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Devoted & Disgruntled 12: What Shall We Do About Theatre and the Performing Arts Now?

Researching Theatre & Performance

Kirsty Sedgman - 15 January 2017

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Called by: Kirsty Sedgman on behalf of The Society for Theatre Research.

Are we too in love with theatre to see it clearly?

This was the key provocation we reached during our session, which explored the relationship between research and making within the arts. What can research give to practice? And what can practice offer research?

We discussed the importance of recognising that there are different ways of knowing. We can study a subject or theme from varying angles and in different ways. Research can be a cognitive process or an embodied experience. Research can take place both inside and outside of academic spaces, and can be both part of and separate from practice. Research can take place AS practice, too.

However, we also identified a fundamental difficulty when it comes to sustaining and disseminating knowledge. What happens to the things we've learned once the project itself has ended? The cultural industries need to pay closer attention to the critical discourses already in circulation. Researchers find things out during the process of studying; these findings have value; yet too often, research and practice do not speak to each other as effectively as we might wish. We all need to find better ways of sharing learned information between ourselves (that is to say, outside discussions with friends, or our annual forays into D&D). Developing a shared set of critical understandings is the only way we can avoid starting from scratch each time - having the same earnestly circular conversations with people who think like us.

This is of urgent significance. We may believe that theatre has an innate ability to intervene in systemic issues - to change the world through its sense of communitas, its ethical didacticism, its invitations to engage in civic participation. But what if the only people who believe in this are those who already share our values? Which returned us to the provocation that opened this report. We also need to have people with the ability to take a step back and study theatre from alternative subject positions. If we're to prevent theatre from becoming politically neutered, we need to understand how performance works from outside the creative framework AS WELL AS from inside.

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