Teaching with the special issue: ‘Against the Canon’

A collaborative document, with contributions from: Mark Evans, Cass Fleming, Rebecca Loukes, Sara Reed and Amy Russell.

This piece of writing aims to offer reflection and provocation on the ways that the TDPT Special Issue ‘Against the Canon’ might be used as part of teaching and learning activities within theatre, dance and performance courses and training programmes. We write this as academics and artists, aware of our position as white and privileged – and we invite critique, challenge and debate.

For work ‘against the canon’ to have continuing impact, it needs to reach out beyond the page of academic journals and start to affect the ways in which pedagogy operates and the ways in which teachers and students engage with canonical forms of training and canonical content. Editing the special issue has brought to the fore for us so many questions about deep assumptions underpinning much practice in Universities and conservatoires. The changes being wrought by #MeToo and by the Black Lives Matter (BLM) campaign also offer profound challenges to the ways in which training for performance is structured, taught, assessed and perceived. The suggestions and provocations outlined below are offered only as a number of possible starting points and are in no way definitive – they should themselves be open to challenge and critique. We suggest that those interested in this work should approach it collaboratively, as befits the subject matter, working in partnership with students, colleagues, industry partners and interested communities.

We post this in the midst of a global pandemic, which will hit hardest those who are traditionally marginalised. We acknowledge that in the context of this unprecedented situation, the start of a new academic year is difficult timing for people to engage with this blog, so we invite continuing debate and discussion when time and work allows.

Before beginning…

Consider your own identity, where does it sit in the hierarchies of inclusion/exclusion, and the systems of power, privilege and ownership in the wider world, the cultural and arts sector and educational organisations – and perhaps self-assess and take a moment to dialogue with yourself (Daron Oram) – can you foreground and celebrate aspects of your identity (Kristine Landon-Smith), can you identify gaps in your knowledge about the lives and cultures of others (Kaja Dunn et al.), can you invite yourself to be curious and provocative?

Make an honest inventory of your objectives and motives on the one hand, and your hesitations, fears, and resistances if you experience any. For example, are you afraid of getting it wrong, or of letting something go that is important to you? Imagine having a conversation with one of your ancestors about this project of working against the canon. Are they for or against it? In what ways do you agree or disagree? Can you be curious about your own resistance if you experience any? Can you feel the excitement of change and enthusiasm at being part of it? If there is ambivalence or fear, how can you work with it?

Assess your own practices and the methodologies you draw on for your practice, teaching, scholarship and/or research.  What are the implicit assumptions in those methods and whom do they exclude or marginalise?  Do you feel empowered or disempowered by the methods you employ – why is this so? What techniques, terms and language do you use that require an element of transformation or critique – neutral, natural, trust, ideal, truth, authentic, cultural assumptions about ‘naturalistic’ acting, for example – and how might you adapt and/or critically situate them in your practice?  Do you have aspects of your own cultural heritage and/or identity (in relation to race, ethnicity, gender, religion, sexuality, age, disability) that may be marginalised in theatre, dance and performance training – and can these be brought to the fore, celebrated and shared?

Consider the context within which your course(s) takes place: the diversity of those teaching and studying in terms of race, age, gender, sexuality, class and disability. How does this composition reflect the diversity of the wider community? Does it reflect the wider societal need to recognise the achievements of those who have been marginalised, oppressed or ignored in the past? It is important and valuable to name the issues that are in the room – they are not things that anyone should be afraid of dealing with. The starting point however has to be acknowledging that they are there.  In order to challenge white, heterosexual, non-disabled male privilege, consider the importance of pushing against the canon even if your students happen to be all white/male/straight! 

Do you share any of your students’ fears? If you share some of their concerns and fears, can this compassion provide insight into how to address what students may not be willing to reveal about themselves unless they feel safe?

Take critical note of the texts, workshops and performances that are recommended for reading or identified as essential for students to read to complete your module or course. Make sure that authorship is diverse – that may mean extra work to identify scholarship that is less well known. Can all your students see themselves in enough of the documents that they read, the plays they study or perform, and the performances that they watch? Is disability arts and performance included in your curriculum? Where diverse examples are not available ensure that teachers and students recognise that omission (and at times exclusion) and critique the reasons for it. Where canonical works are used, ensure that they are critiqued through study and through practice. How much do we rely on the legacy of the written word?  Whose words remain and for whom do they speak? Remember the value of oral histories – where books and articles don’t exist for contemporary practice, there will be people’s memories and experiences. If you access these, how might they be shared in order to encourage others?

Don’t just decolonise the curriculum, decolonise the pedagogy.

Using the journal in the classroom:

As provocation – how does each contribution represent a provocation to question and challenge existing canons? What is the nature of each provocation? Is the form of each piece significant – why might a postcard, a conversation, diagram or a manifesto be provocative as a contribution to an academic journal? What is the purpose of provocation?

Look at the postcard pieces. Who would you ask to write a postcard and why? How might you curate such postcards? How can an image and a short piece of text work together – one counterpointing the other, one illustrating the other? Can an image work on its own? How might a series of postcards work – as a linear narrative, as a constellation of related ideas?

Create a board game that represents the ways in which privilege operates within the performing arts (historically and/or in the present) – a snakes and ladders or monopoly of opportunities and rejections. Could your students then create an alternative model or structure?

As model – Consider canonical practice not directly addressed in this special issue (Stanislavsky, Duncan, Graham, Brecht, Meyerhold, Cunningham, Brook, Grotowski, somatics etc.) – how might students use the journal contributions to construct challenges to such practice? What would they focus on? What models might they use – postcards and conversations are used in the special issue, are there other models (interviews, hot seating, letters/emails, cartoons, graffiti, vlogs, etc.)? Use images as the starting point for a critique of who is seen doing what – how is power preserved through images? Construct images that challenge this.

As dialogue – take an issue raised in ‘Against the Canon’ through one or more of the contributions, ask the students to formulate questions related to the issue and construct a formal debate around it. Ask students to construct arguments for and against, drawing on evidence they can find. Debate highlights difference and enables a multiplicity of viewpoints; various positions can be set up and defended – no position is established as definitive although it often creates a strong motivation for determining and arguing for what is ‘right’. In Russell et al. different views are expressed on whether there is such a thing as essential femininity and essential masculinity. The neutral mask used in Lecoq teaching is often gender binary. Your students could discuss this essentialism or debate it.  If you can obtain even one neutral mask, you might consider using it “against the canon” as a way of eliciting conversation and awareness of gender performance. If this provokes a parodied use of the mask, refining the performance might raise interesting questions about gender fluidity and might serve to destabilize the reification of gender identities.

Photo: Gender carnival at Embodied Poetics, © Amy Russell.

Encourage students to dialogue with practising artists – who should they contact (whose work is typically marginalised or under-recognised)? What contact might they have with them – perhaps via postcards they construct around themes, issues, questions? Would the artists be willing to construct postcards for the students? Ask students to construct dialogues between canonical figures and those who were marginalised within their practice – Brecht and his female collaborators, Stanislavski and his female students, Brook and theatre-makers from India and Africa – what would they say to each other? Where would they disagree and where might they agree? Consider ways in which conversations can be sexualised encounters – how might you queer a conversation? Use dialogue to question how and why terms such as energy, presence and character can become gendered and/or sexualised.

When using debate, discussion and role-playing consider how to create an open and supported space for students (for example, you can acknowledge that those who are asked to take an unpopular role or defend an unpopular position are doing something valuable for the overall debate). Ask students to play a role they don’t agree with, but are willing to give that role their best effort. If the dialogue or debate seems to veer at some point to students ‘calling each other out’, can you help to instil a culture of ‘calling in’ – where relationships are built rather than sacrificed, helping people to find their compassion for each other? This should not be about allowing people to hold on to prejudiced views, but about creating and sustaining a level of empathy with others that enables change to happen. With colleagues and students discuss how best to deal with problematic attitudes and difficult incidents (your institution may – or in some cases sadly may not – have useful guidance).

Challenge the sanctity of the clean document – take canonical text(s) and allow students to annotate and comment on them, encourage them to use images and illustrations to counterpoint text, making the unseen or unacknowledged visible.

How might a student construct a dialogue with themselves regarding their practice (Daron Oram) – what would they want to address in doing so? How could they record/document or share such a dialogue, and what would be the benefit of doing so?

Also consider this unique historical moment when institutions are moving from live teaching to online learning at lightning speed.  What structures of power, inequality and accessibility need to be considered? In what ways might the shift to online pedagogies offer new opportunities in themselves to democratize or radically question existing methods?

Using the journal with online learning:

The web resources available are not neutral, and search engine algorithms prioritise what is established and popular. Task students with searching around key words, figures, training regimes and topics and ask them to review what comes up, what doesn’t and how difficult or easy it is to find alternatives. They might take one of the articles from the special issue and examine what results internet searches produce for different key people, practices and approaches within the article – how easy is it to find out about marginalised practitioners and practices? What does this tell students about internet resources and about the marginalisation of artists?

Task students with reviewing well-established online resources: Getty Images, Digital Theatre, Drama Online, Routledge Performance Archive, National Theatre’s online video resources and NTLive (UK), Frantic Assembly Digital (UK), Independent Dance (UK), National Resource Centre for Dance (UK), Candoco (UK) and the performance work made available through live stream during the Covid-19 lockdown period. How are key practitioners and practices profiled? Who presents the work – what gender, class or ethnicity/race are they? Is ownership and collaboration examined in any detail? How are women and global majorities profiled within the work? Where is good practice and how easy is it to find?

How might students create their own online resource for training? What materials and resources would they pull together? How would they operate together to realise collaboration as a way of working? What training exercises might they design and how might they present and share them?

Using the journal in the studio:

How might a student or group of students construct a series of postcards to represent their practice? How might image and text in this format work together? Who would the postcards be for – who would they be designed to be sent to (either living or dead)?

Use one of the contributions to provoke changes in how the students learn or how teachers teach. Make one issue a focus for a lesson and consider how teacher and student might reflect on a session (or sessions) in the light of these issues. Points of focus might include: the experience of disabled students, the experience of students from global majority backgrounds, the experience of privileged students, the experience of working-class students, the experience of older students, the experience of female students, the experience of transgendered students, the expectations teachers have of students, the possibility of meaningful failure. What assumptions are made within studio work: around acceptable forms of behaviour, around the limits and assumptions of touch and the direction of gaze, around the use of language, accent, body language, gesture and dialect? Who feels that they are allowed to ‘be themselves’ within the studio space – and what does that mean? What assumptions about wealth and privilege underpin most of our training intuitions and how do we make space for working class realities (Cornford).

How can students dialogue about their practice – talking to themselves (Oram), talking with others (Russell, Dunn), creating fictional dialogue (Cornford)? How about tasking students to construct a proposal for a blog entry for the TDPT blog – what would they write about? It could be a response to one of the articles in the special issue, or a proposal for a new contribution? What skills would they learn in doing this? Then encourage the students to post their blog on TDPT – their voices need to be heard!

Journal issues only ever include an edited selection of contributions. Ask students to consider what other issues might have been good to include in this special issue and how they might have tackled such issues. What might be hard about writing such pieces and why – where might obstacles, resistances or difficulties come from and how be overcome?

How might students create new representations of historical practice that deconstructs and challenges the narrative of the genius, the white male guru?

How might some of the content of the special issue work as provocations in relation to students practice? Who is their work for – who is able to engage with it? What do they want to say in their work? What training conventions are they taking for granted? Who takes responsibility for what within their group work – how is work apportioned, who leads, what voices are heard (or not)? What are the politics and ethics of these structures and relationships?

How might the practices of Bing, Boal, Brecht, Candoco, Gindler, Graeae, Henricks, Landon-Smith, Newson, Phoenix Dance, Talawa, Tamasha, WAC or others create models within which canonical practice and performance might be challenged, interrupted, disrupted, deconstructed, commented on and reveal those that the practice has historically marginalised or ignored? How do the practices themselves resist or activate resistance in the participants? What examples of such practices are available for students?

What does touch mean post #MeToo and the killing of George Floyd? Who owns space, how do we negotiate touch, what might touching signify, what can we learn from/through touch? Where are our embodied borders and what do they mean now for us and for others? How do assumptions around touch, weight and space play in to assumptions around gender, sexuality, disability and race/ethnicity?

The Language of the studio/practical class – discuss with students the impact of words and how choice of words can subtly delineated who is or isn’t included. What is implied by references to ‘guys and girls’ or ‘OK guys’? What is the effect of mispronouncing someone’s name?  Work with students to be alert to assumptions within language about gender, class, disability and race/ethnicity. When asking students to write about practice, discuss with them the relevance of using alternative pronouns – he/she, s/he, they, she. Consider with all your students how being within the LGBTQI+ community may involve having very different impulses to those recognised by dominant heterosexist cultures and how this may/could/should impact on training performers (Lazlo Pearlman and Deirdre McLaughlin). Reviewing reading and resource lists for their course – encourage them to examine how often the actor is assumed as white, male, straight and/or non-disabled. Ask the students for suggestions and ideas.

Consider Landon-Smith’s article and discuss with students the ways in which they might bring their own cultures into the studio – through games, dances, songs, exercises, storytelling, patois/accent/dialect, postures and ways of sitting/standing, gestures and movements. Recognise that all cultures have these and be sure to reveal how these exist in straight, white, non-disabled culture even when they are ‘invisible’ in their ubiquity and dominance.

How can practical sessions be used to challenge canonical training practice? Change should not just be about making accommodation for difference, but about transformation and radical change. Be clear that inclusion is not just about ‘fitting in’ disabled, global majority or queer students, it is about celebrating their presence – what might that mean in terms of changes to studio practice, your work ideas and strategies?

Reflect on the practice that does not make it into the studio – why is it absent or excluded? Whose responsibility is it to find ways of including it? What ideas and approaches have our students contributed and how can we take this further in the future?

Open up discussions between staff and students around canonical practice and equality issues. This should not be threatening, but should enable multiple perspectives to enrich mutual understanding of the role and purpose of training and the ethical dimensions surrounding training practice.

Reject…

White colleagues – Reject the assumption that you have to know everything about marginalised artists in order to teach about their practice. There is not time to wait for those books to be written. Invite the artists to be part of constructing the curriculum. Invite students to help create/curate the materials for learning. Don’t be afraid to start from a position of ignorance and learn with the students.

Reject the assumption that students have to learn about the canon in order to ‘really’ know their subject. The subject is the centre of the learning, the canonical figures are only a set of examples.

Reject the assumption that the canonical figures are all individual geniuses. What kind of mythologies, misunderstanding and ideologies are created by this assumption? Each one’s career involves multiple collaborations with forgotten or marginalised others. Recognising these others need not diminish the achievements of all involved, but does given recognition where it is due but not always given. It does no harm at all to recognise the value and success of collaboration and the ways in which artists work together. It does great harm to assume that the work of many can be understood as the achievements of only one.

Reject the assumption that marginalised work is somehow lower in quality, that it therefore deserves to be marginalised. Such an assumption does not recognise the ways in which value systems are socially and politically constructed and managed by those who hold power.

Reject the marginalisation of yourself or others in the field of work, study and practice because of race, ethnicity, religion, gender, sexuality, age, class or disability. Reject being the token representative. Don’t allow that to happen to students either.

Celebrate…

The diversity of your students – allow them to be themselves.

Your own identity, culture, history and experiences – they should inform your teaching without you being seen as exotic or a token member of staff. If that happens, complain.

Your own learning journey as a teacher and a person and those who you collaborated with within that journey.

The wonderful ways in which theatre, dance and performance enable us all to realise and challenge the ways in which our identities are created, policed and presented.

Reading/watching to help reflection and action – this list is not definitive!

An open letter to UK Theatre, Dance and Performance Studies

Feminist canon

https://docs.google.com/document/d/1HwAHAwU83bW_jSzxbMrqWyyuAYmsOWtqK-7HxKA9yek/edit

Discuss with colleagues and students how to construct an inclusive and radical canon.

Studying Disability Arts and Culture: An introduction by Petra Kuppers https://www.macmillanihe.com/page/detail/studying-disability-arts-and-culture-petra-kuppers/?sf1=barcode&st1=9781137413437

Suggested reading on disability, arts and education.

For white people considering anti-racism, when your Black friends and colleagues have had enough by Alanah Nichole

White Academia: Do Better by Jasmine Roberts

Contacting-Improvising by Adesola-Akinleye

https://www.independentdance.co.uk/wp-content/uploads/2020/08/Essay-by-Dr-Adesola-Akinleye-contacting-improvising.pdf

Dancing, dance training and race.

Decolonising the Curriculum by Advance HE

https://www.advance-he.ac.uk/news-and-views/decolonisation-curriculum-conversation

Being Black by Jane Elliott

How would white academics and students feel about being black?

We Shall Not Be Removed

Josette Bushell-Mingo

White supremacy culture characteristics

https://www.showingupforracialjustice.org/white-supremacy-culture-characteristics.html

Consider the extent to which any of these are relevant to classroom situations and teaching strategies, and if so how they might be addressed.

Taking up space: The Black Girl’s Manifesto for Change by Chelsea Kwakye and Ore Ogunbiyi (Merky books). https://www.penguin.co.uk/books/111/1117762/taking-up-space/9781529118544.html

Theatre and Class

https://www.theskinny.co.uk/festivals/edinburgh-fringe/theatre/is-theatre-accessible-to-working-class-artists

‘Power has to be grasped’: British theatre is battling its class problem – Catherine Love

https://www.theguardian.com/stage/2018/mar/13/british-theatre-class-problem

Examine ways in which class discrimination operates within theatre – how does that impact on training?

Tonic Theatre Company (UK)

A Practical Guide to Achieving Gender Equality in Theatre by Lucy Kerbel

Also, Empower project: https://www.tonictheatre.co.uk/work/empower/

How can we combat sexism and gender discrimination with the performing arts?

Deborah Dean No Human Resource is an Island: Gendered, Racialized Access to Work as a Performer First published: 31 January 2008. https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/epdf/10.1111/j.1468-0432.2007.00389.x

Look at work within the performing arts as an area of inequality and exclusion.

DV8 The Cost of Living (extracts)

Examine and explore representations of disability.

Calling In: A Quick Guide to When and How by Sian Ferguson

Reflect with students on when to call out and when to call in.

Remember…

  • Change comes from action – so what will you do differently?
  • At Royal Central School of Speech and Drama, UK, the institution has set in motion a project to address issues of institutional racism through institutional review. You can see details at: https://www.cssd.ac.uk/repairing-curriculum. How might such a project relate to your own practice? What might you take from this at an individual level? What might you change, challenge or adapt? Should such a project be replicated in order to make provision for tackling issues around gender, sexuality, disability, age, class, etc.?
  • And then we have to make our intuitions follow through on agreed changes, actions and re-structures. What institutional support do you need in order to challenge the canon? What allies can help with this change – both from within and outside your institution?

  • You are not alone – who else can support you, share with you, join in conversations with you? What networks do you have or should you seek to establish that will support change? Who can you engage with as visiting professors, hourly paid lecturers, local/national/global professional contacts, audience/community members, students, campaigners and activists? How can you maintain pressure on your institution to recruit more diverse staff members as permanent members of staff and to remove the powerful glass ceilings to promotion that prevail in our sector?

ATHE Awards: Konstantinos Thomaidis’ Honorable Mention for Excellence in Editing on TDPT 10.3, ‘What is new is voice training?’

Huge congratulations from all at TDPT to Konstantinos Thomaidis who has just won the Honourable Mention for Excellence in Editing at this year’s ATHE Awards, for his special issue for TDPT ‘What is new in voice training?’ 10.3. The award was announced today at the annual (online) conference. The full list of winners and mentions in this category are posted here.

Konstantinos’ success arises from his tremendous hard work and dedication as a guest editor on the journal combined with his extensive knowledge and experience in the field of voice studies. Jonathan and I as co-editors were full of admiration at the way Konstantinos overcame some initial setbacks that were out of his control to ensure the quality and adventurousness of the issue.

In his introduction to the special issue Konstantinos offers a brief survey of the literature and practices of the ‘emergent field of voice studies’ and comments in the following way:

‘These studies have invited us to listen to the voice anew: voice as that which encompasses and exceeds textuality and linguistic meaning-making, voice as embodied and materially intersubjective; voice as both individual and political, affective and ideological, semantically potent and pragmatically interpolated, demandingly present and abjectly haunted – as simultaneously knowable and perpetually undefinable.’ (2019: 295).

And listen he does in his role as guest editor, inviting us to engage with the wide range of authors who address ‘what is new’ through both varied content and in a range of different formats.

To celebrate this achievement, Taylor and Francis Online and the Theatre, Dance and Performance Training journal has made the following three articles from the Special Issue free to view until October:

Beth Osnes, Chelsea Hackett, Jen Walentas Lewon, Norma Baján & Christine Brennan (2019) Vocal Empowerment Curriculum for young Maya Guatemalan women, Theatre, Dance and Performance Training, 10:3, 313-331, DOI: 10.1080/19443927.2019.1637371

Konstantinos Thomaidis (2019) Between preservation and renewal: reconsidering technology in contemporary pansori training, Theatre, Dance and Performance Training, 10:3, 418-438, DOI: 10.1080/19443927.2019.1645040

Mel Drake (2019) ‘Next year’s words await another voice’1: British Sign Language and voice work with D/deaf actors at the Royal Conservatoire of Scotland, Theatre, Dance and Performance Training, 10:3, 448-454, DOI: 10.1080/19443927.2019.1677388

Click here to see the full list of authors and issue contents as well as Blog posts related to the issue.

At a time when TDPT had to postpone its 10th Birthday celebrations it’s wonderful to have this moment of success, an opportunity to raise a glass to Konstantinos and shout out our congratulations – whilst listening anew, of course, to our voices. 

TDPT 11.2. Training for Performance Art and Live Art

We are delighted to announce the publication of Theatre, Dance and Performance Training 11.2, Training for Performance Art and Live Art, guest edited by Heike Roms (University of Exeter).

The view that one can only practice and not practice for performance art and live art has persisted since the emergence of time-, body-, and action-based performance artworks in the 1960s. After all, to speak of ‘training’ evokes ideas of technique, mastery or tradition, ideas that the artists engaged in performance art and live art have frequently sought to challenge or altogether abandon. However, many of the artists who have shaped the history of performance art and live art have also been committed teachers; pedagogical approaches to performance practices emerged at the same time as the practices themselves; educational institutions have frequently offered material support for the making of performance works and provided a living for artists; and artist-led, non-institutional training spaces have adopted events and publications as alternative forms of curricula. Acknowledging the importance of training not just in the formation of a performance artist but as part of their continuing practice also means to value experience, expertise and professional standing as part of the work of performance art and live art.

This special issue brings together contributions that address the theme of training for performance art and live art in reference to different histories (covering the 1960s and 1970s as well as the recent present); diverse geographies (examining developments in the UK and in Portugal); institutions and anti-institutions (covering art schools, summer schools, festivals and workshop programmes); and varied approaches to teaching and training as a performative inter-generational transaction.

Gavin Butt’s ‘Without Walls: Performance Art and Pedagogy at the “Bauhaus of the North”’ traces the impact of libertarian teaching in the 1970s at arguably the most influential teaching institutions for the history of performance art in the UK, Leeds Polytechnic. In ‘Lessons from Outside the Classroom: Performance Pedagogies in Portugal, 1970-1980’, Cláudia Madeira and Fernando Matos Oliveira recount approaches to performance training as they developed in Portugal in the wake of the 1974 revolution outside of formal institutions.

Deirdre Heddon’s ‘Professional Development for Live Artists: Doing it Yourself’ explores the history of the DIY professional development scheme as an example for how training practices are being reimagined as live art practices in themselves. In ‘Training for Live Art: Process Pedagogies and New Moves International’s Winter Schools’, Stephen Greer examines the New Moves International (NMI)’s winter school as another key example for an artist-led scheme that made productive live art’s resistant relationship to established forms of performer training.

In ‘“I’ve been as intimate with him as I have been with anybody”: Queer Approaches, Encounters and Exchanges as Live Art Performer Training’, Kieran Sellars identifies in the cross-generational performance collaboration between Sheree Rose and Martin O’Brien a form of queer embodied discipline that draws on BDSM as well as Live Art lineages. And in ‘Curious Methods–Pedagogy Through Performance’, Leslie Hill and Helen Paris document the close ways in which their training methods have reflected on and contributed to their creation of live performance work.

The Training Grounds section (edited by Bryan Brown) supplements this with a collection of shorter essais, postcards, and a book review (edited by Chris Hays). Will Dickie’s expanded essai (accompanied by videos available here on the TDPT blog) investigates the application of psychophysical actor training to live art. In the issue’s second essai, a trio of practitioners (Áine Phillips, Dominic Thorpe and Tara Carroll) offer insight into three generations of Irish live art practice by detailing transformative encounters with their teachers. The two postcards for this special issue (by Sara Zaltash and N. Eda Erçin) wrestle with the entanglements of live art practice, life and communities. And Campbell Edinborough’s review of Marina Abramović’s memoir Walk Through Walls furthers the discussion of how a live artist’s work is their life while querying the ability to turn that life into a method.

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Gill Clarke Bursaries

Independent Dance and Siobhan Davies Dance are offering bursaries of between 5k – 8k to support students on the jointly delivered MA/MFA Creative Practice: Dance Professional Practice Pathway, run in partnership with Trinity Laban.  The bursaries, named after founder Gill Clarke, are supported by The Leverhulme Trust. 

This MA/MFA course, now in its tenth year, is designed to provide a flexible programme of study and an environment of rigorous creative enquiry, supporting practicing artists in their further development. Studio practice is accompanied by reflective and theoretical study; modules are devised to be conversant with one another, allowing for an interdisciplinary approach individual research. Areas of study range across perspectives, including theoretical and philosophical underpinning of arts practice,  in visual art, film making, writing and embodied practice and other disciplines. 

To be able to apply for a bursary, you must have applied and been accepted onto the MA/MFA Creative Practice: Dance Professional Practice Pathway. For all information about the bursary, please see click here.

International and UK-based students are eligible for bursary awards.

DEADLINE
Deadline for bursary applications for 2020/21: Monday 22 June, 5pm.
On time deadline for course applications to be able to apply for the Gill Clarke Bursary: 15 June 2020.
Applications to the course can be submitted after this date, but won’t be eligible for the Gill Clarke Bursary.

Other bursaries are also available from Trinity Laban. Click here to find out about more funding opportunities.

Anyone interested in applying is welcome to have an informal conversation: please email Independent Dance at info@independentdance.co.uk

‘Seen But Not Heard’: Some thoughts on the actor’s aesthetic labour six years on

MA Physical Acting improvisation, University of Kent (2019)

This is a 2020 response to my article ‘Seen But Not Heard: An embodied account of the (student) actor’s aesthetic labour’ (Mitchell, 2014), made available as open access as part of TDPT’s 10 year anniversary celebrations.

Six years after this article was first published, the thing that strikes me is what I find in the title. ‘Seen but not heard’ was my effort to create something brief and memorable for the potential reader, and in choosing it of course I was thinking about all the ways in which an actor’s body is put to work (and put at risk), in a tension between business, art and the personal which we often see but rarely discuss.

What I didn’t reflect on so much at the time was where that phrase comes from: the old saying, ‘Children should be seen and not heard’. This English proverb dates from the 15thcentury, where it was originally directed primarily at young women: ‘A mayde schuld be seen, but not herd’ (John Mirk, ca. 1403)[1].

This opens up a couple of things for me that I don’t discuss in the article, but which I think continue to be important:

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10 Free-to-Access Articles to Celebrate 10 Years of TDPT

In the middle of last year when we were considering how best to celebrate 10 years of TDPT, we focused in on the idea of 10 free-to-access articles representing the last decade of the journal’s activity: A Desert Island Discs, or Training Top Ten.

That was before the profound changes brought about by the global pandemic, an event which seems to have carved history into two: BEFORE and AFTER. Then, in the blissful period of BEFORE, we had no idea how precious online resources would be, how far the digital space would become home for so many of us, so quickly and involuntarily. 

Now in the deeply unsettling and unknown period of AFTER, this selective retrospective of the Journal’s activity since 2010, joins an unprecedented landscape of free digital resources and innovative online endeavour gifted to the world. In our selection, editors, Libby and Jonathan have tried to represent the international and intellectual diversity which has characterised contributions to TDPT from the very beginning. In doing so, we have had to leave out the vast majority of the excellent contributions we have published over the years.  What we offer here, then, is a snapshot of TDPT’s sizeable intervention into the field of Performer Training, one produced in what now seems a different world.  If you can, please read every one of the free to access articles, and engage with us and the authors, in the comments box on the blog. Why not start, where it all began in 2010, with Marijke Hoogenboom’s, ‘Building with Blocks’ article? Her final words, turning Kafka on its head, are more pertinent than ever: ‘We are here, so there is hope’.

By Jonathan Pitches

A number of the authors of these articles are writing reflections on their work from their current perspective. These will be posted on this Blog in the coming weeks. The first of these is Roanna Mitchell’s reflection on her 2014 article, ‘Seen But Not Heard’, ”Seen But Not Heard’: Some thoughts on the actor’s aesthetic labour six years on.’

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Digital Revisions & Disciplinary Crises

While this post aims to contribute to the conversation provoked by Jonathan Pitches’ ‘Embodied Learning Online‘, it is primarily a sharing of thoughts that emerge in light of the current climate caused by the COVID-19 pandemic, and has been informed by two years of research on online, remote, and collaborative teaching conducted in collaboration with Hannah Schwadron (FSU, US) and Theron Schmidt (UNSW, Australia) under the title ‘Planetary Performance Pedagogies’. Hannah, Theron, and I are planning to launch a series of online seminars that build on this discussion by mid-May. If you would like to learn more about that, feel free to drop me a line at felipe.cervera[at]lasalle.edu.sg.

Like many practitioners, educators and scholars, I have been involved in developing and implementing online strategies for theatre and performance-based courses over the last few months. Additionally, I have had the benefit of thinking through this ‘digital transition’ with various friends and colleagues while trying to figure out how theatre and performance should respond to the moment. In digesting these conversations, my first coherent thought about the current situation is that we are facing a disciplinary crisis. This crisis is visible in the various ways in which theatre and performance makers and especially educators are trying to “move online”. However, these efforts — besides not being *really* online but rather emergency reactions — are symptoms of a deeper problem surfaced by the pandemic.

The actual crisis that we face is the crisis of performance knowledge and its systematization into a structure of transferable skills or their display. This is a crisis in the foundational arguments that dance, theatre, and performance made to academia in their fight to legitimize their knowledge(s) as distinct from, and not a subsection of, literature or history (for discipline and degree specialization). It is also a crisis that unsettles the argument that they made to the contemporary economy on their value and specificity concerning other media. Of course, the issue stems from the dislocation of face-to-face teaching and presenting, which by extension, questions too the irreplaceability of tacit and embodied knowledge as being the ontological condition to performance pedagogy. The problem lies slightly beyond the classic debates on liveness and media. It cuts to the core of the specificity of performance knowledge and how it is organised, transferred, and shared.

We are not *really* teaching online, but adjusting to an emergency. This is a pivotal point to have in mind. The situation we face will teach us more about how to teach theatre and performance (and their study) remotely, digitally, and online. But what we are actually doing right now, for the most part, is fumbling to adjust tacit and embodied knowledge into a medium of teaching that we have made sure to pose as its contrary. And we made this point in the pursuit of validating the specificity of live, synchronous, and face to face performance as a legitimate, award-granting medium of instruction and proper academic object of knowledge. In dealing with the current situation, many of us have had to promise our institutions and our students, explicitly or not, that our programmes can and will continue *online* (of course, when online is even an option). As we begin to realize that we are likely to have to adjust or even redesign the curriculum to fit the emergency’s aftermath, it is also important to bear in mind the ways in which the boundaries of our discipline will bend, and maybe even break. That bending/breaking will be a fight for the institutional survival of our field, for sure. Yet, at the same time, it will teach us a thing or two about performance, epistemology, and their interaction. It will show us what performance can do when assemblies are illegal or not allowed. And it will also teach us a lesson to care for our less/non-institutionalized colleagues and our less/non-digital students.

The pandemic has already taught dance, theatre, and performance that remoteness is compatible with learning, teaching, and collaboration. Physical distance does not mean social distance. The situation, thus, invites collaborative efforts, both in proximity and remoteness, to address the disciplinary crisis we face. In the conversations that I have had with friends and colleagues in Singapore and elsewhere on this matter during the last two months, the debate has tended to ask whether what we have done (moving online) is good or bad for the protection of our discipline; or whether we should “go back” to embodiment as a way to retain what is properly ours, or whether university-based dance, theatre, and performance disciplines have finally met their end; or whether we should activate the politics of performance studies and its adisciplinarity to safeguard our future in the post-pandemic university. These are all debates that exceed my contribution to this post, but I remain open to continue to unpack.

Looking at the pattern, however, my instinct is that the actual task at hand might be to spend valuable time re-evaluating the ancillary arguments that hold dance, theatre, and performance together as academic disciplines, and that in doing so we should be ready to unlearn. I also suspect that at the same time, we need to be ready to defend performance knowledge now more than ever, both within higher education and outside of it, and that maintaining the cliché binary of live/online will do us no good in that fight. Multimedia epistemes and pedagogies have been around for a long while, after all.

Felipe Cervera is a Lecturer in Theatre at LASALLE College of the Arts (Singapore) and holds a status-only appointment at the Centre for Drama, Theatre, & Performance Studies of the University of Toronto. His research focuses on collaborative academia (teaching and research), and in the interplays between performance, science, and technology. He serves as associated editor of Performance Research and Global Performance Studies

The Diaphragm in Performance — Postcard from IPPT Kent 2020

A short video postcard from the International Platform for Performer Training, Kent, January 2020.

Embodied Learning Online

As we enter a near global shelter at home response to the COVID-19 pandemic, performance practitioners and educators are rapidly shifting to virtual online resources for their training. Institutions are shuttering but our practice and educational work continues. Unlike the plagues of previous centuries, our contemporary technology allows us to converse, move and share knowledge despite the suspension of face-to-face encounter. However, virtual and online learning has been critiqued extensively as a platform for embodied transmission.

The following post by Jonathan Pitches aims to dispel some of the critiques of online learning as being insufficient for embodied practice and learning. We hope it’s a useful provocation for our readers to explore more digital learning and to comeback to the blog with their own posts to add to the conversation.

Embodied learning – a guide to moving online

A few days ago thousands congregated in the UK to show their appreciation of the health workers on the front line of the coronavirus pandemic, a mass gathering of isolates facilitated by social media, recorded on our phones and re-distributed online. The #clapforourcarers national event echoed those held all over the world, bringing together communities in unprepared isolation to make a simple gesture of respect and humility to the doctors, nurses, and care-workers working in the health system.

In the last few weeks there have been seismic movements in the relationship between online and off-line activity: myriad examples, like the #clapforourcarers initiative, of creative people taking their skills online to encourage others to explore new activities in their homes. Pub quizzes, fitness sessions, cookery classes: all are upscaling to national dimensions to keep countries sane, not to mention an entire education system (from nursery to PhD) which has converted to online teaching and learning overnight.

In this definitive digital moment, what are the things to look out for as beacons of good practice for online embodied learning? What can be achieved? I write from the perspective of a Lead Educator and designer of a FutureLearn course, Exploring Physical Theatre, a Massive Open Online Course which five years ago was groundbreaking, heretical even – at least for Russian theatre training purists. In just a few days, online specialist training has become the new normal but carefully crafted and insightful embodied practices delivered digitally remain rare. Here are some of my reflections derived from teaching nearly 30,000 students techniques of Russian actor training. I have arranged them as an acrostic.

Experience is key

Even in the asynchronous world of an online course, key events structured into the learning can be galvanising for students – the promise, for instance, of moving from theoretical ideas to practical investigation at the beginning of a new week.

Massive cohorts can work

Some online courses have been critiqued for being mechanistic and non-interactive, but if care is taken large groups of students can have a bespoke experience – moderators can support lead educators to reply to comments and students support one another in self-organising clusters.

Bodies change online

Teaching a very precise, physical form, using video tutorials, enables an educator to gauge how deeply the students are embodying the principles of the training. Students who upload examples of their training can be given precise feedback, in ways which are very similar to studio training.

Organisation of resources is vital

Online courses, just as with face-to-face modules, construct a journey of learning. It is this level of organisation and curation which distinguishes them from more piecemeal online offerings.

Digital artefacts can be key to the learning experience

Gauging Learning can be challenging when your students are all over the world or silent in comment threads. Asking for the uploading of a digital artefact, capturing their learning, appeals to different learning styles and creates a gallery for others to comment on.

Young and old will engage

Theatre studios tend to be populated by young fit people. An online space brings a much wider demographic of learners together and some of the typical hierarchies experienced by trainees can be dismantled.

Jonathan Pitches is Professor of Theatre and Performance at the University of Leeds, UK and a FutureLearn lead educator. He has trained with Russian masters in Vsevolod Meyerhold’s system of ‘biomechanics’ and has been teaching students these principles since 1995.

Words In, Of and For Performer Training

Reflections on the 2020 International Platform for Performer Training

For three days in January 2020, the University of Kent’s drama department hosted the 7th edition of the International Platform for Performer Training with a focus on how words operate in performer training. The platform was organised and led by Paul Allain, Professor of Theatre and Performance, Stacie Lee Bennett-Worth, PhD candidate at De Montfort University and Honorary Research Associate at Kent, Alicja Bral, PhD candidate at Kent, and Dr Roanna Mitchell, Lecturer in Drama and Theatre also at Kent. The event involved some 50 participants, mostly from across Europe, in a lively mixture of short workshops, presentations, talks and discussion.

Sessions focused on community-based applications of training, voice and text work, languages used in training pedagogies, speaking dreams and inhabiting avatars, verse-speaking and the breath, ideas drawn from Russian and Polish theatre and Grotowski especially, using film for training and how circus tends to ignore the voice. The journal Theatre Dance and Performance Training had a continual presence at the platform, offering itself and this blog as spaces for continuing our physical and vocal dialogues. Here we take up this challenge.

Bennett-Worth created this collage to visually and textually though silently activate some of the energy, ideas and words circulating during the platform, also depicting many of the people involved.

Please click the image below to open in a new window which will allow you to zoom in.

The orginal event call out reads as follows:

Training to be me: videos

The following video recordings have been collected to go with the essay ‘Training to be me’, found in TDPT 11.2 Live and Performance Art. The entries comprise a short film and 3 videos of exercises I created to help me make 3 different performances. Each entry works as an example of how I have applied a principle or technique from my experience with performer training to my autobiographical, live art making processes.

HAMPTON

This short film, created in 2011, is included here to share how I applied my martial arts training in the South Indian Martial Art Kalaripayattu. I used an embodied sense of ‘listening to space’ to make choreographic responses to the built environment of my childhood hometown – Hampton – in South West London. Camera by Will Hanke. 

MEMORIES OF SUBURBIA – password: MOS

This video records the vocal training I undertook to deliver the final text in my solo dance theatre work – Memories of Suburbia. The video includes 2 exercises from the Suzuki Method of Actor Training, as taught to me by John Nobbs and Jacqui Carrol from their own method – the Nobbs Suzuki Praxis. Introducing a recording I made from interviewing my Nan to the process, I used these exercises to deepen my capacity to embody her voice and listen to it at the same time.  The video ends by showing the text on its feet in performance at Battersea Arts Centre in 2014.  

image by Diego Ferrari

Memories of Suburbia was created with support from Chisenhale Dance Space, with movement direction from Fabiola Santana & lighting design by Marry Langthorne. Camera by Chris Jenkins.

TEAM OF THE DECADES – Password: TOTD

This video records an exercise created for the two performers of Team of the Decades, an outdoor participatory work for 10 audiences members at a time. The purpose of the exercise is to give myself and the team coach the chance to drill aspects of the show within the performance environment. We are attuning to the landscape, each other, our individual scores, and an imagined audience we will guide through the experience.

image by Paul Blakemore

Team of the Decades was created with support from Battersea Arts Centre, and is performed by Will Dickie & Tim Hopkins. Camera by Fabiola Santana.

THE RAVE SPACE  – Password: TRS

This video records an exercise created to train my kinaesthetic relationships to the equipment and playing space of The Rave Space – an immersive DJ performance for nightclubs. My final 90 minute performance score includes all the sonic manipulations and movement work that appear in this exercise. 

image by Joe Twigg

The Rave Space was created with support with Arts Council England, Battersea Arts Centre, Camden Peoples Theatre, Heart N Soul, Shoreditch Town Hall, South Street Reading & ZU-UK, and the creative team includes Chris Collins, Dan Canham, Fabiola Santana, Hayley Hill, Marty Langthorne & Peader Kirk. Camera by Chris Jenkins. 

Racism and Contemporary Dance Film

Contemporary dance is anecdotally described as a white field of practice. Although there is a growing body of arts research that examines whiteness as racial privilege, there is little that investigates the phenomenon of whiteness in British contemporary dance. Contemporary Dance and Whiteness is a research project that explores how race and racism mark the cultures, institutions and aesthetics underpinning contemporary dance in the UK. 

The project’s aim is to explore racism in contemporary dance and to critique whiteness as part of a commitment to the field’s anti-racist futures. We examine whiteness as a structure of racism that exists in the relationships between personal prejudice, cultural norms, and the lived conditions of inequality and racial violence. We as a project team want to walk a fine line in understanding and critiquing the default presence of whiteness in the field of contemporary dance while centering practices of liberation and solidarity through which whiteness is to be dismantled. 

The research will be built on a number of conversations/interviews with dance artists, administrators and a wider project group of people invested in questions of race and race privilege in the dance industry. The ideas and experiences discussed in those conversations – along with reading available literature – will help develop our understanding, and we will share the research through the following outcomes: a journal article, an academic presentation, a public workshop, a public presentation, a video essay and this website.

The video essay can be viewed here:

The research team is Royona Mitra (Brunel University), Arabella Stanger (University of Sussex) and Simon Ellis (C-DaRE, Coventry University). The project partner is Independent Dance in London. 

Contemporary Dance and Whiteness is funded by the British Academy through their partnership with the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy. The project runs from May to December 2019.

Royona Mitra: royona.mitra@brunel.ac.uk
Arabella Stanger: a.stanger@sussex.ac.uk
Simon Ellis: simon.ellis@coventry.ac.uk

CfP: TDPT Special issue: Independent Dance and Movement Training

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

Guest editors:

Henrietta Hale and Nikki Tomlinson, Independent Dance, info@independentdance.co.uk; Gitta Wigro, independent, gwigro@gmail.com

Training Grounds Editor: Dr Sara Reed, Coventry University ab5421@coventry.ac.uk

Independent Dance Training (Issue 12.2)

This special issue guest edited by Henrietta Hale, Nikki Tomlinson and Gitta Wigro draws from our roles at Independent Dance, an organisation that supports and sustains independent dance artists to develop dance as an art form. The ‘independent dance artists’ that ID engages with can be many things. They may produce or perform in choreographic works in theatres, galleries, digital formats or outdoor / informal sites. They may work as facilitators or teachers with other professionals or in community settings, engaging untrained people in dance. Or they may be practitioners from other disciplines such as fine arts, architecture or science who engage in an embodied movement practice to complement and bring new knowledge to their field.

The aim of this issue is to consider and map how movement practices that have evolved from specific traditions or situations are used and re-articulated for other purposes; and show how this plays out in inter-related, international networks of practitioners.

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TDPT 10.3: What is new in voice training?

We are delighted to share that the latest Theatre, Dance and Performance Training special issue, ‘What is New in Voice Training?’, is out.

The issue, guest edited by Konstantinos Thomaidis, proposes a timely re-examination of voice in performer training. The literature on voice, theatre and pedagogy is, of course, vast. In the case of singing, it is largely dominated by paradigms appropriate for operatic and musical theatre performance. In the case of speech training, areas that have been systematically explored include the pedagogies developed by an influential generation of mid-twentieth-century, UK- and US-based speech trainers – and, to a lesser extent, the voice practices pertaining to (post)Grotowskian lineages or the integration of first-wave somatics into voice work. While drawing impetus from these significant insights, the purpose of this special issue has been to lend an attentive ear to the transformations such established pedagogies are currently undergoing as well as to less widely circulated and emergent methodologies.

In other words, the issue asks: What is new in voice training?

Contributors to the issue shared their practice and research in a variety of formats (peer-reviewed articles, essais, visual essays, postcards, ATQs, blogs, reviews) and engaged with topics and sets of questions such as:

  • Renewing voice training: How are existing systems, exercises and practices reconfigured in new settings? How can we re-evaluate the foundational premises of voice training through recent discoveries in physiology and advances in critical theory? In what ways are such methods adapted, hybridised, repurposed, recycled, rethought?
  • New practices: Which are the new approaches to voice, speech and singing training currently in the making? How do they depart from or extend current conceptualisations of voicing? What performance contexts are they designed for? How are they taught, recorded, written about and transmitted?
  • New documents: Which practices of voice training have not been systematically documented and disseminated? Which practices have received less critical attention and how can new archives engage us in dialogue with them? What is the place of the ‘document’ in practice-as-research approaches to voice pedagogy?
  • The new voice coach: Which are the new exigencies placed on coaches today? What challenges do they face? Which methodologies have been developed in response? How is voice training conducted beyond the conservatoire studio?
  • New contexts: How is voice training taking into consideration gender, class and ethnic diversity? How is the pedagogy of speech and song responding to neurodiverse trainees? How are interdisciplinary performers trained in voice work? How is training originally developed for artistic performance adapted in other contexts and circumstances?
  • New criticalities: Which emergent critical methodologies can we deploy to critique voice training or to generate new approaches? How can voice training embrace ecocritical or new materialist strategies? What is the place of the expanding corpus of vocal philosophy in the studio?
  • New histories, new lineages: What does new archival research reveal about the lineages and historic practices of voice training? How is the history of voice training rewritten? How are premodern forms of voice training revitalised in contemporary performer training?

CONTENTS

Editorial: What is new in voice training?

by Konstantinos Thomaidis

https://doi.org/10.1080/19443927.2019.1677384

Answer the question: How are voice trainings adapted, recycled, transplanted and repurposed?

Rockford Sansom: https://www.tandfonline.com/doi/full/10.1080/19443927.2019.1667179

Abimbola Adetola Stephen-Adesina: https://www.tandfonline.com/doi/full/10.1080/19443927.2019.1667180

Luis Aros: https://www.tandfonline.com/doi/full/10.1080/19443927.2019.1667181

Oliver Mannel: https://www.tandfonline.com/doi/full/10.1080/19443927.2019.1667182

Sarah Weston: https://www.tandfonline.com/doi/full/10.1080/19443927.2019.1667183

Article

Vocal Empowerment Curriculum for young Maya Guatemalan women

by Beth Osnes, Chelsea Hackett, Jen Walentas Lewon, Norma Baján & Christine Brennan

https://www.tandfonline.com/doi/full/10.1080/19443927.2019.1637371

Essay

Pitch and gender in voice training: new methodological directions

by Jane Boston

https://www.tandfonline.com/doi/full/10.1080/19443927.2019.1660523

Essay

The act of listening: Gardzienice’s mutuality practice and the ACTing voice

by Anna-Helena McLean (collaborating academic advisor Demetris Zavros)

https://www.tandfonline.com/doi/full/10.1080/19443927.2019.1660524

Article

Singing bodies: reconsidering and retraining the corporeal voice

by Gavin Thatcher & Daniel Galbreath

https://www.tandfonline.com/doi/full/10.1080/19443927.2019.1637370

Postcards

J. Ariadne Calvano: https://www.tandfonline.com/doi/full/10.1080/19443927.2019.1660530

Rachel K. Carter: https://www.tandfonline.com/doi/full/10.1080/19443927.2019.1660531

Essay

Support: birthing the voice

by Leah Lovett

https://www.tandfonline.com/doi/full/10.1080/19443927.2019.1660525

Article

Speech-language pathologists with a vocal music background: exploring impact on the training of the transgender voice

by Danielle Cozart Steele

https://www.tandfonline.com/doi/full/10.1080/19443927.2019.1640781

Postcards

Ben Macpherson: https://www.tandfonline.com/doi/full/10.1080/19443927.2019.1677387

Annie Sanger-Davies: https://www.tandfonline.com/doi/full/10.1080/19443927.2019.1677386

Article

Devisers in the dark: reconfiguring a material voice practice

by Electa W. Behrens

https://www.tandfonline.com/doi/full/10.1080/19443927.2019.1637372

Essay

Approaching Italian gorgie through Karnatik brigha: an essai on intercultural vocal transmission

by Charulatha Mani

https://www.tandfonline.com/doi/full/10.1080/19443927.2019.1677385

Article

Between preservation and renewal: reconsidering technology in contemporary pansori training

by Konstnatinos Thomaidis

https://www.tandfonline.com/doi/full/10.1080/19443927.2019.1645040

Visual Essay

Becoming robot through voice: training in artificial voices

by Francesco Bentivegna

https://www.tandfonline.com/doi/full/10.1080/19443927.2019.1634639

Essay

‘Next year’s words await another voice’: British Sign Language and voice work with D/deaf actors at the Royal Conservatoire of Scotland

by Mel Drake

https://www.tandfonline.com/doi/full/10.1080/19443927.2019.1677388

Obituary (Cicely Berry)

Stephen Kemble: https://www.tandfonline.com/doi/full/10.1080/19443927.2019.1660538

Postcards to the future of voice

Kate Godfrey: https://www.tandfonline.com/doi/full/10.1080/19443927.2019.1660532

Margaret Pikes: https://www.tandfonline.com/doi/full/10.1080/19443927.2019.1660533

Darryl Taylor: https://www.tandfonline.com/doi/full/10.1080/19443927.2019.1667178

Subhashini Parthasarathy: https://www.tandfonline.com/doi/full/10.1080/19443927.2019.1660534

Theodoros Terzopoulos: https://www.tandfonline.com/doi/full/10.1080/19443927.2019.1660535

Jaroslaw Fret: https://www.tandfonline.com/doi/full/10.1080/19443927.2019.1660536

Anne Bogart: https://www.tandfonline.com/doi/full/10.1080/19443927.2019.1660537

Reviews

Marcus Cheng Chye Tan: https://www.tandfonline.com/doi/full/10.1080/19443927.2019.1640782

Sarah Holden-Boyd: https://www.tandfonline.com/doi/full/10.1080/19443927.2019.1640783

For colleagues without institutional access, the editorial, the obituary and the article by Cozart Steele are freely available.

Further, the special issue is accompanied by a series of entries posted on the journal’s blog: http://theatredanceperformancetraining.org/category/comebacks/what-is-new-in-voice-training/

Special thanks to all contributors, the TDPT team and the community of artists, trainers, trainees, practitioner-scholars, peer reviewers and interviewees that the special issue represents.

With all best wishes,

Konstantinos Thomaidis

Senior Lecturer in Drama, Theatre & Performance

University of Exeter

Where is the vocal training for ageing female musical theatre performers?

During my observation of the rehearsals of a new country-music MT (musical theatre) production in May 2019, I was fortunate to witness the two female leads (a performer in her late 50s and a performer in her early 20s) working on their singing parts. The younger lead appeared to approach her character’s songs with ease whereas the older lead had to try different vocal placements multiple times without apparent success. Since the two leads shared many duets together on stage, the reviews of the performances, perhaps unavoidably, reflected this discrepancy: ‘Although [younger lead] tries her best to rescue the harmonies this has very little effect […] [and] vocally the experience is at points unpleasant. [Older performer] playing the lead breathes a neurotic and very believable air into Sandra and this is to be commended, but vocally within a musical a lot hangs on the lead’s vocal ability, and this just isn’t up to scratch’ (Wilding, 2019).

While I was reflecting on the making of this particular musical, and taking under consideration musical theatre’s preference for young(er) over old(er) performers, a crucial question arose: what happens to the ageing female voice when that voice no longer fulfils the expectations of this musical theatre?1

The notable shift of musical theatre to CCM (Contemporary Commercial Music) styles during the last two decades resulted in an important remoulding of the industry’s vocal casting needs, with the largest percentage of postings requiring female performers to sound like rock/pop singers. Phrases such as ‘must belt to C’ or ‘must mix to D’ or descriptions such as ‘must be power rocker’ appear in the majority of professional casting notices for Broadway and West End musical theatre productions (Lovetri, 2013). This increase of CCM writing in musicals has proved to be ‘a highly sophisticated and technically demanding art form which has […] created a need for its own pedagogy’ (Edwin 2007, p. 215). Musical theatre programmes offered by theatre academies nowadays aim to meet the needs of this new vocal pedagogy recruiting, among other techniques, spectrographic software for formant tuning and visual support for the understanding of different singing techniques.

Nevertheless, previous generations of female performers in musical theatre come from different vocal training(s) and/or no formal singing training at all. The performers then were, usually, cross-over actors, singers and dancers working in musicals. David Craig, a master teacher and creator of performing techniques for singing in musical theatre, remarked: ‘After World War II, I was teaching [in musical theatre] […] actors and dancers; some of them rather well known on Broadway but not one of them was a singer’ (On Singing Onstage). Rebecca Caine, the originator of the role of Cosette in Les Misérables highlights in her interview for The Stage (2019): ‘A lot of people in my generation weren’t technically as well-founded as the kids coming out of training today’.

Despite the lack of technical training in musical theatre singing, these performers were ‘the raison d’être for the original productions. […]: [a] virtual pantheon of composers and lyricists willingly wrote for them […] [and] their singing [was not] considered second-class’ (Craig 2014, p.94). ‘Old school’ performers now have difficulties shifting to the ‘fashionable’ belting rock and pop styles, and as they are not considered anymore, due to their older age, for roles of ingénues or young soubrettes, they turn to cabaret or concerts ‘where you can still sing the “I’m gonna” songs’ (DeMaio 2013, p.69).

So, where is the training that will help older performers remain in, or return to, the MT business?

One might argue that the biological ageing of the voice, which affects women due to menopause (approximately at the age of fifty, but can begin earlier, whereas men’s voices are affected by biological ageing around sixty), might render an ageing female performer vocally ‘inadequate’ for industry standards and audience expectations. Dryness of the throat, a loss of brilliance in the voice, a decreased ability to reach high notes and, in some occasions, difficulty to maintain pitch and unclear diction may be some of the effects related to menopause.

However, when Ann Emery performed between the age of 75 and the age of 84 the role of Grandma in Billie Elliot the Musical (Elton John and Lee Hall, 2005), a CCM rock/pop musical, she used all the above ‘symptoms of age’ to deliver her song in a contemporary belt with breathy, raspy and growly vocal distortions – characteristics of a technique that defines rock and pop power singing. Was this very successful delivery the distillation of her invaluable experience of singing onstage?

DeMaio (2013), in her PhD research on strategies used by postmenopausal elite singers in order to maintain vocal quality and range, concluded that ageing female professionals on Broadway usually follow the same steps as ageing opera singers: hormonal replacement, continuous daily singing as part of the ‘use it or lose it’ philosophy, exercises that help to keep head-mix voice, general SOVT (semi-occluded vocal tract) exercises which mainly help the vocal folds to vibrate with less effort (such as Titze’s straw exercise), and general VFE (vocal function exercises), such as Stemple’s exercises, which aim to strengthen laryngeal musculature. However, opera singers train towards vocal requirements almost opposite to those for contemporary MT performers: classical voice training and operatic delivery with consistent vibrato is associated with the ‘golden age’ musicals and the ‘old fashioned’ legit singing.

Yet, if the perceived ‘fault’ of physiovocal ageing is exploited by the musical theatre industry as a justification for the fact that there is, indeed, a lack of further training for ageing female performers, then how will these performers be able to meet present-time expectations and, consequently, be given equal opportunities for roles? Is this ‘fault’ treated, perhaps, as an indistinguishable ‘disturbance’2 across all values in performers’ individual variances? In other words, is the lack of training justified on the basis of a ‘what-this-voice-can-do-because-of-the-performer’s-gender-and-age’ presupposition and thus uncritically and sweepingly imposed on all ageing female performers, no matter their individual potential, expertise and skills?

Where do we go from here? How do we develop appropriate trainings, exercises or pedagogies suited both to the aesthetic demands of contemporary musical theatre repertoire and the needs of ageing female vocalists?

Brief Bio:

Faye Rigopoulou is a PhD candidate in Drama at the University of Exeter. Her research focuses on ageing female vocality in musical theatre. Faye has a long service in musical theatre as a director, music director and performer and has taught musical theatre courses since 2004. She has trained at the National Conservatoire of Athens (voice, composition, and piano virtuosity), the Academy of Russian Ballet in Greece (dance), and has received training in Stanislavski’s system.

Notes:

  1. Drawing from Gough and Nakajima (2019) ‘When the dancer and the dance are inseparable, where does the dance go when that ageing body no longer does that dance?’ (p.1)
  2. In statistics, ‘disturbance’ or ‘error term’ reflects all variables that separate a model from the actual observed reality; the term is used here metaphorically.

References:

Craig, D., (2014). ‘On Performing Sondheim. A Little Night Music Revisited’ in: J. Gordon (ed) Stephen Sondheim, A Casebook Routledge. pp.93-106.

DeMaio Fox, B., (2013). ‘The Effect of Menopause on the Elite Singing Voice: Singing Through the Storm’. PhD. Shenandoah Conservatory.

Edwin, R., (2007). ‘Popular Song and Music Theater: Belt Is Legit’. Journal of Singing. 64(2), p.215.

Gough, R., and Nakajima, N., (2019). ‘On Ageing (&Beyond)’. Performance Research, 24(3), pp.1-8.

Hemley, M., (2019). ‘Rebecca Caine: Trend for belting in musical theatre has created a more generic sound’. The Stage [online]. Available at: https://www.thestage.co.uk/news/2019/rebecca-caine-trend-for-belting-in-musical-theatre-has-created-a-more-generic-sound/ [Accessed: 20.11.2019]

LoVetri, J., & Weekly – Means, E., (2003). ‘Contemporary Commercial Music (CCM) Survey: Who’s Teaching What in Nonclassical Music,’ Journal of Voice. 17(2), pp.207-215.

Wilding, G., (2019). ‘Review: Hot Flushes Camden People’s Theatre’. A Younger Theatre [online]. Available at: https://www.ayoungertheatre.com/review-hot-flushes-camden-peoples-theatre/ [Accessed: 19.06.2019].

 

Computers, Humans and ‘Daisies’: Becoming Machine through Voice.

This post commences with a brief video extract taken from the photo-essay that I wrote for the special issue of the TDPT journal (10.3: ‘What is New in Voice Training?’). I decided to share on the blog a different audio-visual standpoint on my work. In contemporary academia, the so-called ‘practice turn’ allows scholars to find new and creative ways to share their research. In this sense, Voice Studies has necessitated a vocal approach to dissemination, and performance training needs to be addressed inclusively. I felt the urge to ‘vocalise’ my project, therefore my blog-entry aims to embed voices in the discussion and to offer a different way of listening to it.

What if a computer, or a machine, could teach us to sing or talk? As part of my practice-as-research Ph.D., I tried to train myself to ‘sound’ as an artificial voice, with an unusual coach: the computer itself. From November 2017-April 2018, I worked on an experimental training of voice re-production, with the specific aim of inverting conventional approaches to the loop of vocal mimicry: normally, we shape artificial voices on the basis of ‘natural’ voices, making computers mimic humans. My idea was to reverse the process and investigate how humans could mimic computers. I decided to develop a training approach that started from artificial voices, exploring human-machine communication, as well as approaching performance training differently. This blog entry contains audio-visual documentation of this process and, further, it is designed to accompany the self-reflexive and contextual account that can be found in the photo-essay. With these documents, I explore the work undertaken, explain the pitfalls and frustrations involved in the process, and outline future possibilities for performing machines differently.

Becoming Machine – a brief collection of my screen recorded exercises

Screen-recorded, the first video shows the process of editing and recording through the DAWs – Digital Audio Workstations – Praat and Ableton Live. The plug-in Chipspeech was the primary tool for this research: it allowed me to digitally recreate the original IBM 704’ speech synthesis that sung ‘Daisy Bell’ in 1964. In the first part, I have included one of the exercises that I created. My wish was to mix digital and real-life training, so I devised mixed-sources exercises. In this case, I present my attempt to ‘be taught by the computer how to vocalise vowels. It is possible to see how I created the vowels on Chipspeech, how I tried to replicate them, and then how I filed my recordings on the computer and sorted them by frequency and in alphabetical order. Praat, the sound analysis DAW, was fundamental to investigate the files phonetically. At 01.45 the video shows the analysis and comparison between audio files – the letter ‘I’ for example – and the difference in frequencies.

The second part – starting at 03.13 – introduces the other approach I developed for my project. Ableton Live is on vertical mode; the top left column has a speech synthesis version of ‘Daisy Bell’, in each cell. The second column is empty, as well as the third, the fourth, the fifth, and the sixth columns. On the top right, the seventh column, in every cell, has my human-voice-produced version of ‘Daisy Bell’. As the video continues, I filled the empty cells in the empty columns with ‘new’ recordings that attempted to increase the ‘robot-ness’ feel in my voice. First by copying the speech synthesis, listening to it. Secondly, by adding ‘robot-ness’ to my voice as I was listening to my human recording. On the left, you can find recordings based on me trying to replicate the speech synthesis; on the right, recordings based on myself trying to emit a robotic version of ‘Daisy Bell’, while listening to the human version. The central columns are meant to be filled by ‘re-worked’ and improved versions of the recordings, after a close listening to the ones in the second and the sixth columns.

The second video is recorded with the front camera of my laptop. After a brief introduction of the work that I am about to do, I start vocalising what I understand as ‘human speech-synthesis’. I decided to upload this part to the blog to help the reader engage with my struggle of trying and failing. My intention was to show the numerous attempts through which I realised how hard—impossible, even—the project was, and to invite the viewer/listener to think how a human could look and feel while ‘becoming a machine’ through newly devised voice pedagogy. This video documents my training on two separate days: one at the beginning of the project, the other towards the end – and allows me and the reader (or viewer/listener) to notice the differences in my voice.

The three audio files that I have chosen among more than a hundred represent my two best attempts in recreating the speech synthesis version of the song – included here under the name Robot.

Robot

The file Struggle is probably the most important: in less than 2 seconds, it embodies the struggle of months repeating the first two syllabi of ‘Daisy Bell’.

Struggle

The third file, Robot-Human, is a comparison between me and the computer voice.

Robot-Human

This work invites and cultivates a different point of listening, and hopefully, provokes a discussion on how human practitioners might engage with computers, speech synthesis and robots. I hope that other practitioners are inspired to engage in a similar attempt, and share these attempts in vocally becoming a machine (perhaps as comments below). Will their struggle be the same as mine?

About the author: I was born in Italy in 1990. I am a Ph. D. student, a musician, a trained actor, a DJ, and a comedian. My field of interest moves between voice, artificial voice, voice training, hauntology, posthumanism, HRI and HAAI. I am currently a PhD student at the University of Exeter working on a project on analysing the Posthuman Condition through voice, looking at the differences between artificial voices and natural voices in Performance Practices. My work with voices echoes in my musical project called Mr Everett, where we investigate human and machine communication through voice, comedy, and dance: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wiyrp4qXTdc

Practise, process, and preach: An intercultural embodied approach to understanding ornamentation

Dr Charulatha Mani

As a performing vocalist, my primary lens to review, analyse and contribute to any field of musical activity has been my vocal practice. However, reconsidering my embedded practice of Karnatik vocal music of South India and its culturally contingent qualities in the light of global voice literatureburgeoning theories, and other lateral practices of colleagues, across historical and current contexts, has always proven to be one way through which I have acquired a considered view of the situatedness of my practice in the broader global domain of music-making and music education.

In my essai titled ‘Approaching Italian gorgie through Karnatik brigha: an essaion intercultural vocal transmission’ published as part of the TDPT special issue ‘What is New in Voice Training?’ I have adopted a similar strategy in weaving a narrative that factors-in a broad spectrum of subject matters; however, my intention was to funnel them into the receptacle of intercultural vocal pedagogy for the present. The unique strand of Italian vocal ornamentation of the 16th and 17th centuries, the gorgie; a typical style of vocal ornamentation that draws heavily on diminutions, brigha;theories of embodied cognition and physiovocal empathy; and the current global landscape of music education that is fast-embracing diversity, equity and inclusion, all find place in this essai.I have drawn on and reflected upon the views of students in describing the ways in which I taught strategies to unleash the gorgie on a group of student-performers of Early Opera, by adopting an imitative reconstruction of the Karnatik brigha. A lost vocal tradition from the Early Modern period is regarded in the essai through the lens of a currently alive, yet ancient, tradition from South Asia, Karnatik vocal music. This approach to pedagogy draws heavily on my doctoral research, ‘Hybridising Karnatik Music and Early Opera: A journey through voice, word, and gesture,’ wherein I have established the commonalities between vocal styles of early music and Karnatik music, from both physiognomic and technical perspectives. I expect that the outcome of this teaching exercise might legitimise non-traditional ways of approaching Western classical music training, while also decolonising music education by challenging established premises from a position of diversity and agency in voicing.

The media, ‘Researching ornamentation in Monteverdi’s Possente Spirto through reflective practice’ is shared above and is an excerpt from my practice-based exploration of gorgie from a brigha perspective. It derives from cross-modal approaches to music cognition and transmission, including an acknowledgement of the affective states induced in the body during vocalisation, musically contingent and cultural-semiotic gestures, visually rich historical scores, and my own reflections. Through practice, I demonstrate that the vocalising body processes visual, gestural, kinaesthetic parameters conveyed by music by directly correlating these sensorial experiences to the vocal practice that it is familiar with, thereby establishing a linkage – between techniques across styles and times. It was this personal experience that I used as evidence to transmit gorgie training in a way that is useful to the Early Opera students, using Karnatik brigha as a conduit. Practitioners and educators may engage with this media by acknowledging their own vocal experiences as they behold the visual, gestural, and aural parameters that unfold before them. Such acknowledgement would be the first step to then engage with students across these very parameters. In doing so, newer modalities and approaches to voice training could experientially unfold.

The contributor Dr Charulatha Mani is a well-established vocal performer / researcher / educator with primary expertise in Karnatik music of South India. She recently received her PhD on intercultural intersections between 17th century Italian Opera and Karnatik Music from Queensland Conservatorium Griffith University, Brisbane, Australia. She loves to challenge convention and is an active scholar in the fields of voice studies, artistic research in music, historical and comparative musicology, and critical cultural studies. She currently manages the Queensland Conservatorium Research Centre, Brisbane, Australia.

The act of listening: Gardzienice’s mutuality practice and The ACTing Voice – a multimodal presentation

The following audiovisual documentation was taken during the ACT International Voice and Performance Residency in Centro Anidra, Italy (10-27 September 2018), directed by Anna-Helena McLean. Designed as a complement and integral partner to the essai ‘The act of listening: Gardzienice’s mutuality practice and The ACTing Voice,’ this multi-modal publication is an experiment, working within the form afforded by the TDPT special issue 10:3 ‘What is new in voice training?’ to seek new approaches to practice-based research.

You are invited to witness a series of brief encounters, spanning exercises in progress, actors in rehearsal and interviews with international workshop participants as well as McLean. The films on their own offer practice-based insights, and together with the essai gain epistemological contextualisation from McLean’s experiential standpoint as a musician, actor and researcher. The enquiry is centred around the way McLean has been evolving the practice she discovered as a principal member in Gardzienice (2000-2007). Now director of her own approach to music theatre and devising, called the ACT (Actor – Chorus – Text) Ensemble Practice, McLean’s text and film trace the development of the practice and its relevance to voice work, embodied voice and vocal extension through a ‘physiovocal’ approach (see Thomaidis 2014), based on McLean’s re-imagining of the core Gardzienice principles of mutuality and musicality. The films allude to new physiovocal exercises including the musicality of the spine, harmonics, interval modulation, body resonators and the physiovocal alphabet in the director’s drive to ‘listen to’, navigate and address the actors’ process in order to extend vocal possibilities and enable more nuance and sensitivity to text.

Clip 1 (Leading with) Mutuality

Clip 2 The act of listening

Clip 3 Extending the voice

Clip 4 Physiovocality

Clip 5 Body resonators

Clip 6 The acting voice

Clip 7 Physiovocal scoring

Credits

Research advisor/support: Demetris Zavros

Film: Federico Torre

Media editors: Jesse Embury and Sid Sawant

Collaborating actors and participants: Robert Schein Bogdanovic, Rosie Clark, Eleanor Debreu, Kaeridwyn Eftelya, Andrea Foa, Ola Forman, Caroline Gatt, Amelia Gibbs, Emily Jane Grant, Wanning Jen, Louise Parr, Dylan-Donovan Sebaoun, Susanna Wilson.

Location: Centro Anidra, Borzonasca, Genova, Italy.

Reference

Thomaidis, K. 2014 Singing from stones: physiovocality and Gardzienice’s theatre of musicality. In: D. Symonds and M. Taylor, eds. Gestures of music theater: the performativity of song and dance. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 242-258.

Finding one’s teaching identity through change and innovation in Voice Training

Many voice teachers might consider developing new teaching practices and methods in voice training in actor training environments as a daunting prospect. In my own training, both as an actor and as a voice teacher, the received practices and philosophies of renowned voice and speech practitioners were passed on to me by my teachers, studied carefully through their books, and then embedded and repeated through my physical practice as an actor, and in my MA Voice Studies Teacher Training. Their specialist technical approaches and philosophies remained unquestioned in their efficacy in serving the needs or abilities of all (including those who may not fit within an assumed normative model of cognitive style). These specialist practitioners’ voice training methods are formed through years of experience in teaching the subject, with extensive knowledge of vocal anatomy, voice production and acting approaches, and are commonly Anglo-Western in origin. Some individuals’ methods have emerged over time to be singled out and followed by others, requiring further learning and practice in becoming expert in their particular techniques. For example, many voice teachers in the US, UK and Australia identify themselves as Linklater, Fitzmaurice or Lessac Practitioners (and are certified as such through specialised training). Alternatively, there are those who choose to follow the Cicely Berry, Patsy Rodenburg, Barbara Houseman, Clifford Turner, or David Carey methods (amongst others); all are commonly endorsed and practised in Western actor training.

Speaking from my own experience as a voice teacher, for some years my ownership of the work was demonstrated through my study of the exercises and range of these voice experts’ methods and repeating them slavishly in my own teaching. (In my case, voice teaching includes vocal development, speech, articulation, reading of the written text, expression of the self, and an ability to transform through voice and speech/accent characterisation). However, in frequently encountering acting students with dyslexia, I have observed that some of the commonly taught methods (although highly effective with many students) do not allow or facilitate a flexible response to the mixed learning styles and needs of individuals with Specific Learning Differences/Disabilities met within a student cohort. My esteem for the renowned practitioners and acceptance of their knowledge and expertise had restricted me from thinking for myself within the circumstances of my own teaching, and my noting of the struggles of some of the SpLD, neurodiverse students. As Carr and Kemmis point out, ‘much teacher action is the product of custom, habit […] which constrain action in ways that the teachers themselves do not recognise’ (1986, p. 189). In my copying of ‘good teaching’ and aligning my teaching identity with others’ practice, I did not ask myself: what kind of teacher am I? What knowledge do I value? Why do I teach this way? How might I break away from teaching methods that reinforce the dominant perspectives privileging some ableist groups over others? How can I ensure my teaching practice does not disable those who process differently?

In attempting to meet the needs of those students with dyslexia, through a close observation, I utilised the methodology of case study, in capturing the lived experience of individuals with dyslexia. The requirement of a fluent ability to read aloud in the acting of a complex text is a key component of many text-centred units of study within the curriculum of actor training in both conservatoires and universities (especially in the study of Shakespeare and the acting of classical texts). Crucially, through the methodology of action research, through trials of experimental practice with my dyslexic acting students, and through discussion and reflection on the outcomes, I began to discover my own teaching identity and construct my own methods of enabling and freeing the students’ vocal expression, building their accuracy of word, while nurturing their latent talents. The nature of action research, wherein a problem is identified, and possible solutions imagined and action taken with an evaluation of outcomes (McNiff 2013) provided an opportunity to explore practical changes in my teaching with my dyslexic students. As any mistakes are regarded as valuable findings for reflection and prompts for future changes, action research removes the fear of failure, thereby allowing tentative steps of confidence in devising new practices and a self-authorship, for both student and teacher.

My book ‘Teaching Strategies for Neurodiversity and Dyslexia in Actor Training: Sensing Shakespeare’ (2019) has set out six new teaching strategies. Through my explorations, aiming to support individuals with dyslexia, I also discovered my authentic voice as a teacher in furthering the development of adaptable acting, voice and speech training strategies. In a brief dissemination of content, I present two pivotal statements made by two of my acting students assessed as dyslexic:

‘For me, as a dyslexic, Shakespeare is very accommodating. It has taken me eleven years of struggle to come to realize, because of my dyslexia, I understand things through image and metaphor. Shakespeare’s writing clicks in my head the way numbers click for a mathematician’. (Fred, acting student with dyslexia)

‘As soon as a text is presented to me, my guard instantly levers up due to fear and lack of confidence. I am instantly terrified I am going to embarrass myself because of my reading ability and because I cannot analyse what I have read afterwards’. (Phoebe, acting student with dyslexia)

These statements encapsulate many of the issues explored within my book and, for those who teach, they generate questions, opening channels for discussion, reflection and action amongst teaching communities. These questions include:

• What do we need to do to understand the specific needs of individuals, (such as Fred and Phoebe quoted above) so we might free and enhance their capabilities?

• How might we scrutinize our own teaching practice, ensuring that our values and pedagogical choices are ethical and socially just, while fostering the abilities of every individual?

These are the kinds of questions that interest me and that I have engaged with in the book and still form the core of my practice. In particular, I have investigated how the building of visual and kinaesthetic constructs can facilitate some acting students with dyslexia in their reading, speaking, comprehension and acting of Shakespeare’s text, and how such epistemic tools can be utilized in voice and acting classes. The questions I have explored include:

• How might the articulation of acting students with dyslexia, (related to clarity of thought and the words), be assisted through drawing, artwork, and the physicalisation of symbols associated with the meaning of the written text?

• What is the role of embodied cognition and multi-sensory processing in accessing the written text, and retaining the information for those with dyslexia?

• How does imagery act as a mnemonic device and expressive interpreter for those with dyslexia?

• How can Stanislavski’s physical actions support neurodiverse approaches to text?

• How might interpretive mnemonics and distributed cognition lead to a voiced autonomy in those with dyslexia?

In practice, these are complex questions, which require research, time, and practical study in teaching and working with individual students as co-researchers. The nature of dyslexia is indeed slippery when trying to define and address its characteristics (Elliot & Grigorenko 2014). Its impact on the voice, communication, self- confidence, working memory and emotions produces enduring challenges in tackling these factors effectively when teaching individuals with dyslexia. Such challenges and questions influence my approaches in voice and actor training, and I continue to endeavour to answer them through conscious observations, trials of practice and responsive changes.

References

Carr. W. & Kemmis, S. (1986).Becoming Critical. London: RoutledgeFarmer.

Elliott, J. C. & Grigorenko, E. (2014). The Dyslexia Debate. New York: Cambridge University Press.

McNiff, J. (2013). Action Research, 3rd ed. London: Routledge.

Whitfield, P. (2019). Teaching Strategies for Neurodiversity and Dyslexia in Actor Training. New York: Routledge.

Biography Dr Petronilla Whitfield is Associate Professor in Voice and Acting on the Acting (Hons) degree at the Arts University  Bournemouth. She holds a PhD in Arts Pedagogy from Warwick University and an MA in Voice Studies from the Royal Central School of Speech and Drama. Trained originally as an actor at Arts Educational Schools, she was a professional actor for twenty years. A teacher of voice and acting at leading British training institutions and universities, Petronilla has presented her research and work with dyslexic acting students at conferences in the UK and in the USA, and her work has been published in several peer reviewed journals, including TDPT (2017), Research in Drama Education (RiDE 2016), and The Voice and Speech Trainers’ Review (2015 & 2009). Other writing includes a chapter in ‘Using Art as Research in Learning and Teaching’ (ed. R. Prior, 2018) and a monograph ‘Teaching Strategies for Neurodiversity and Dyslexia in Actor Training: Sensing Shakespeare’ (Routledge 2019).

‘Moritz to Fritz’ A Response to Performer Training Reconfigured: Post-Psychophysical Perspectives for the Twenty-First Century by Frank Camilleri

This blog post is based on a presentation for the Asian book launch of Performer Training Reconfigured, organised by the School of Dance and Theatre at LASALLE College of the Arts, Singapore, 28 August 2019.

When I, Maiya, a performer-trainer-researcher focused on movement- and body-based approaches to theatre, started reading Frank Camilleri’s book, Performer Training Reconfigured: Post-Psychophysical Perspectives for the Twenty-First Century, I felt thrilled: ‘what comes next in this world of performer training?’ This is the first thing that the ‘post’ in the title suggested for me.

But then as I continued reading, I began to shift uncomfortably in my seat, ‘am I being asked to give up my commitment to embodiment as a primary point of departure both creatively and theoretically?’ The chair suddenly felt too hard, the back rest at the wrong angle, the air conditioning too low, my breath shallow.

Camilleri assured me, the Lecoq-based creator, trainer, and writer, that his work is indeed a development of the psychophysical commitment in performer training. And then, instead of just being uncomfortable in my seat, I took up Camilleri’s challenge and thought ‘well, if I am uncomfortable here it is only because there is a chair to shift in, there is a floor for my chair to stand on, and there is an air conditioning unit to control the temperature which is high because I live near the equator’. Quickly I started understanding myself not as confined within the border of Maiya’s embodiment but as one of Camilleri’s assemblages, which he takes up from Deleuze, Guattari, and DeLanda. An assemblage is a network of dynamic relations and connections which encompasses physical embodiment but extend outwards. Where this network ends, I can’t quite see… And it keeps changing …

Camilleri’s post-psychophysical approach moves forward and outward theoretically speaking, using a variety of disciplines and voices to point toward an ever-expanding notion of what exactly is being trained in 21st century performer training. Indeed as Camilleri notes, for a long time performer trainers have expressed how training tools and environments are essential to the training process. Masks, sticks, suitable studios are all important details for the training process. Any trainer or trainee has also experienced it. When you have to ‘make do’ with non-optimal spaces or tools you know the line between when you can make a plastic Friday-the-Thirteenth-Horror-Movie Mask work in actor training, and when it just simply won’t do what a Sartori leather neutral mask can do. Camilleri addresses this, but he is even more bold and goes beyond what other trainers have articulated: he looks to broader training conditions and the factors that make those conditions possible, he takes note of the affectivity in the process that is constantly moving through, from, and around objects, people, spaces, and relations, and he anchors this web of relations in a recognition that nothing, absolutely nothing, exists in psycho- physical- affective or social- isolation. This is how he argues for a necessary turn to assemblage theory.

I find a deep kinship between this book and my own interests in intersections of body-based actor training and cognitive scientific approaches. Camilleri engages some of these, including the enactive approach, which I use to consider the cognitive dimensions of the Jacques Lecoq’s pedagogy in my book Enacting Lecoq (2019). Through enaction, I argue how Lecoq pedagogy – and by extension, many performer training practices – are processes that transform our bodymindworlds to fundamentally cognitive ends. In this instance, I also see ‘cognition’ as a capacious category in line with enaction.

In my own journey to take seriously Lecoq’s commitment to movement, along with the enactive approach’s commitment to cognition as fully embodied, extended, embedded and affective, I had to drill down into many discourses and theories of embodiment. While the enactive view takes embodiment as a core tenet, scholars disagree over whether it should be a ‘strong’ or ‘weak’ embodiment. Matthew Bower and Shaun Gallagher[i] (whom Camilleri references) argue that a weak embodiment sees the body in an outdated conception of cognition, where corporeal software of the ‘body’, however important and active, fundamentally responds to the mental hardware of the ‘brain’. In this sense, even an active interest in foregrounding embodiment can bear the ghosts of Cartesian dualist bodies and minds. When they advocate for a strong embodiment, the body is the mind – the entire psychophysical unity makes cognition and makes mind. As someone who generally argues for a strong embodiment, I’ve realized that taking such a strong approach to embodiment opens up unexpected avenues.

If cognition is fully embodied, and knowing, doing, understanding, imagining, and learning are deeply related activities in an expansive holistic psychophysical process, then I would have to agree with scholars who suggest that reading is also an embodied practice, just as is training in so-called physical theatre practices. Indeed, if you follow the strong conception as far as it goes, humans can never escape embodiment. It is the only way of existing. If a strong embodiment is the human way of being in the world, then it cannot be limited to large physical movements, it must also include the fine-grained ways that we are bodies in the world – when we are still, when we are sitting at our uncomfortable chairs, when we are sleeping, when we are watching, when we are reading Deleuze and Guattari, when we are pondering even the most theoretical of theoretical physics. Or, most importantly to Camilleri’s discussion, when, like Fritz, we are writing in complement to studio work. The character of Fritz is Camilleri’s nod to Clark and Chalmers’s explanation of extended cognition.[ii] This explanation recounts a story about a man named Otto in comparison to a woman named Inga who both want to go to the museum. Inga simply remembers the way, where Otto must write down directions on a notepad because he has Alzheimer’s. According to the extended cognition hypothesis, the effect is the same because Otto has simply extended his cognition into the notepad. Camilleri playfully introduces this character named Fritz who is a practitioner and regularly writes journal-style about his practice. (Now, I don’t know about those of you others who have read this book, but I think Fritz and Frank have quite a lot in common…) He uses Fritz to argue that the studio work is extended into Fritz’s writing practice and should be understood as such. While Fritz purposefully handwrites with a fountain pen for a specific manual engagement with paper, even if he wrote on a keyboard, or like Stephen Hawking, used cheek movements to designate every letter, he is involved in an embodied activity. I’m not sure that we have found any living examples of escaping a strongly embodied condition, even if we are in some sort of fully technologically sustained state of extended cognition.

Camilleri is clear that the ‘post’ in ‘post-psychophysical’ refers to moving through and beyond the psychophysical tradition and discourse, rather than rejecting it. I do sense, however, that in the need to define and distinguish the ‘post’ part of the term, more attention is paid to how and why, ‘post-psychophysicality’ is different than ‘psychophysicality’. This is logical. What I wonder about in Camilleri’s turn, however, which I would be curious to hear more about, is just how the post-psychophysical exists because of and builds upon the psychophysical: how the ‘post’ comes into being through the ‘psychophysical’. Perhaps I am making Camilleri’s point about folks who are so committed to the psychophysical that we cannot see outside of it (me?). But as a person who has been trained, trains others, and continues to train myself, so far, I have experienced how we must address the complexity of performing by first circumscribing small tasks and issues, and then gradually collaging them together. This takes time. Activities to match breath and simple movement are not the whole picture, but it gives the performer a point of departure from which to develop. Of course there are countless other points of departure. To face the vast complexities of our interconnectedness may be overwhelming in practice – and there may be constraints on the human bodymind that keep us anchored in a kind of first-person perspective when initiating action. What if our profound interconnectedness and extension into the environment can only be experienced and made use of in bite-bite sized pieces? In other words, the psychophysical as a point of departure for action and for deploying agency has been extremely useful. In some philosophy of cognitive science, the question remains: is the human psychophysical body somehow the only agential point of departure for humans?[iii] 

I see one possible aspect of the post-psychophysical as a development of the mere psychophysical in this idea of taking a strong embodiment seriously, at least through an enactive perspective, with its grounding in embodied biological and cognitive processes. If you take a strong embodied cognition toward its limit, it actually goes beyond the limits of the flesh – it has to – the enactive holisitic bodymind’s cognitive apparatus emerges only from and through the entity’s interaction in the world – the extended space marked by Camilleri’s term ‘bodyworld’. Some enactivists like to quote philosopher Hans Jonas who suggests that life is in a constant state of ‘needful freedom’ where the entity only exists (it is free as a distinct entity) through taking what it needs to exist from its externality (the environment that sustains it).[iv] In a sense, I might suggest that finding yourself plop in the middle of assemblage theory is an inevitable consequence of the strongest commitment to embodiment there is – embodiment in inextricable entwinement with the environment. I’d like to know more about how Camilleri might trace this path.

This book is one of those rare animals that simultaneously engages with highly theoretical material – or ‘Theory with a capital “T”’ as I like to call it – while still retaining the in-the-trenches gravity that comes from an author steeped in lifelong practice. This is important to our fields of theatre and performance as many of us still fight to resist binaries of thinker and doer, scholar and maker, objective analyzer and subjective practitioner. One of the ways Camilleri accomplishes this is by providing a recurring feature: ‘tips for practice analysis’, or small practical exercises that engage a participant in the issues addressed in that chapter. It’s a way to remind the reader – you also have to ‘do’ to understand. This points to another aspect of the book that makes me hungry for more. On the one hand, Camilleri shows how training-as-assemblage may be considered to have always existed. On that view, we have just been slow to theorize it. On the other hand, it also feels like Camilleri is positing his post-psychophysical as a clarion call ‘Assemble!’ In other words, it feels like he is suggesting that by overtly acknowledging training as an assemblage that moves from, through, and beyond the psychophysical, we can envision and make something new together in the realm of performer training. Camilleri’s discussion on ethical approaches to performer training points in this direction. While this book is sweeping and attentive to the practical dimension, I want to know more – what is it like, or what has it been like for Camilleri to overtly develop a training system as assemblage? Does it look like anything beyond acknowledging what is already there and giving value to it? Or does that act of acknowledgment then transform the practice, transform the way practitioners think/move/act and train? In other words, at this moment, is the post-psychophysical descriptive or activist? I suspect both, and I am curious to know more about those details and their consequences. So if moving from bodyminds to bodyworlds, how, on the ground, in the studio, do we find purchase in an expansive new network way beyond the borders of our bodyminds? What does it create? Are practitioners overwhelmed by the new, expansive vista? How do we, in the act of performer training, take action in this new web of relations?

But I leave you with a short hand-written letter that I wrote I found from a fellow practitioner-researcher who makes theatre, trains performers, and writes about the process. I found it on 28 August 2019 when I was presenting this response to Camilleri’s book at LASALLE College of the Arts:

Dear Fritz,

Thank you for showing me how to assemble. I am enjoying it very much.

Now I have a new question: my training bodyworld is so vast that I feel paralyzed. What do I do?

Sincerely,

Your friend in post-psychophysical futures,

Moritz

PS: Here is a map from LASALLE College of the Arts to the National Gallery Singapore. I have the path memorized since I live here. You might need a map since you are new to the city. I’ll meet you there?


[i] Bower, Matthew, and Shaun Gallagher. 2013. ‘Bodily affects as prenoetic elements in enactive perception’, Phenomenology and Mind 4, no. 1:108–131.

[ii] Clark, Andy and David Chalmers. 1998. ‘The extended mind’, analysis 58, no.1: 7-19.

[iii] See Varela, F.J., Thompson, E. and Rosch, E., 2017. The embodied mind: Cognitive science and human experience. MIT Press and Stewart, J., Stewart, J.R., Gapenne, O. and Di Paolo, E.A. eds., 2010. Enaction: Toward a new paradigm for cognitive science. MIT Press.

[iv] Jonas, Hans. 2001. The phenomenon of life: Toward a philosophical biology. Evanston: Northwestern UP.

New processes for digital encounters with wild, green spaces by Jo Scott

This digital postcard, comprised of audio and video material alongside the print version published in the journal, evokes an emergent set of practices and training prompts that arise from my wanderings with a digital mobile device in urban ‘wildscapes’ – environments in cities where ‘natural as opposed to human agency appears to be shaping the land’ (Jorgensen 2012, p.1).  In the past year, I have attempted to train myself to use my device differently, intersecting playfully with its capacities to capture, record and ‘sample’ the spaces I move through. I have challenged myself to think through and re-position the computational processes of the mobile device in relation to my encounter with the processes of nature happening in such spaces. This practice has been led by an interest in wildness as present in nature, the digital device and within me too.

What has emerged so far is a set of prompts and provocations that I have been using as part of this training process, alongside practices that have arisen from the implementation of these. They are shared below in a couple of different forms, which have proliferated from my initial idea that this would be disseminated through a single video. Firstly, there is an audio track, mixing text and sound with prompts to engage the device you carry into a wild green space in new ways – it is designed to be activated in situ. In addition, there is a video representing the encounters between a device, a space and I, as experienced through the reflections and prompts shared in the audio track. It combines video, panned and glitched images (as referenced in the postcard within the journal), song, text and sound. I suggest that you watch this video after completing the activities proposed by the audio track, as it echoes and responds to some of the prompts and reflections there. 

For ease of reference, the training prompts are also included separately from their interweaving in the sound and text of the audio track, as a text-based document, alongside a transcript of all the text included in the audio. I would love to hear any responses you have to engaging with these materials or receive results of your explorations in urban wildscapes. Please get in touch with me to share these at joanneemmascott@gmail.com.

References

Jorgensen, A. (2012). Introduction. In: A. Jorgensen and R. Keenan, eds. Urban Wildscapes. London: Routledge, 1-14.


Audio Track

The full reference list for the audio track is included in the transcript below. All music on the audio track and video below is composed, performed and recorded by Jo in Salford, apart from the excerpt of a Beatles track at the end of the audio, which is referenced in the transcript.

Emotion-Action/Musiciality as a practical tool for investigate and creating the invisible space.

Bred In The Bone is a multilingual and culturally diverse company of theatre creators. Musiciality, physical practise and development of the body, ear and voice as an eternal ever-inspired instrument, are at the core of our training.


The idea that there should be a practice of ‘scales’ for the actor is arguably an ancient endeavour, and it remains the best description of what we developing, both in our rehearsal work and in what we implement in our training and our teaching.

Continue reading

Launching the Special Issue

On 3 November 2018, the special issue of Theatre, Dance and Performance Training “Training Places: Dartington College of Arts” was launched at Dartington. As an editor of the special issue it feels odd to write about the event in any depth or with any modicum of critical distance, so I won’t attempt it. However, given the reach of DCA, and the particular placement of Dartington in the rural southwest of England, it seems appropriate to mark the launch with this post and provide some traces of the event for those unable to attend, or for those attendees that may in the future wish to revisit.

The day encapsulated the spirit of the special issue: reflective and celebratory, with a pinch of mourning and a dash of optimism. After a few introductory remarks by the editors (some of which are available here),

 

Karen Christopher (Haranczak/Navarre Performance Projects) performed a heartfelt response to the issue, incorporating various approaches to performance and textual interplay the Drama and Dance fields at Dartington College of Arts promoted and challenged. Her dripping and disappearing ink and the audience singalong simply and poignantly evoked the lifeblood and ethos of the College for me. [Note: this is a long clip, as it is her response in full, nearly 50 minutes.]

 

Following Karen’s response, the audience was split in two. One section following walking artist and a core member of Wrights & Sites, Simon Persighetti as he guided us through a variety of “Thresholds” in a multisensory and multihistories stomp of the former DCA grounds.

The other section, in groups of three, shared their own reconnaissance of Remembering for the future in an activity organised by Simon Murray.  Given advance warning, attendees were asked to share moments of their time (or imagined) at DCA with each other that either was a/ troubling, disquieting, problematic, counter-productive and harmful, or b/ productive, positive generative and affirmative. This experience was then discussed for its power to stay with the person down the years, and why and how it might inform creative and pedagogical practices today and in the future.

I compiled this visual essay from various social media posts after the event to capture some of the feelings and experiences of these walks and the day itself.

DCA Launch Visual Essay

With walks concluded, Rhodri Samuels (CEO Dartington Hall Trust) spoke at length about the loss of the College for Dartingon today, the renewed Trust and a future for Dartington that hopes to reclaim the holistic mission of its founders, Leonard and Dorothy Elmhirst. While the devastation caused by the previous Trust remains, many former staff and students agreed that Dartington finally appears to be in good hands. We look forward to new blooms from painful compost, some of which I am sure will come from the work of Alan Boldon and Tracey Warr (both former DCA staff) who have recently been hired to rebuild the educational priorities and opportunities of Dartington by developing the Learning Lab programme.

The afternoon concluded with four brief responses to the day by David Williams, Sue Palmer, Tracey Warr and Jonathan Pitches. These very different comebacks captured the range of discussions, emotions, and ghostings the day conjured.

 

While a number of attendees imparted to me over drinks and dinner that the day had provided a sense of coming (perhaps not full, but at least positively) towards a sense of circle in their experience of DCA, the launch was just that: a moment to celebrate the release of this issue. Its ability to now be something in the world is up to those who use it.

There are currently a few free articles available for download on the TDPT website. If you like what you are reading and would like your own copy of the special issue, we have a limited number of hard copies still available for £5 + postage. Please contact me at B.Brown@exeter.ac.uk to purchase a copy or three today.

Walking to Dartington

Donna Shilling walking to Dartington College of ArtsIn September 2008, I walked from London to Dartington, reverse-tracing the route I’d taken as a third year theatre student, to physically mark the departure of the College, shortly after the announcement of its forthcoming merger with Falmouth University.

Conversations were recorded along the way with former tutors and students who each walked for a day, sharing thoughts on what was important about the college, its pedagogy, and approach to art making and performance.

A decade later in September 2018, I returned to Dartington’s first alumni STREAM festival to present documentation from the walk.

In the following recording of that talk, audio excerpts of these meandering dialogues are presented alongside photographs and maps re-presenting the shared daily journeys as we navigated the landscape between London and Dartington.

Overlay map of shared journeys to Dartington College of Arts

Fellow walkers in order of appearance are: Alan Read, Gary Winters, Emilyn Claid, Dan Gretton, Augusto Corrieri, Sue Palmer, Jerome Fletcher, Joe Richards, John Hall, Simon Persighetti, Misha Myers, David Williams, Josie Sutcliffe, Peter Kiddle and Simon Murray, with additional text from Ric Allsopp. These personal reflections present a multivocal account of Dartington’s influence.

Extracts of dialogues included in this presentation discuss: histories and evolution of the courses; ideas of community, collaboration, contextual practice; staff engagement and dialogue with students and connections to the broader contemporary arts scene; ways of being, questioning, exploring, presencing, opening; pedagogy, cultural theory, the project system, site work, contemporary and experimental ethos; psychogeography; intensity, passion, bureaucracy, homogeneity; challenging dominant paradigms and the complexity of becoming artists.

This presentation accompanies an article of the same name published in the Special Issue of TDPT (9.3) “Training Places: Dartington College of Arts”.

With special thanks to; Daisy Robertson, Tim Vize-Martin, Augusto Corrieri and Pete Harrison for filming and co-ordination. Joe Richards and David Williams for encouragement, support with contacting contributors and David’s spoken words at the walk’s ending. Alan Read, Sue Palmer and David Williams for sharing photographs and to Simon Persighetti for the scones.

 

Peter Hulton on Dartington College of Arts

Theatre Papers: The First Series. Number 4 was Steve Paxton.

In February of 2018, Peter Hulton generously came into my office at the University of Exeter to provide an interview on Dartington and the College of Arts. In true style, this was not so much an interview as a well-planned riff by Peter on three primary themes: training, the Dartington project, and the Drama and Dance field. Having been a key member of staff since the inception of the three originally certified degree programs at the College, Head of Department and Principal of the College, Peter offers a unique context and perspective on the pedagogy and structure of DCA. Moreover as creator of Theatre Papers and Arts Archives, Peter Hulton has influenced the entire discipline and methodologies of practice research and he touches upon these projects in the second half of this recording.

A succinct version of this interview can be found in the Special Issue of TDPT (9.3) “Training Places: Dartington College of Arts”.

The Transistion or The End of the Affair

Image

By Emma Louvelle, Student DCA 2009-2013

For an artist, change – pursued, required or met by accident – can be invigorating and liberating, creative compost. The artists at Dartington in 2010 (who under the binary signifiers of most educational settings become the ‘teachers’ and ‘students’) experienced an enforced change,

My first year as a ‘student’ at Dartington coincided with Dartington’s last year in Totnes. Just one year, but the concept of time as a measurement is often lacking for there are many forces at work outside such a simple perception. In my last week on the Estate I marked out with a stick ‘Dartington College of Arts’ in the pristine Zen garden and hid in the gardens a stone carving I had made; I wanted to leave a piece of myself within that landscape. Into hamstone I sculpted a long face, hair sweeping diagonally away from its forehead, its eyes open but sad and lips large but closed. Intrusion via art was not what I sought, but a representation of the acceptance and peace I had found at Dartington alongside the sadness I felt with leaving; it was a gift of gratitude. Once finished I searched the estate for the right place to leave my offering, I looked for a choreography of equilibrium between the landscape and the sculpture. The whole process was an intimate performance blending artistic disciplines, moving geographically back and forth from outside to inside. It was to be a performance that acknowledged what I had received, the ‘space’ to express my need to roam, geographically, within my mind and throughout my artistic practice and a physical ‘place’ where I finally felt safe. Geographically I had danced in a river, a library, the woods, a stage, a studio, on a gravel path, in a field, a toilet and many more locations, shifting in varying patterns, from rapid to pause. My mind could play outside the straight line in the open formula awarded to documentation, boxes, wool, notebooks, drawings, collage and numerous other meanders. In the Winter Dance Gathering that year I danced in various formats but also produced an art installation about my love affair with Louise Bourgeois. At the last Dartington festival I painted and danced at the same time on a large sheet spread out in a courtyard. The two aspects of my life that had always been constant, even in ill health were finally given the freedom to meld together. The existence of all these openings of ‘space’ combined with the artists I was surrounded with gave me the ‘place’ that had until that point been missing from my life: my heart had found a home.

The heart is a powerful organ but at the same time its non-physical presence can be exceedingly fragile and the move from Dartington to Falmouth broke mine. This heartbreak manifested itself by a second year marred by ill health that resulted in me dropping out and having to repeat the year. This journey during the transition from Dartington to Falmouth I now consider as an overwhelming understanding of loss, both external and internal. A reaction in accord with the perspective of the German economist and environmentalist E.F Schumacher, who states in his book A Guide for the Perplexed that “The power of ‘the Eye of the Heart,’ which produces insight, is vastly superior to the power of thought, which produces opinions” (1973: 57).

Education that becomes a love affair sounds dramatic and wrong but Dartington was not just an educational facility. Words ultimately fail to describe Dartington; there was an interweaving between every single element. A constant allowance of blending and meetings, the physical and metaphysical, landscape and people, artistic disciplines, teaching and studying, friendship and discovery, an ethos like the universe inside a human body where breath and blood flow. The labels of ‘place’, such as ‘Arts College’ and descriptive language that follows the idea of a ‘place’ of arts education fail to capture the constant movement that existed. A map might show location and with arrival the buildings visually reference such holdings, but alongside and overshadowing these material representations of Dartington was its abstract nature. For the geographer, Yi-Fu Tuan ‘place’ occurs in ‘space’ and, “space is more abstract than place”. Tuan describes ‘place’ as, “a special kind of object. It is a concretion of value, though not a valued thing that can be handled or carried about easily: it is an object in which one can dwell” (1977: 6). Dartington physically had a ‘place’ to dwell, but it did not occur in ‘space’ as a process of reduction and containment for human understanding and control. The ideas underpinning its existence allowed for ‘space’ and ‘place’ to occur simultaneously the concepts of inside and outside became predominantly redundant. If we approach this simultaneous occurrence via Gilles Deleuze and Félix Guattari theories, Dartington was an educational scenario that actively acknowledged and sought the process of ‘assemblage’ (1987). An acceptance of a flow of agency encompassing more than just objects, practices and signs, but also qualities, touch, motion and mass; an opening where ‘space’ became ‘place’ and ‘place’ became ‘space’ all at once.

My place at Dartington on the choreography degree was organised and secured for me by my social worker and Graham Greene the disability officer at Dartington. I had requested Dartington after looking through numerous prospectuses; Dartington’s prospectus was the only one that I could not put down. All the other prospectuses contained pictures of dancers on stage and in studios; where as the main photo for the choreography degree at Dartington were dancers in a pit outside covered in mud. Before applying for degrees, I had only one formal year of dance training, training gifted to me by my local community mental health team. I had danced on my own every day of my life since a small child and when I was placed under home treatment it was the only thing I had any motivation for; not eating or washing, but dancing. The dancing I had undertaken on my own had no resemblance to any formal dance discipline. Within me was this constant need to express with my body for here I found the ‘space’ to roam and breathe. This background was not prime candidacy for many educational or conservatoire institutions, but Dartington, the only place I really wanted to go, accepted me. Acceptance as you are is integral to anyone’s psychological development and when encountered for the first time it is potent and poignant. Dartington with its existence as both an abstract ‘space’, and the physical reality of being an actual ‘place’ allowed room for many of us who fell outside of the general prescribed guidelines and confines of our educational system. The breath it held created the possibility of moving beyond such structures as grading and the ‘normal’ routes into higher education; Dartington, with its simultaneous existence as both ‘space’ and ‘place’ had the ability to see the potential in ‘something else’.

This allowance for simultaneous existence is a scarcity in our western world and when encountered by those of us who flourished there, a disconnection when outside of it developed. Frequent comments I remember from myself and numerous others would express how we forgot what the world was like outside of Dartington, a sense of not belonging and a longing to return to Dartington after periods of absence. With the transition to Falmouth for many, there was an escalation of these sentiments, verbally and inside of us, a refusal to accept the change of our circumstances combined with a sensation of being outsiders. To become an outsider after a long time in an environment where outside and inside melt together, eradicating their binary existence so they become redundant labels is uncomfortable, a pair of shoes you thought you would never have to wear again. Many of us felt Falmouth had bought Dartington not brought Dartington to Falmouth. The legacy of a predecessor imbued with knowledge and a unique ethos was unacknowledged, a legacy of law, of financial gain and property had transpired in its place, ‘place’ minus ‘space’. The transition became an economically motivated selective inheritance. Dartington became a selling point for a new capital adventure, Falmouth’s brand new Performance Art Centre. There were fewer studios and more students. A separation from the rest of the University and its other courses existed in sharp contrast to the fluidity of interaction between disciplines at Dartington. Layers of bureaucratic rules not encountered at Dartington that felt like strait jackets. For example, I was part of a group of students who arrived early, as we were part of a dance commission for the Performing Arts Centre opening ceremony. During rehearsals with our Dartington innocence, we tried to dance in Falmouth’s library, and they herded us up and escorted us from the building. I remember one of the disgruntled librarians saying ‘you are not at Dartington now, your behaviour is unacceptable’ and internally I cried. Several years later at another ceremony at the Performance Centre, the opening ceremony for our graduating year’s festival, I realised Dartington was no longer present within its walls. The opening performance was to a musical number with girls in fishnets and hot pants straddling chairs followed by a display from the cheerleading squad. Exiting afterwards many of us shared knowing looks of grief and dismay. That year was the last year where this event held any resemblance to the Dartington end of year festival, the following year the festival became combined with assessment; celebration replaced with evaluation.

In hindsight, there was a sensation that our previous reality was transitioning to a ‘poetic image’ or ‘daydream’, something I like others fought with our refusal to embrace this unwanted change. The philosopher Gaston Bachelard when discussing the concept of ‘the poetic image’ says that it is “a sudden salience on the surface of the psyche.” This emergence defies explanation and process, to try to tie down and cement ‘the poetic image’, detracts from its “essential psychic actuality” (1958: I). That through the ‘poetic image’ and ‘the daydream’ we can find ‘space’ and the seeds of the creative. “In its countless alveoli space contains compressed time. That is what space is for” (1958:8). When I moved to Falmouth, my mind refused this transition for I felt as if I had lost the acceptance I had found and a great love affair had ended. What I now understand is that is via the change to the ‘poetic image’ or ‘daydream’, the simultaneously ‘space’ and ‘place’ of Dartington now exists inside me and resonates throughout my artistic practice. I can never lose Dartington and its welcoming of me and all I gained there for it now resides resolutely in my psyche. The grief however is still there, a grief for those I do not know who will now not receive Dartington and its gifts.

References
Bachelard, G. 1958. The Poetics of Space. Boston, Massachusetts: Beacon.
Deleuze, G. 1995. Negotiations. New York, USA: Columbia University Press.
Deleuze, G. & Guttari, F. 1987. A Thousand Plateaus. (translated by Massumi, B) Minneapolis, USA: University Minnesota Press.
Schumacher, E. F. 1977. A Guide for the Perplexed. London: Vintage.
Tuan, Y. 1977. Space & Place: The Perspective of Experience. Minneapolis: University Minnesota Press.

And the Moon Waxed and Waned

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by Emma Louvelle, Student DCA 2009-2013

And the Moon Waxed and Waned

Ed. Note: This artistic capturing of her time at Dartington College of Arts grew out of a conversation between the artist and the co-editors of the Special Issue on Training Places: DCA. This piece and its companion writing explore how DCA allowed people who identify as neuro-divergent and/or with mental health disabilities to find their own ways into performance training and academia. This is only a beginning to a much larger conversation on performance training and neurodiversity that we would very much welcome on this blog or indeed as a Special Issue of the journal.

 

Reflections on TaPRA 2018 Performing Training Open Panel: Training Across Cultures: Connections, Community and Cultural Cannibalism

Activating the Space: Memories and Metaphors

One of the greatest things about going to a conference where you are to discuss, reflect on and explore performer training is that at some stage you are likely to revert to/experience being a drama student. For our performer training working group at TaPRA 2018 we were based in the R Gerallt Jones Studio at the Parry-Williams building, Aberystwyth University, which coincidentally was the same room I had my undergraduate voice and acting classes with Joan Mills. So, when Kate Craddock (co-convener, with Maria Kapsali and Tom Cantrell) said we were going to ‘activate the space’ it was a particularly surreal moment.

This is how Day 2 of the conference began. Our instructions from Kate: Do not speak during the exercise; if you notice something in the room go to it and explore it; if you notice someone else noticing something, and you are compelled, go to it. Continue reading

Visual Performance: a way of being

Sally J Morgan, Jess Richards, Mark Jeffery, Rona Lee, Roger Bourke, Emma Butchart, Gillian Wylde.

This is a composite article, prompted by Mark Jeffery in a callout to past staff and students of the Dartington College of Arts Visual Performance degree (VP). Mark provided a set of questions that contributors could choose to respond to.[1] The resulting commentaries have been edited by Jess Richards and Sally J Morgan and constructed into a single text that attempts to combine the memories of many. What we have here is by no means the whole story of Visual Performance at Dartington. Many later voices are not present, so this is only half a story. This is the tale of intentions and impacts, one that can, and should, be added to. If you would like to add your part of the story through word, images, or other audio-visual content, please contact Bryan Brown at B.Brown@exeter.ac.uk

(Sally J Morgan and Jess Richards)

“Broken Bits of Time” handmade slate clocks (2014) by Jess Richards

0.      How to do it

(Gillian Wylde, VP student 1997- 99, VP Lecturer 2000 – 2010)

#Feel the fear and do it anyway. Eliminate all forms of self-expression. Make un-training your instruction and don’t make any art. Take up post-colonial theory and fuck up imperialist narratives and colonial impulses. Take up queer theory it’s your job, and opt for alternative world making activities, anti-fascist counter culture desires. Tune in to voices of all women.  Seek out low budget mysticism in everything.  Try a new position for example: read more Gertrude Stein. The rules are that there are no rules. We are thinking about thinking. Do it more wrong. Make it worse.

1.       Beginning

(Sally J Morgan, Lecturer, Art and Social Context 1984-1990, foundational Head of Visual Performance 1990 -1992)

Very good things sometimes come out of very bad things. The bad thing in this case was when Dartington College of Arts decided to close its cutting-edge art degree, Art and Social Context in response to a financial crisis. The good thing was that the continuation of a unique approach to creative arts education was enabled at Dartington College of Arts when Visual Performance came into existence.

Laced through Dartington’s DNA was the conviction that the arts had a function beyond the ‘self-criticism’ that the modernist critic, Clement Greenberg propounded in the 1960’s (Greenberg 1961)[2].

There is a symbolic moment that sums up the turn of the tide that became the wave that Dartington surfed like no other. In 1966, British artist John Latham held an event at St Martins College of Art, London, in which he and his students ripped up a copy of Greenberg’s Art and Culture. Chewing it page by page until it became liquid, they spat it into glass vials to produce the artwork Chew and Spit: Art and Culture. During the same year, Barbara Steveni, then married to Latham, set up the Artist Placement Group (APG), with the aim of placing artists in ‘non-art locations’ to make art in response to them. In contrast to Greenberg’s position, the motto of the APG was the context is half the work, and its major tenet was, to quote Graham Stevens, that ‘an artwork changes fundamentally in where, who with, and how it is made’.

These two events were powerful markers of change. Chew and Spit might be seen as the symbolic moment of rebellion; a visceral spurning of Greenberg’s modernism and an embracing of the things it forbade: those being politics, the ephemeral, transdisciplinarity, the theatrical, the ‘now’. The Artist Placement Group was the practical response, the ‘blue-print’ for a different way of understanding art; for no longer seeing it as a product or commodity, but as a process in which anything might be possible. Political and socially engaged art was emerging in this period as a form of art-world revolution. For British visual artists in the late sixties, such as Albert Hunt, John Fox and Stuart Brisley, the line between art and political action was mutable. New, process-orientated works became a possibility. Variously described as Happenings, Environments, Actions and Performances, and typified by Joseph Beuys’s Social Sculpture projects, these are artworks in a constant state of process. They cannot find, and do not desire, stasis. They emphasise the lived-experience of the perceiver and emphasise affect over form and materiality.

This then is the place from which Visual Performance developed; moulded by a particular historical moment in which traditional boundaries were dissolved and new boundaries established. The legacy of that time, for me, is that like Vito Acconci artists like me saw art as ‘doing’. Like Stuart Brisley we allowed that art may be political and social. Like John Latham we saw art as being a ‘state of radiant energy’. Like Yoko Ono we believed that art may exist as an experience in the mind of the participant. Like all those artists, our approach at Dartington was open-minded and curious. We were not confined to form or medium, our practices were unified by a conceptual approach and a search for affectivity at the point of connection with an audience, where there is, as Julia Kristeva noted in relation to the visual works of the sculptor and theatre-maker, Robert Wilson, ‘an intrication of the roles of the artist and the spectator, erasing the borders between the self and the other’ where ‘the traditional categories – painting, sculpture, stagecraft, etc. – no longer correspond to reality’ (Kristeva 1994, 64-65).

The timing for the inception of Visual Performance is an important part of this story. The College’s financial crisis of 1990 was the catalyst, and Sam Richards has covered this very well in his book Dartington College of Arts, Learning by Doing: A Biography of a College (Richards 2015). However, there were other important factors that made this the right initiative in the right place and time, and I’d like to expand on that a little here. As one of the annual DCA prospectuses stated, Art and Social Context staff and students had, ‘persistently chosen to make performance and installation art … and to collaborate with specialists in music or theatre’ (Dartington College of Arts 1992, 8).

This was certainly the case during my time there. I had arrived in 1984 to be a lecturer in painting on the Art and Social Context course, and I was particularly interested in political community action and cross-media collaboration. I had done a lot of this on the streets of Newcastle, Salford and London. I was used to working with theatre-makers and musicians and trying to find the hybrid spaces in-between.

I wasn’t the only one who was excited by this approach. There was a lot of two-way traffic between the Art and Theatre departments in particular. My colleague Rose Garrard ran fine art-based performance art projects in which she introduced gallery-based performance approaches to art and theatre students alike. Rose was an established art-based performance artist with an international profile. She came from an art school background and, like most artists of her ilk, she saw performance art and theatre as different disciplines. Whilst there isn’t enough space in this article to fully explain the distinctions between the two art-forms, they are important to this discussion, so I’ll try to convey the facts succinctly. Performance art, as understood in the art world at that time, vehemently disassociated itself from theatre. The form developed from a position best explained by the art critic, Lucy Lippard in her influential book ‘Six Years: The Dematerialisation of the Art Object’ (Lippard, 1973), in which she observed that visual art had moved away from objects as its end, and towards the enactment of concepts. The manifestation of this was that, beginning in the 1960s, Events, Happenings and Environments took the place of sculptures and paintings, and the active body of the artist became a vehicle of artistic expression. Early exponents included Allan Kaprow, Yoko Ono, Chris Burden, Joseph Beuys and, in Britain, Stuart Brisley.

Brisley was particularly opposed to the ‘theatrical’ in performance art. He defined performance art as real-time action. This term was a signpost to what differentiated performance art from theatre: that being the enactment of actual risk through an unscripted process of what I would describe as ‘controlled unpredictability’. A performance art work of this kind might be described as an event for which resolution must be found, but cannot be fully anticipated. In this scenario, no performance could ever be repeated, was normally shown in an art world context, and was to be judged as ‘art’ rather than ‘theatre’. Most of what I would describe as ‘hard-core’ performance artists of the time would have agreed with Northern Irish artist, Nick Stewart, when he complained that too many people conflated performance art with theatre, saying, ‘there is a difference (…) theatrical-based work tends to undermine the philosophical basis of visual arts ideas’ (Stewart 1995, 166).

Rose Garrard was certainly of the same view as Stewart, and she had a great influence on the development of art-based performance at Dartington. She was well-established in this field, with a practice going back to the mid-seventies. At that time, she was considered the UK’s leading female performance artist, and if Stuart Brisley was the Godfather of British performance art, then Garrard was certainly its Godmother. She had been a visiting lecturer at many of Britain’s leading art schools and had taught many of its practitioners. Her approach was intense and challenging, and I learned a lot from it.

I too ran cross-departmental projects in that period. After having been invited by theatre students to run ‘installation for performance’ projects, I began to work more closely with some of them who were interested in taking a visual approach to their work. I had been ‘outside-eye’ or examiner for a number of them, including Christine Malloy and Jo Lawlor who went on to be successful theatre and film-makers as Desperate Optimists (their name being based on my one-time description of them). I had also collaborated on a huge outdoor project with Theatre of Public Works Director, Pete Kiddle. I worked with art students Jules Dorey, Lizzie Coleman and Margie Fortune and with theatre students who included Andrea Phillips, Dave Izod and David Richmond. The collaborative partnership that had the biggest impact on me, however, was with Melanie Thompson.

Thompson was a Dartington graduate who had specialised in dance and had gone on to form the company Intimate Strangers. Her show Chine was described as having ‘a kind of irresistible logic and fascination yet remains inexplicable’ (Performance Magazine 1988). We started to work together when the then Head of Theatre, Roger Sell, teamed us up to run a cross-departmental project in Utrecht. The two of us went on to have a series of collaborations. The most significant of these for me, was a 1989 site-specific work entitled Frontiers. The participants were a group of second year students drawn from the theatre and art departments. The site was a decayed, brick cattle-shed in a paddock full of waist-high grass, lost in the woods on the Dartington Estate.  I began by walking the site with the students looking at its visual and spatial possibilities. We decided that the audience would be drawn from point to point by encountering incidents on the way to the Cattle Shed. The students constructed installations, from which they developed the performance element. This was exciting to me because it was the first time that I had experienced the possibilities of performance that began from the visual rather than the dramatic, and I completely fell in love with it as a form that fell between fine art and theatre.

On the evening of the performance, the audience were met at dusk by a solitary guide and led through a gap in a dense hedge, down an overgrown bank, into a series of ‘accidental’ encounters with the student performers. At this point the separation of audience from performer dissolved. No longer safe in the seats of a theatre, the viewer had the sensation of accidentally witnessing a partial narrative for which they had to provide their own conclusions. It was akin to coming across a fleeting incident in the street, where you must imagine where the story has been and where it will go based on this moment in front of you.

Like Alice, they had slipped through a hole into a magical dimension. Here installation art and performance transformed the ‘now’ and the ‘real’ to produce Freud’s unheimlich. Literally translated as the un-home-like, the audience was offered the chance to experience Freud’s ‘uncanny’, where what we thought we knew was transformed in subtle and disquieting ways. This is where spillage from dreams, fears or longings, infects us, calling all reality into question.

The extraordinary and beautiful sensation of the unstitching of perception that this project produced in me was to turn into a passion for this way of working through discipline-hybridity. Students who did that project with us included Kirsten Lavers, John Bunker and Diana Collins. They, together with theatre students such as Christine Malloy, Jo Lawlor and others, formed a cross-departmental cohort exploring this uncharted state between art and theatre in remarkable and breath-taking ways, thus laying the foundations for what was to come.

Of course, this approach had not sprung up at the College out of nowhere. It built on a history of experimentation across artforms at Dartington. In 1964 John Cage, Merce Cunningham and Robert Rauschenberg’s interdisciplinary collaboration Story was presented on the Estate. Painter and experimental artist, Robert Rauschenberg recognised something familiar in Dartington’s ambience, noticing that the people there had ‘that Black Mountain beatnik kind of look’ (Kostelanetz 1970, 81).

The comparison was not unfounded, like Black Mountain, the Dartington experience was intense, incestuous and tumultuous. There was nothing there other than studios, a bar, acres of woodland, and a river that people drowned in. You could get as obsessed as you wanted and make weird stuff in ruined outhouses half-hidden in the woods. Frankly, there was nothing else to do but make art. The community was no more than three hundred people. In this environment where there was no boundary between art-life, social-life and home-life, interdisciplinary experimentation in wild and undisciplined ways was an almost inevitable outcome. The College was an isolated artistic hothouse. The Theatre Department brought the most current alternative theatre and dance companies, such as Forced Entertainment, Goat Island and Theatre de Complicite, to Dartington. Most of the students and staff attended these events. Practicing artists were invited to run intensive projects, including Dartington alumna Debra Levy (who was later short-listed for the Man Booker prize twice for her novels Swimming Home [2012] and Hot Milk [2016]) and Irish performance artist Nick Stewart. New York Wooster Group member, Nancy Reilly ran a cross-departmental project with first year students using the unconventional theatre methods she’d developed when working with Wooster Group. Influential avant-garde dancer/choreographers were also a part of our experience. Mary Fulkerson worked with students to use ‘real’ movements drawn from the banal moments of their own lives. These were repeated, condensed, exaggerated and minimised with an intensity that made the work seem auto-ethnographic.

As intimated earlier, this way of being an artist exploring the edges across disciplines and between art and life, had found its time. Live Art was coming into being in Britain, and it was a way of working that chimed with the Dartington approach. Originally coined by RoseLee Goldberg, the term was reclaimed and redefined by the Arts Council’s Performance Art Advisory Group under the leadership of Lois Keidan[3] (Heddon and Klein 2012). Keidan was, and still remains, a very active and generous supporter of Live Art as an ‘area of practice that cuts across and subverts traditional art form boundaries’ (Keidan 1991, i). She twice commissioned works of mine to be shown at the ICA in London, and she had a passionate vision for the building of an inclusive, cross-artform approach to performance works. Along with Nikki Milican, the Director of the National Review of Live Art, she facilitated a range of practices that might otherwise have died in the UK for want of care. In a 1991 Arts Council of Great Britain (ACGB) discussion paper, she reported that the ACGB had effectively renamed performance art by proposing ‘that we in Britain change our terminology from the “restrictive practice” of Performance Art to the flexibility and responsiveness of the term Live Art’ (Keidan 1991, 2). Her position was that, ‘Performance/Live Art … came from across a range of disciplines, producing ‘works based on image and concept that are not bound by traditional contexts’ (Keidan 1991, 2).

All of these factors primed the environment for the establishment of Visual Performance, but as I intimated earlier, the catalyst for its inception was the cataclysmic effect of the financial crisis that hit the College in 1990. The senseless closure of Art and Social Context annoyed me immensely, and I joined the small group that had been put together to design a ‘performance oriented’ curriculum, bringing with me the none-too-secret intention of ensuring that a visual approach to performance would be firmly knitted into all future offerings. Ric Allsopp suggested the name ‘Visual Performance’ and I proposed that we should capitalise on Dartington’s long history of experimental collaboration.

Once I got the curriculum-design group and the College management, in the person of the Principal, Dr Janet Ritterman, to agree that Visual Performance was going to be a ‘thing’, I set about constructing a course that would span art-based performance art through to performance design and scenography. I turned to Rose Garrard to help me develop the performance art modules, and Roger Bourke to work on the scenography elements. Garrard was the perfect person to do this with. As noted earlier, Rose was well-established in this field, with a record of performance art practice going back to the mid-seventies. She was a charismatic artist who had a great influence on the development of performance art as a subject in the Art Department. Her approach was intense and challenging, and I learned a lot from it. Roger Bourke had a background in experimental performance design and installation. Like me, he had trained as a painter and he had an intensely visual approach to experimental theatre-making. Later he turned to complex, beautifully performative installation, which threw up the kinds of questions that became a hallmark of his approach. In 2018, he wrote of his practice:

In conceiving installed and performative spaces as ‘intermediary spaces for the spectator’s intrusion’, the question becomes – how to make this space manifest the materiality of its own construction and thus draw the  spectator into processing their own act of ‘spectation’? Both artist and spectator have to live with, and within, the knowledge that ‘somebody began it’ – in the ‘in-between’ – in the middle of their own production as agent – in the interstices of intention and interpretation. A Polish artist once asked me “what my problem was.” Temporarily a little put out, I finally realised that, for him, defining “the problem” was the key to developing an artwork. Specific strategies, procedures, exercises, etc., must derive from ‘knowing the problem’.  In this case, strategies and procedures might include: exploring tactile, kinaesthetic and proprioceptive experiencing of defined spaces; testing the proximal, distal and panoptic; exploiting presence and absence in physical (hard) material and in the fluid materialities of light and sonic resonance; and construction that reveals construction. It might also include: working in the liminal through perceptual changes of orientation – strategies of detachment/ disorientation – what Husserl called ‘epoche’; building dialogues between the immediacy of the experienced moment and the past and future horizons of memory and speculation. Finally, it might engage in an exploration of ‘slippage’ – conflating perception and knowledge creation by, what I might call, ‘frame dragging’ imagery through processes of association and displacement.

We were all three different, but all three of us had worked on cross-departmental projects before. It all made sense to us.

Would there have been Visual Performance at Dartington if they hadn’t closed Art and Social Context? Yes, I think there would have been, because it was already there, but it wouldn’t have been a different degree, it wouldn’t have had that name, and it might not have attracted the kind of student who chose Visual Performance as a specialist degree. It would simply have been another way that we did things across and between the existing departments. As it was, the need to save the things I loved about Dartington, in some way or other, gave me an imperative to make a place for the things we’d been doing: a space for a way of being. The word ‘training’ was an anathema to us. The only training we imagined was the ‘un-picking’ of training. We were training them to be.

I was always surprised when people said they didn’t know what Visual Performance was. I never understood why they seemed to want it to be a thing – one thing – a penned-animal-of-a-thing, a neat answer that you could pin on the wall. The vision we had was for an inclusive approach to all things visual in performance. We imagined it producing performance designers, performance artists, video-makers, costume-designers and lighting designers as well as hard-core performance artists. It was meant for people who thought in images, and wanted to make them concrete through performance, whatever form that performance took (and we had a very fluid notion of what that might be). It would be a way of being, not a defined form. The thought of its first graduates becoming, as they did, highly successful stand-up comics (Chris Dangerfield), live-artists (Mark Jeffery), novelists (Jess Richards), production managers (Dave Baxter), video-artists (Karolyn Hatton), costume designers for film (Julie Butterworth) or community artists (Emma Butchart), as well as art-based performance artists (Francesca Goldsworthy), was a joyful prospect.

In the spring of 1991 we were ready to recruit our first students. I was the course leader and Roger Bourke my deputy, Rose Garrard was employed half-time, and ex-Art and Social Context student Diana Collins was offered part-time work. Later that academic year we appointed Tim Brennan and Gillian Dyson to the team. All of us were ‘out there doing it’. All of us made performance works that were witnessed by our students. The sense of an artist’s colony was very real. We were all in this together.

On a warm day as spring turned towards summer, I waited for my first interviewees, Jess Richards and Dave Baxter to arrive. Jess didn’t like to talk, but she had a portfolio of beautiful drawings and screeds of writing. She frowned at me in a young and serious way. She wanted to be somewhere where people were interested she told me. Dave wanted to build things like sets and installations, and he was political like the Art and Social Context students I’d had before. I liked them both and accepted them on the spot. The next interview was with a slender young man with ginger hair and loads of nervous intensity, Mark Jeffery. When I told him that he was ‘in’, he leapt up and down squealing and hugged me, apologising immediately afterwards. Later a blonde girl from Sunderland, who knew what to do with the colour red, looked surprised when we said we liked her work. Her name was Emma Bluett (later Emma Butchart).

2.      Student

(Jess Richards, first recruit to Visual Performance)

I was the first student to be offered a place on the Visual Performance course at Dartington. I was very silent when I was there, preferring to ‘speak’ by ‘writing’. This method of communicating was encouraged there, just as those who spoke visually or musically or through the movements of bodies were also encouraged. We were young artists working within and across creative disciplines who were being trained (and constantly questioning that ‘training’) to express ourselves in wild, noisy, silent, still, dangerous, simple and complex ways. The materials we worked with were as varied as fire, liquid, power tools, photocopiers, glass, gravy, razorblades, white fabric, light…

My song is a spell, and is something I learned. Not what to sing, but how to sing. The risk and magic of words, written on clothing, pegged on lines or caught by the spine of a book. A song can be spoken or heard or sung. Shouted or chanted or told as a story. It can create a picture. It can be completely silent. Each iteration takes a risk as small as an egg or as wild as an illusion of flight.

Can you hear the song of your body, all blood, bones and heartbeat? There’s a song inside you, the one that tells you the sky will fall or the oceans will rise or the whole world is fighting or it’s just you who’s fighting. If it is, fight well.

Consider the height and the breadth of the sky between this light and dark forest, and that place of the past: a tilt-yard with no horses, a ploughed field under rain. Remember silently shouting that anger is evil and anger is good, and let the sky fall, if it dares.

The whole ethos of Visual Performance was experimental – partly because of how the course had been designed, and partly because it was new and passionately led, and we were new and passionately driven. It was all right ‘not to know’ what we were doing, as long as we were actively ‘not doing’ or ‘doing’ something. We learned from mistakes, discomfort and problems as much as we learned from breakthroughs. Learning by creative practice intermingled with learning by observing, participating, developing skills, discussing theories and methods. Objects and text, sound, light and bodies ‘performed’ as we imbued all things ‘visual’ with meanings or opinions and ideas – all tested out on critical audiences of other students and faculty members within muddy fields, up trees, in derelict buildings, domestic environments, music rooms, rooftops, rivers, corridors and studio spaces.

On the Visual Performance course, any notion of ‘training’ could also be argued as a process of ‘untraining.’ As students, we unlearned what we believed that we knew – a process which often resulted in the realisation that in life as much as in ‘art’ no one really ‘knows’ anything at all. From this place of ‘not-knowing’, we discovered what we cared about, as artists. These passions drove us to individually and collectively, find our ‘voices’.

Twenty seven years later, I still prefer to ‘talk’ by ‘writing’. I am the author of three literary fiction novels which are published by Sceptre, Hodder & Stoughton. These novels were written in response to questions which I explored within the content of each narrative, and I still use artistic and performative processes within my creative writing practice.

What if… there was an undiscovered island, just off the edge of a map? (Snake Ropes, 2012)

What if… an old woman was several people and not just one? (Cooking with Bones, 2014)

What if… love was a substance? (City of Circles, 2017)

I can trace this ‘questioning’ or ‘speculating’ – asking ‘what if…’ and the use of artistic and performative processes within creative writing back to my early experiments with written, printed, spoken and recorded texts which were used within durational performances and installations at Dartington. My education in Visual Performance trained me to ‘learn’ or ‘explore’ by ‘doing’ – to write texts using performative methods, and constantly ask the ‘art’ or ‘writing’ object that was emerging as a ‘product’ what it wants to become. Unlike most ‘creative writing’ training, where ‘product’ (e.g. the short story, the poem, the novel, etc) is more important than the ‘process’, in my creative practice, both ‘process’ and ‘product’ are of equal importance.

3.      Student

(Mark Jeffery, first cohort Visual Performance)

I now write this at the dining room table, 27 years later, in my Chicago home. When I till and turn over my art making as if it’s a field, the roots and soil from the Dartington Estate are still present, still present in how I remember and connect my making now, to my making then.

Over the three years on the Visual Performance course, and being part of the first cohort to go through the degree, you embody your teachers: Sally Morgan, Roger Bourke, Rona Lee, Tim Brennan, Sally Tallant, Nancy Reilly and Rose Garrard. In moments of ghosts that pass through you, practice is present, practice is allowing the anxiety of making to run through and past you in ways of multiple accidents and towards the unexpected.

I frequently think of Lewis Carroll’s Alice who would often take over my young queer body. In my Alice-self I would grow large and small. Heartbeats that take over a working-class farm labourer’s body. What was I doing in this art school? How were the instructions, the lectures, the workshops alerting each day my performing body? How was I taking on the instructions I was given, how now as an associate professor at The School of the Art Institute of Chicago do I understand the instructions I give from my training with my performing visual performance, Dartington body?

Back then, I would look at myself in the mirror and see an artist often unsure, not knowing what I was doing or why I was doing the things I did. A young adult would shake his hands in shivering and my hands would turn themselves as if they were birds trying to escape and fly from my performing body.

As a 19 year old queer artist, I tilled the field in the studio by looking at the words fear and control that my life-long mentor, Lin Hixson (Director at that time of Goat Island Performance Company from Chicago) told me to explore when I first met her. Sally Tallant told me to take a workshop in Bristol with Lin and fellow co-founder of Goat Island, Matthew Goulish in 1993 when I was a second-year student.

If this Chicago field had not been tilled, if this Alice hole had not been opened up, if this meeting of jumping high from the ground with my knees to my chest, shaking my hands and falling onto concrete had not happened, where would I be today?

I remember what it felt like, back then…

On the ground, in your studio you learnt to pick up concrete cinder blocks and turn them over, drill holes in them and ask people to enter your studio and take a sip of wine, spit into another glass and mix this wine with the blood from your hands, from cuts and sores from your sissy hands, mixing it with milk and taking a sip insert the fluid from your mouth into the hole you had drilled into the cement block. Lick and kiss the hole with your mouth and tongue. Lick and kiss the concrete blocks over and over. Blood and scars around your lips, your nose, your cheek bones, until the blocks form a makeshift pool, that you fill with powered calves’ milk and it becomes a resting place you slowly let your performing body enter into. Your performing body, queer, red hair, entering the cold of the milk and scar and blood and kisses and fear. Parts of your body submerged, parts of your body remembering the loss of your mother when she left you at 3 years old, parts of your body recalling and hovering over the milking parlour where your father milked the cows morning and night.

The young adult performing body quivers and shakes not knowing the visual, not knowing the ground he is performing on, not knowing what he is learning and learnt, not knowing 27 years and tears later that the ground was also shaking and that the ground of Visual Performance would last. On a Visual Performance field, the training is in always asking questions, of always moving forwards, of always finding what is new, current, what happened before you, what happens now and what strikes you as questions, as research. What is the performing body you left behind, submerged in milk, but forever seeing the milk drip, the blood drip, keeping the head now upwards, asking, always trying and never quite completing what needs to be asked.

4.      Student

(Emma Butchart, first cohort Visual Performance)

Throughout my time at Dartington, undertaking the newly formed Visual Performance course, I think I carried all the ghosts of my grandparents, but more particularly, the Nanas: the women of the family with me.[4] Not consciously at first perhaps, but they were there, as protection, comfort, guides.

An early group activity in the first few days, performed to the new cohort found me clinging to my ghosts for fear of losing who I was, forgetting myself. Being pulled along by strangely dressed and dyed creatures into some kind of self-expression, that could take any form, there were no specific rules. What if I got sucked into some alternative sphere or realm and misplaced my increasingly important identity?

I could hear my ghosts asking, ‘What are these kids doing?’

‘Where do you think this will get you?’

My vocal contribution to the performance was something along the lines of, ‘Why will they like me? I’m from Sunderland.’

Never before had I been so acutely aware of my voice, my North-Eastern English accent setting me apart from the more softly spoken southerners around me. It seemed so loud, so harsh, it felt like it ran around the room, looking for somewhere to hide… muttering, ‘stop listening to me!’

The ghosts just laughed, that’s ‘laugh’ with a flat, Sunderland ‘a’ sound! ‘Don’t be so bloody daft!’

Later… ‘Why is your work always about, well, you… stuff about you?’

At the time this comment from another student stung. It felt dismissive and critical. I suppose my Dartington world continued to feel alien to me with my background in the industrial North, all green, countryside, cows, sheep and farms and so I looked inside myself, asked the ghosts for inspiration, for their stories.

Finding out about them, asking questions, listening to the tales, collecting images. Exploring and celebrating the everyday, repetitive actions, the tasks and daily rituals performed by these women in my past. Why shouldn’t the work be about them, about me?

New ghosts, Nancy Reilly, Rose Garrard, Alison Marchant, Cindy Sherman joined my noisy crowd, often arguing, pulling, dancing, questioning and laughing with the Nanas. Bold, inventive, committed, imaginative, challenging ghosts that helped me see things differently.

Some keep asking, ‘Why are you doing that?’

Others reply, ‘Why not?’ in that great, big flat-vowelled voice.

 

“I’m Wearing my Dead Father’s clothes’. Excerpt: ‘A Life in Diagrams 1” (1993, Dartington) Sally J Morgan

 

5.      Change

(Sally J Morgan)

In the midst of all this my father died. My grief was a flood that broke everything in front of it and my life fell apart. I felt badly treated by the College management in this period, and I left, not because I’d lost any faith or excitement about Visual Performance, but because the Principal had called me in to discuss the amount of time I was spending with my father who was rapidly dying from a brain tumour. Roger Bourke took over the leadership of the course, and Rona Lee joined the team along with Sally Tallant.

6.      Continuation

(Rona Lee, core team-member Visual Performance 1993-2000)

It is interesting to consider ideas of training and legacy with respect to Visual Performance, as these are concepts that are in some ways at odds with the fluidity and discursivity that was key to its success. I remember talking with other staff once about the idea that the course should be deliberately disbanded every seven years to sustain a sense of immediacy and avoid institutionalisation; we imagined of course that reinvention would follow. Little did we anticipate the corporatisation of higher education that would follow and the pressures of resource rationalisation, auditing and bureaucracy to which the sector would be subject.

I joined the teaching team for Visual Performance in 1993, at a point where several of the staff that had piloted the course were moving on, and left in 2000.  A period during which the identity and ethos of the course was subject to constant energetic, antagonistic, creative and intellectual debate, generating a climate of discussion and experimentation, in which students and staff alike participated.

Identity politics and ideas of performativity formed a central tenant within many of those exchanges: gender, sexuality, race and the body operating as both informing discourses and areas of study in themselves:

The body as sign, the body as material, the abject body, the hybrid body, the queer body, the female body, the uncanny, post-colonialism, feminism, queer theory, the carnivalesque, homovestism, gender trespass, subject / object, binaries, self / other / otherness, presence / absence, performativity, live presence, task-based action, duration, voyeurism, the gaze, the phallus, psychoanalysis…

Another important area of enquiry was site and context based work, along with related forms of participatory, situated and socially engaged practices; seeded through staff-led, local, offsite work in the first year and culminating in a semester long period off campus in the third year, where students pursued self-designed and directed projects (the assessment of which was based on their capacity to reflect on the experience and find appropriate forms to represent it). Activities which along with the teaching that supported them gave rise to ways of working, which understood art making as a social practice, audiences as constituted around different subjectivities and the artwork as a permeable entity. Fostering in turn work with objects and materials, technology, space and time working with ideas of immersion, the haptic and the sensory:

Audience as reader, performance/artwork as text, view and viewed, spectator / collaborator / participant / witness, absorption, locus, palimpsest, dialogic, the everyday, art / life, place, phenomenology, space, object / objecthood, time, immersive experience, materials, metonymy, inter-action/ activity, event…

Common to all of these different enquiries was a pedagogic approach that encouraged independence of thought along with reflexive interrogation of form, content and process.

Strategies, juxtaposition, deconstruction, pastiche, authorship, montage, collage, text/textual, inter / cross / disciplinarity, modern / post-modern, rules, logic, rogue element, agency…

Another dimension of this nexus was something that might be termed an ethos of practice, rooted in questions of social change, power and community which for some became a lived politics of making, teaching and working together. Dartington was, in my experience, unique in terms of the amount of work that staff, faculty and visiting, made and showed there, using it as a production and testing space in collaboration with and alongside students; sharing resources, giving assistance, exchanging skills, attending to the work and each other.

Messy, bloody, milky, muddy, funny, sexy, loud, dangerous, obscene, gentle, careful, tender, quiet, ugly, fractious, rhythmic, atonal, macho, ritualistic, empowered, queer, feminist, intimate, kitsch, green, detailed, subversive, disruptive, uncanny.  

“Anteroom” (2005) by Mark Jeffrey, Judith Leemann and Judd Morrissey.

Contributors:

Sally J Morgan is Distinguished Professor of Fine Arts at Massey University, New Zealand. She has a long career as a conceptual artist who has shown internationally in galleries such as the ICA, Arnolfini, and venues across the USA, Germany, France and Japan.

Jess Richards is a writer, whose three literary fiction novels are published by Sceptre, Hodder & Stoughton. She is a Senior Tutor in Creative Writing at Massey University, New Zealand. Since 2015, she has performed in collaboration with Sally J Morgan as Morgan+Richards in galleries/venues in the USA, New Zealand and Ireland.

Gillian Wylde was a student on the Visual Performance course at Dartington between 1997 and 1999 and went on to teach on that course from 2000 to 2010. She is currently Senior Lecturer in Fine Art at Falmouth University. Her work has been shown at the ICA and Glasgow Film Festival and at international venues in Baltimore, Hong Kong, Lithuania, and Norway.

Roger Bourke spent many years at Dartington in the role of Field Director for Visual Performance and then Fine Art – Time Based Practices. His installation, video and sonic media works have been exhibited in the UK, Poland, Germany, Hungary, Italy, France, Romania, Canada, China, Japan and Ireland.

Mark Jeffery is a Chicago based performance/installation artist, curator of the biannual In>Time Performance series and Associate Professor at the School of the Art Institute Chicago. He was a member of the internationally renowned Goat Island Performance group from 1996-2008.

Emma Butchart worked in Community Arts in the north east of England after graduating from Dartington, then from 2004-2015 she worked in pre-school and primary school education. She now works at Compton Verney Art Gallery and Park as the Grounds Learning Programmer, developing engagement with a wide range of audiences.

Rona Lee is Professor of Fine Art at Northumbria University, UK. Her performative work has been widely exhibited in national and international organisations, including the Amsterdam Light Festival, Gallerie Nord, Cerritos Art Gallery, and many venues across Europe and in the USA and Canada.

 

Examples of Sally J Morgan’s work can be viewed here: https://vimeo.com/sallyjmorgan
Jess Richards’s website can be found here: http://jessrichards.com/
Gillian Wylde’s work can be viewed here https://www.instagram.com/gillianwylde/ and here: http://15minuteswithyou.org.uk
Roger Bourke’s website can be found here: https://rogerbourke.org.uk/work
Mark Jeffery’s website can be found here: http://www.markjefferyartist.org/
The organisation Emma Butchart works for can be found here: http://www.comptonverney.org.uk/art/
Rona Lee’s work can be found here: http://www.ronalee.org/ and http://florencetrust.org/

 

Works Cited

Greenberg, Clement. 1961. “Modernist Painting.” The Arts Yearbook.

Heddon, Dierdre and Jennie Klein. 2012. Histories and Practices of Live Art. London: Palgrave McMillan.

Keidan, Lois. 1991. Discussion Document on Live Art. Discussion Paper, London:    ACGB.

Kostelanetz, Richard. 1970. The Theatre of Mixed Means. London: Pitman.

Kristeva, Julia. 1994. “Robert Wilson.” Art Press 64-65.

Lippard, Lucy R. 1973. Six Years: the dematerialisation of the art object from 1966  to 1972. New York: Praeger.

Richards, Sam. 2015. Dartington College of Arts, Learning by Doing: A Biography  of a College. Totnes: Longmarsh.

Stewart, Nicholas. 1995. “Live Head Legacy.” In Live Art, by Malcolm Dickson, 166.  Sunderland: AN Publications.

Dartington College of Arts Prospectus. 1992.

Intimate Strangers ‘Chine’Review. 1988. “Performance News.” Performance Magazine. London. Feb/March. 6.

 

[1] As part of the Dartington ethos, the spirit of questioning was central to the VP degree and arguably a core aspect of its “training”. For more on how the spirit of questioning underpinned the entire Dartington project and a provocative counterbalance to the role of interdisciplinary work this post argues was essential to Visual Performance, see/listen to Peter Hulton’s interview elsewhere on this blog. Mark Jeffrey’s initial set of questions were:

What is an instruction you remember giving?

Who is the ghost you carry with you?

How did you practice or carry out an action?

What is a future imagined practice and discipline?

What is learned and knowing?

What is tilled and turned over?

How do you reiterate what you learnt?

How do you reach, kneel and pay attention to your past?

How do you rake, harrow, rip and tear into your practice?

[2] This was originally a broadcast-lecture for the radio program Voice of America, February 1961.

[3] Keidan went on to be Director of Live Art at the ICA, and later the Live Art Development Agency in London.

[4] In this entry, Emma Butchart is directly responding to the question “Who is the ghost you carry with you?” from Mark Jeffrey’s original set above.

Call for Blog Content

Call for Contributions to Theatre, Dance and Performance Training Blog

Training Places: Dartington College of Arts

This Autumn will see the publication of Theatre, Dance and Performance Training’s Special Issue “Training Places: Dartington College of Arts” (9.3). Due to the multi-faceted nature of Dartington College of Arts, the Special Issue has, since its conception, operated with the journal’s blog as a space that allows for more complex content than a traditional academic journal. We have been working with some authors for over a year on blog content to be posted in the run up to the Special Issue’s publication, but we are well aware that there are still many voices we have not heard from. We would very much like to hear from any former DCA staff or student, or anyone connected to the College in other ways that would like to create blog content around the issue of DCA and training (in its broadest sense). This might be a critically reflective piece on a particular aspect of DCA, a reflection on how DCA continues to operate in performance spheres – how DCA and its notions of ‘training’ might be informing performance making or training today? for instance – or a response to the Special Issue (once published).

If you are interested in developing content for the blog around DCA, please contact Bryan Brown.