Playing with Intimacy and Intensity:
An interdisciplinary network for participatory performance practice.
Performance culture is changing. The turn towards playful invitations to intense and intimate encounters, is becoming immensely popular with both artists and audiences.
Audiences are being drawn into rich and sometimes risky experiences in the middle of performance, rather than at a safe spectatorial distance, often through structured games or playful provocations. The diverse work that is going on in theatre, live art, dance, gaming and applied arts can be seen as a dynamic but diffuse project of research and development into interaction, involvement and encounter, and into what play and performance can become in contemporary culture.
This project, led by Gareth White and Bruce Barton with an international group of practitioners, academics and practitioner-academics, strengthens connections between these disciplines, to enhance shared understanding in the sub-disciplines of participatory performance, and to stimulate new directions of enquiry in practice and theory.
The project began in May 2019 with a performance Lab, attended by network members from across the world, at Jackson’s Lane in London. A second Lab takes place in November, along with a one-day open symposium, sharing the experiences of the network and inviting other experts (producers, critics, audiences, as well as practitioners and scholars) to share their perspectives.
Funded by the AHRC’s Research Networking Scheme, this project shares ideas and working methods of playfully inviting audiences to engage in challenging activity in the midst of performances.
Dr Adam Alston is Senior Lecturer in Theatre and Performance Studies at the University of Surrey. His publications include Beyond Immersive Theatre: Aesthetics, Politics and Productive Participation.Full profile
Dr Bruce Barton is a performance maker and scholar. He works extensively as a director, playwright, dramaturg, and designer with numerous devising and intermedial performance companies across Canada and internationally. He leads the School of Creative and Performing Arts at the University of Calgary.Full profile
Dr Jorge Lopes Ramos is Senior Lecturer at the Institute for Performing Arts Development at the University of East London, and co-Artistic Director of ZU-UK.Website
Nick is artistic director of learning disabled theatre company, Access All Areas, whose work playfully blurs boundaries, including those between the audience and the performance.Website
Christer is one half of performance duo Lundahl & Seitl, with Martina Seitl. They are pioneers of ‘antidisciplinary’ practice, working with technology, choreography and shared experience.Website
Dr Josephine Machon is Associate Professor in Performing Arts at Middlesex University. Her publications include Immersive Theatres: Intimacy and Immediacy in Contemporary Performance, and The Punchdrunk Encyclopaedia.Full profile
Persis-Jade Maravala is artistic director of the influential and innovative theatre company, ZU-UK, creators of game-changing shows such as Hotel Medea and The Binaural Dinner Date.Website
Silvia is a performance artist, creating experimental theatre and immersive performances since 1998, including with Rotozaza and Il Pixel Rosso. Recent pieces include Macondo, a participatory re-telling of One Hundred Years of Solitude.Website
Dr Jane Munro is Senior Lecturer at Royal Central School of Speech and Drama. She makes interactive dance performances, such as Rope and Invitation with her company The Visitors.Website
Dr David Shearing is a performance maker, working with immersive multimedia environments, in pieces such as The Weather Café, and The Dock.Website
Dr Jaakko Stenros of Tampere University, Finland is one of the leading scholars of live action role play, Jaakko’s publications include Nordic Larp, (with Markus Montola) and Pervasive Games (with Markus Montola and Annika Waern). He is a prolific researcher, blogger and player of games.Website
Dr Tassos Stevens is director of interactive theatre makers Coney, who make game-based performances like A Small Town Anywhere, and Early Days of a Better Nation, as well as making games that are just games.Website
Dr Gareth White is Reader in Theatre and Performance at Royal Central School of Speech and Drama. He writes about participatory performance in books like Audience Participation in Theatre, Aesthetics of the Invitation, and Applied Theatre Aesthetics, and sometimes makes performances of that kind too.Full profile
The project’s ‘lab’ events are gatherings of practitioners, sharing practices and ideas, provoking and supporting developments in our work. The days were structured around a series of workshops led by network members, with time scheduled to reflect and respond.
The network also ate breakfast, lunch and dinner together, to seamlessly extend conversation as much as possible, in less organized settings. There was a highly productive sense of continuity, and community amongst the participants despite (and perhaps because of) the significant differences in disciplines, training paradigms, cultures, and performance priorities.
Thursday morning began with Jaakko’s introduction to Larp (Live Action Role Play) and its approaches to facilitating risky interaction between participants. Exercises included ‘replication protocols’ for violent and sexual encounters within the fiction of the larp.
Thursday afternoon was spent trying out and responding to one of Lundahl & Seitl’s headphone-based works, where the spectators take turns to become guides to each other while moving, blindfolded, through a re-imagined space.
Friday morning was led by Jade & Jorge, sharing some of ZU:UK’s work, leading physical exercises for preparing to work creatively with audiences, followed by creating, adapting and playing each other’s games.
On Friday afternoon Natalie and Joe shared some of Lab Collective’s practices for creating and preparing for audience interactions, and for mapping routes and options within interactive performances.
Between all this playing we talked, ate, drank, and talked some more.
Lab 2 happens on November 14th and 15th 2019, at Jackson’s Lane.
The Network has continued working together since Lab 1, working online, for example to consider questions like these:
- What lies beyond the immediate risks involved in playing, and beyond the inherent playfulness of taking risks?
- To what degree are control and preparation opposite sides of the same coin?
- Are they, perhaps, at odds with the need for spontaneity, immediate presence, improvisation—or might they hold the key to these same objectives?
- How consciously do you work with attention—your own, that of your fellow performers, or of the audience?
- How do attention and affect contribute to a sense of ‘meaning’ in your work?
Lab 2 will pick up this conversation and intensify it, along with sharing more practice and further focussing the exchange of ideas.
Dr Gareth White
The Royal Central School of Speech and Drama
London NW3 3HY
Tel: 020 7722 8183