbayer and Mische, 1998). The capacity for agency is often defined in relation to structure, the social, economic, cultural or other circumstances in which the individual acts. Moving beyond believing purely that subjects operate entirely according to their freewill, or an approach that argues humans have no independence and their behaviour is entirely determined by circumstances, it is possible to conceive of structure and agency’s power as interlinked. In this sense, structure and agency could be argued to work in tandem: as structures increase, agency recedes, as the agent is empowered the structural power decreases.

The relationship between structure and agency is significant for any pedagogic practice as with the interplay of rules against the emergence of self-determination familiar to many learning processes. Performer training as an over-arching practice is highly contingent on the connection and tension between a training structure (the institution, the practice, the exercise) and the agency of the individual. In response to Maria Kapsali’s editorial to the Training Politics and Ideology Special Issue (2014), this issue directly addresses the notion of agency in relation to the external forces that surround practice. Kapsali describes how the content and structure of performer training is subject to many forces outside of individual control, such as the entertainment industry, government funding, education systems and curriculum, and limitations of particular institutions (ibid, 103). Yet alongside this, she writes, it is often within training practices, that we find the ‘last haven of liminality’ through experimentation, and the acceptance of failure as a strategy that can lead to new possibilities (ibid, 104). This precise tension highlights the ways in which the structures of training, or a training as a structure, can also provide the circumstances for the agent to push back.

Within this conversation, it is important to acknowledge the historic and cultural circumstances in which training structures emerge and have become dominant. Mark Evans (2014), for instance, discusses the extent to which training structures emerge in accordance to the subject’s own history, with the relatively privileged trainee less likely to come up against limitations to their agency as their history reflects the prevailing order. Similarly, Royona Mitra (2022), through her discussion of contact improvisation, highlights how power (particularly that of whiteness) operates through practice, and the danger of invisible power structures permeating activity; this also includes those practices that claim to be determined by subjective agency. Emma Gee and Matthew Hargrave also outline systems of performer training that require disabled students take on practice that mirrors the structures of a disabling society (2011, 36). They offer a difficult set of propositions to make us question the fine line between training as a liberatory activity, against training as perpetuating social discrimination and inequalities:

Clearly, it is problematic to require any person to ‘normalise’ what is not possible for them to ‘normalise’, for example requiring an actor with a lisp to refrain from lisping. Conversely, this ‘problem’ may be an ingrained set of habitual behaviours that have gone unchallenged and assumed to be impairment. We then hit upon the double barrier that learning disabled actors face: assumptions about ability go untested and habitual tropes are reinforced in an attempt to be ‘enabling’. (2011, 42)

Accordingly the authors ask whether performer training needs to be radically different: do we require ‘more an undoing of repressive social mechanisms than a goal-driven acquisition of a set of formal skills’ (Gee and Hargrave, 2011, 34)?

This special edition will investigate how training structures impacts on the agency of the trainee, and vice versa. Some of the questions we would like to explore are:

  • Are the boundaries of training necessary in order to define the individual agent?
  • Can performer training traditions, repertoires, canons, or training institutions, impede the creativity, imagination or abilities of those in training?
  • Is agency significant in relation to codified training practices, particularly non-western traditions, such as Noh Theatre or Kathakali?
  • Does training conform and/or perpetuate pre-determined requirements set out by the entertainment industry, in tension with the performer’s agency?
  • Are the social, economic, cultural and political structures that correspond to institutional power erasing social and cultural difference, or even preventing access to training? Or, are training structures an essential part of an individual’s journey to the realisation of agency?
  • Could the empowerment of individual agency subvert, counter or challenge the structures of training regimes? 

Contributors may wish to explore the following themes:

  • Performance training in negotiation with existing power structures: from the specific power of the institution, for example, to broader structural operations of power in terms of race, class, gender identity, sexuality, disability, nationality and more.
  • Performance training and the implications of a neutral stance promoted by some forms, such as Lecoq training and the neutral mask. Does this notion of neutrality erase individuality and autonomy and point to questions of disabling or double-disabling practices in an attempt to ‘normalise’?
  • The challenges of working as an autodidact to achieve self-development and personal training; does this approach offer different questions concerning the role of individual agency?
  • Access to performance training, particularly in terms of class, socio-economic deprivation, race and disability.
  • Agency, empowerment and/or liberation through the subversion of traditions of performer training, such as radical practice within existing frameworks or institutions, or approaches of decolonization in terms of performance training canons.
  • Agency as the use of personal, social and ethical values to foster personal responsibility, ownership and a self-determining artistic trajectory to animates one’s practice. 

We welcome submissions from authors both inside and outside academic institutions, from professional practitioners and those who are currently undergoing training or who have experiences to tell from their training histories.

To signal your intention to make a contribution to this special issue in any one of the ways identified above please email an abstract (max 250 words) to  Dr Jane Turner, Manchester Metropolitan University (J.c.turner@mmu.ac.uk), Dr James McLaughlin, University of Greenwich (J.a.mclaughlin@gre.ac.uk) and Dr Sarah Weston, University of Bolton (S.Weston2@bolton.ac.uk).  Training Grounds proposals are to be made to Aiden Condron (condrona@gmail.com), copied to Jane, James and Sarah.

Our deadline for these abstracts is January 9th 2023

Theatre, Dance and Performance Training has three sections:

  • “Articles” features contributions in a range of critical and scholarly formats (approx. 5,000-6,500 words)
  • “Sources” provides an outlet for the documentation and analysis of primary materials of performer training. We are particularly keen to receive material that documents the histories and contemporary practices associated with the issue’s theme.
  • “Training Grounds” hosts shorter pieces, which are not peer reviewed, including essais (more speculative pieces up to 1500 words); postcards (up to 100 words); visual essays and scores; Speaking Images (short texts responding to a photo, drawing, visual score, etc.); and book or event reviews. We welcome a wide range of different proposals for contributions including edited interviews and previously unpublished archive or source material. We also welcome suggestions for recent books on the theme to be reviewed; or for foundational texts to be re-reviewed.

Innovative cross-over print/digital formats are possible, including the submission of audiovisual training materials, which can be housed on the online interactive Theatre, Dance and Performance Training journal blog: http://theatredanceperformancetraining.org/.

About Theatre, Dance and Performance Training (TDPT)

Special Issues of Theatre, Dance and Performance Training (TDPT) are an essential part of its offer and complement the open issues in each volume. TDPT is an international academic journal devoted to all aspects of ‘training’ (broadly defined) within the performing arts. It was founded in 2010 and launched its own blog in 2015. Our target readership comprises scholars and the many varieties of professional performers, makers, choreographers, directors, dramaturgs and composers working in theatre, dance, performance and live art who have an interest in the practices of training. TDPT’s co-editors are Jonathan Pitches (University of Leeds) and Libby Worth (Royal Holloway, University of London).

Issue Schedule

  • 9th January 2023: proposals to be submitted.
  • Early March 2023: Response from editors and, if successful, invitation to submit contribution
  • March to July 2023: writing/preparation period
  • July to early October 2023: peer review period
  • October 2023 – January 2024: author revisions post peer review
  • June 2024: publication as Issue 15.2

We look forward to hearing from you.

References

Emirbayer, Mustafa and Mische, Ann. 1998. “What Is Agency?” American Journal of Sociology 103 (4): 962–1023.

Evans, Mark. 2014. “Playing with history: personal accounts of the political and cultural self in actor training through movement.” Theatre, Dance and Performance Training 5 (2): 144-156.

Gee, Emma and Hargrave, Matt. 2011. “A proper actor? The politics of training for learning disabled actors.” Theatre, Dance and Performance Training 2 (1): 34-53.

Kapsali, Maria. 2014. “Editorial.” Theatre, Dance and Performance Training 5 (2): 103-106.

Mitra, Royona. 2022. “Unmaking Contact: Choreographic Touch at the Intersections of Race, Caste, and Gender.” Dance Research Journal 53 (3): 6-24.