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.
When thinking about the history of training exercises, I was led to reflect on how the nature of teaching through ‘generations’ of training can create a distance from the original intention of a practitioners work. In this musing about Stanislavski, I am offering a provocation about ownership and integrity.
The Dress by Jamie Wheeler
In the UK, we sometimes call them ‘hand-me-downs’ – those outgrown items of clothing from an older sibling or cousin that are bequeathed to us when they have outlived their original use. Off they go to serve another age group.
They are passed from generation to generation and can be adapted, taken in, trimmed, repaired and recoloured. Often what starts life as a loose shift dress intended to be practical and light becomes a stiff and starched shirt dress whose form should not be altered and whose collar is crisp and sharp. I wonder if all these changes might one day make the dress unwearable or unrecognisable?
The handwritten name label, once just a suggestion, is written over in indelible marker, attributed forever to an owner long since dead. They had moved on in later life, wearing different clothes, trying out new styles but everyone seems to remember this piece the most.
This piece is spoken about with great authority by people who didn’t actually see them wearing the dress. They knew someone who knew someone who tried the dress on and this makes them feel that the dress somehow belongs to them. They can speak about the dress. Are we sure we know who the dress belonged to?
When it’s back on its hanger and safely tucked away in the wardrobe amongst the other pieces, we can peek inside and ask ‘Whose memory are we honouring if we slip it on?’