The interdependent fields of drama, theatre, performance, and play research are woven together throughout this fascinating new book from co-editors Peter Duffy, Christine Hatton and Richard Sallis. The weaving frame that holds them in place is the power of reflexive dialogue, and both the content and the form push the boundaries and possibilities of contemporary research. This book is dialogic, and through the very particular performative nature of dialogue asks several important questions for researchers from these areas, all pivoting on the questions of what affordances and limitations does dialogue as a relational practice and research methodology bring with it? Importantly, these authors are drama researchers of one kind or another, and so they understand the power for themselves, their co-participants and their audiences of such considerations in making practices and research enquires. They collectively ask us to consider whether dialogue is a tool that, like all creative and performance strategies, enables its co-creators to make something ‘in between’, rather than for some imagined Others, in mythical Elsewheres. These editors have asked researchers, practitioners and scholars (and their collaborators) to ‘make bare’ their own ethical and practice-based dilemmas, but it is much more than a ‘reflective’ volume, or a behind-the-scenes look at so-called innovative research. It is an enactment of drama research relationships itself, a dynamic mapping of both the practices and collaborations that are helping to shape the field/s today.
While this dialogic or epistolary format predominates, the book is also always situated in embodiment – no accident for a book on performance. In Chapter 1, Belliveau and Sinclair foreground this relationship by reminding us that “the body often guides us to new and sometimes unexpected discoveries,” different ways of knowing, of playing “on the floor”. They create a discursive stage on which the other chapters act out their diverse knowledges, within a field that sees itself as a studio, a workshop, a “multi-dimensional creative space.” This book isn’t afraid to interrogate a number of false binaries, too, through these dialogic encounters: the drama/performance studies/performance ethnography literature divides; the so-called theory/practice divide; a range of politico-geographical-contextual divides, disciplinary divides.
Apart from the sometimes and always-minimal concession to performance ethnography including Turner (1982), Schechner (2004), Conquergood (1985), and Soyini Madison (2011), additional divides between co-designed, participatory and more social science, measurable and aesthetically-oriented perspectives continue to separate bodies of practice, bodies of collaboration, and bodies of disciplinary knowledge creation. This book sees itself as primarily drama research, yet even within the chapters ‘drama’ is broken down into performance, theatre, embodiment, and more. A strength of the text is in its invitation to go further into breaking down and indeed interweaving these practices and literatures in more transdisciplinary ways.
Conrad and Greenwood in Chapter 7 remind us that ‘dialogic engagement’ (Conquergood, 2003) can take many forms but that within the academy a praxis approach is inherently oppositional to dominant forms of ‘expert’ knowledge and truth claims. Hatton & Duffy’s duoethnography (like autoethnography) makes explicit what all of these case-study oriented conversations demonstrate, that “Our researcher selves are inextricably woven together with the threads of our pasts and our pasts provide the circuitry of our research.” These drama, theatre and performance researchers mine the rich and complex vein of subjectivity, making claims and sometimes thinking aloud about how understanding the power of subjectivity in all research endeavours, not just arts-informed ones, opens ever-expanding new possibilities. While Gallagher and Sallis discuss ethical dilemmas in drama/theatre research relationships and the precarity of their youth participants, Gallagher rightly turns the lens back on us by asking ‘What does a researcher risk?’ in such wefted work.
The excellently-entitled Surrender, Pedagogy, Ambiguity, Research and Impossibility: Cats @ Play, by Norris, Fels, and Kandil, wonders about work that makes innovation claims within one field while not necessarily representing the same risks or boundary-breaking in others. They use the metaphor of ‘herding cats’ to explain their rebellious approaches as well as playfulness both in their research practices and in this chapter. Their self-conscious resistance of a notion of ‘the expert’ in general, and the ‘expert speaks’ form in this book, is a most refreshing reminder of the radical potential of performance in many contexts outside of the academy, and occasionally within.
The word “innovation” compelled us to examine whether we thought the nature of our work was indeed innovative, or if striving for innovation was in fact a trap, where, if caught in it, we might gloss over the moments of true learning and the opportunities that come from stillness, repetition, and reflection.
This call-out of neoliberal imperatives toward ‘impact’ and ‘innovation’ in so much of our academic work these days is a relief. This chapter also exemplifies what the book more generally argues in one form or another, which is how drama and performance research can both tell and show, explain and express. How the ‘moments of encounter’ are what distinguish the onto-epistemology of performed research from all others.
This edited collection is also interesting for the seemingly ubiquitous presence of Skype (or other video calling software applications), which everyone seemed to use and mention but not reflect upon. It seems at times to be almost an additional digital collaborator in these dialogues, a silent or absent presence always impacting on the discussion. I found myself asking questions: what does it mean for embodiment dialogues to be mediated by a digital form of gathering? How has this affected not only the drama and performance work being discussed, but the discussions themselves? How are digital collaborators and collaboration approaches impacting our work, more generally? Several of the chapters use a critical lens for examining the radical potential of drama and theatre research to change social relationships and inclusion practices. Ranging from crip and queer studies to feminist, postcolonial, diasporic and intercultural collaborations, these dialogues lay bare the inescapable power relations at the heart of all collaborative and certainly all academic work.
Scholarly research into drama and performance is now well-established and thoroughly interdisciplinary, and this book provides a welcome expansion of this body of work. This text’s foregrounding of performance as a kind of processual co-designed teaching and learning is a masterful example of how, at its best, performing arts and education are doing the same work, always contextual and of its social, political and historical moment, a co-constitutive venture in which we are all simultaneously the performer/audience, teacher/student, and changer/changed, a kind of both/and that is at once binarised and yet beyond binaries. I congratulate the co-editors for curating a diverse and powerful text which so effectively explores the impact and still-emerging potential of our shared field/s of research, and to these authors for inviting us into their most creative conversations.