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Imagine, if you will, a rolling, rural landscape. In your conjured picture, perhaps you imagine hay bales, tall stone markers or walls. Stones are iconic in rural imagery and their solid, constant presence is comforting. They have captured artists’ imaginations for generations – from Robert Frost to Andrew Goldsworthy. In his poem The Mending Wall, Frost (2002, p. 94) wonders,

Before I built a wall I’d ask to know

What I was walling in or walling out,

And to whom I was like to give offence.

Something there is that doesn’t love a wall,

That wants it down.

Such stones are rugged markers that indicate the edges of land. Boundary stones are fixed and constant and have stood for hundreds, and, in some cases, thousands of years. They demarcate a line of transition and a fixity of place. Boundary stones help us understand what is ours and where we stand. From a research perspective, they reflect a positivistic way of viewing the world. The boundary stones of behaviorism, empiricism, replicable research, and even the scientific method hedge the storying and researching of human experience into tiny pastures of knowing.

As academic researchers, we were not interested, as Frost writes, to wear our fingers rough with handling them [fallen wall stones] as we reestablished the boundaries of academic research – in essence restating this is poetic inquiry, this is quantitative analysis, this is performed research, this is not. Rather, we wanted to wonder along with Frost (2002)

There where it is we do not need the wall:

He is all pine and I am apple orchard.

My apple trees will never get across

And eat the cones under his pines, I tell him.

He only says, “Good fences make good neighbours.”

We too wanted an answer to the question: why? As editors, we felt that drama research methods have matured enough so that we could reimagine our demarcated research territories. Through this book we wondered along with the contributing authors whether boundary stones can be elastic, imaginary and porous just like the aesthetics alive within our art. We can move our boundary stones to imagine our territories differently or anew. Moving a wall is provocative. The contributors wondered could stone walls become paths or stepping stones? Could they become shelters, stages or meeting places? How can we blend or even dismantle them. What else could these boundaries do and become? Similarly, through this book we did not merely want to ask what drama research is, but what it does and can become.

We wanted to question our assumptions and traditions around what research is, who it is for and what it accomplishes. We created a list of provocations that we wanted to pose to our authors. We spent several sessions asking questions of each other about our own research and what gaps we find existing in the field. A few of the provocations that emerged from this inquiry included:

  • What impacts matter? To whom? Why?
  • How do notions of purpose and audience shape and inform our work?
  • Researching the ‘now time’ of theatre/drama: How is the art form used to research the art form ‘in practice’?
  • What role do aesthetics play in the creation/generation/reportage/impact of our research?
  • What are the ethical pitfalls in our work and what effect does this have upon it?
  • How are participants included in the research process and representations made of their lives/worlds/experiences?
  • How does context, stakeholder interests and field impact the aesthetic and methodological choices made in drama/theatre research?
  • How does drama research with a social inclusion focus shift the parameters of both practice and inquiry?
  • Drama-based research can have a tendency to categorize through heteronormative representations. What are methodological and critical issues surrounding expanding definitions of identity and process? How could that impact our research?

Furthermore, we did not expect the contributing authors to do our bidding, but hoped that they would interrogate the provocation further and wonder together what provoked them. What gaps did they see, what territories are still uncharted within drama research? Where do we go next as a field? In order to more deeply interrogate the provocations, we asked our authors not to write in isolation, but to mirror the collaborative inheritance of drama and to co-author a piece. We hoped that the provocations would spark generative and creative dialogue about how to co-engage with the topic. We hoped for contested ideas and positions, emergent understandings, and critical inquiry into the themes provided. What emerged were pieces that not only reflected this hope, but also inspired new forms. There are dramatic dialogues, scripts, fictional email exchanges, comic strips, critical dialogues, letter exchanges, and much more. It was exciting to experience the development of what each pair undertook.

Each pairing was carefully curated by the editors in order to bring together divergent voices or, sometimes, long-standing research partnerships in hopes of inspiring something new and the deepening of existing conversations. Often times the writers we brought together had never written together before and that presented enormous challenges. It was a frustrating and daunting process for some of the authors, because they were not only unknown to each other, but their work was as well. They not only had to learn who their partners were (and attempt to fathom why we had paired them together) but also engage with each other’s work, establish trust, rapport and a way of working together.

Some chapters in the book were developed by people who had pre-existing and longstanding collegial or research relationships. In some of these the friendship and intimacy is evident as they probed their work together. Writing for this book gave these researchers a unique opportunity to formalise the dialogue about their shared practice or even reconceptualise it as they were invited to interrogate the embedded provocations of their own drama research methods. It was a challenging and complex process that each writing pair or trio negotiated on their own. These negotiations not only included the content of the chapter but the form in which the text would be fashioned and presented. We would like to thank the authors for taking on this challenging way of collaborating and for the rich fruits that came from this process.

Below we provide a summary of each chapter. The way in which we have structured our text, including the order in which the chapters are presented, was a conscious decision. Whilst each chapter can be read in isolation from the others, reading them in the order as presented will no doubt provide a more satisfying and engaging experience. As is evident in the summaries below, it is not only the content that we wish to highlight but the ways in which the writers constructed their chapter and the form in which they chose to present it. Additionally, we are interested in how the chapters speak with and to each other. We hope that like us, you find this to be something that is noteworthy and exciting about this publication.

Peter Duffy, Christine Hatton, Richard Sallis (Editors)

Part 1 – Provocations of Design

Belliveau and Sinclair

Belliveau and Sinclair draw on their many years of experience working in the field of performed research with reference to specific projects they have worked on. In their chapter they engage in a lively discussion about the tacit knowledge that is generated when a performed research work is workshopped on the studio floor. They discuss what can be gained from a playful exploration of the data and the effect space, place, and working in/through the body can have on the art-making processes and what discoveries emanate from them.

Raphael and Freebody

In their chapter on drama research and social inclusion Raphael and Freebody delve into moments from their own research practice to dialogue about the critical issues and tensions that arise. They interrogate the assumption that social justice and inclusive practice are givens in drama education and research and they use vignettes of practice to critique and probe their own assumptions. They explore the challenges and implications of conducting democratic and inclusive research through participatory and collaborative approaches to form and process.

Gallagher and Sallis

Via a reconstructed international Skype dialogue, the chapter by Gallagher and Sallis engages with some of the ethical dilemmas of drama/theatre research practice. They examine the unique positioning of drama researchers and participants when working with verbatim stories, role and dramatic form to represent and play with the personal, social and political in drama. This exchange considers how researchers work inside the dramatic inquiry process whilst juggling the complexities of context and relationship. The research sites of drama can become spaces for difficult storying and personal risk for both participants and researchers. In this insightful chapter, the authors grapple with the nettlesome aspects of their research practice and consider the challenges of investment and researcher responsibility.

Part 2 – Provocations of Method

Hatton and Sallis

For the purposes of their chapter, Hatton and Sallis designed a fascinating approach to interrogate how gender influences their research and their pedagogical practice. Through discussing video from their individual work within single gender schools, they discussed their pedagogical and research practices relating to gender and identity. Their chapter, A research tango in three moves: gendering the drama research space, is an essential exploration of the other’s practices and research in order to pose critical questions to each other learn what lies at the heart of their individual practice. “In this research dialogue we consider how two data samples from past studies reveal gendering at work, in the drama classroom and the drama research process.”

Sajnani, Sallis and Salvatore

Sajnani, Sallis and Salvatore address the challenges and opportunities within embodied and performed research. Three leading researchers discuss how embodied and performed research moves around and through more prescriptive and positivistic research traditions and how they adhere to and go against more traditional research reportage traditions. That provides ways of understanding culture and people from a variety of perspectives and invites ways of knowing. This encourages “arts based and practice-led researchers […] to work towards an interplay of aesthetic accomplishment and social efficacy” that reflect and complicate our understanding of the world and how it operates.

Norris, Fels and Kandil

This chapter is a response to the provocation that we provided the authors: Are drama’s research methods, approaches, and/or orientations innovative? And if yes, so what? Why should people care? They took this as a challenge to expand the possibilities within research by asking readers to consider what the terms research and innovation can mean. By defining the terms, they were concerned that drawing lines around them would foreclose upon possibilities they contain. They remind researchers that “innovation comes from being open to an organic process that does not enforce nor anticipate some predetermined form.” They demonstrate how an open-mind and a playful heart should center or research and meaning making endeavors.

Conrad and Greenwood

Conrad and Greenwood combined their vast theatre research experiences to focus their discussions on research within community settings. They offer important insights into working within participatory research contexts and the exigencies that need consideration when simultaneously making theatre and researching. They offer that “participatory drama is at its core relational, so building and maintaining relationships and respecting the needs of the group are paramount.” This foundational insight is easier in theory than in practice and through their collaboration, they unearth the struggles and tensions when balancing the demands of people and research.

Part 3 – Provocations of Representation

Busby and Heap

Busby and Heap engage in a critical dialogue on the workings of culture and power in drama practice and research. Using examples of their own intercultural work they interrogate ideas of outsider/insider roles, privilege and border crossing. They urge researchers to travel with care and humility as we work with communities and individuals in different contexts, from differing cultures and power positions. Through this dialogue, readers are encouraged to consider more deeply the way the art form is utilised in such contexts. Their conversation encourages us to explore the possibilities our art form enables as we mediate and re-imagine real worlds by creating fictional ones in our practice and research.

Pascoe and Wright

In their chapter Pascoe and Wright discuss notions of representation and authenticity in drama research. Together they ponder if the form of a graphic novel can capture/re-capture the research event and its participants in accessible and authentic ways for a potentially wider audience than the standard research output. Their chapter includes examples of how a graphic novel may be used by drama researchers and writers.

Selwyn and Terret

Theatre collaborators Selwyn and Terret explore the politics of representation in relation to a crip queer cabaret project they created in the UK, called Not F…ckin Sorry. The authors discuss the project in terms of the devising practice, the performance and the research process, all of which foregrounded and experimented with intersectionality and re-appropriation as powerful elements of theatrical provocation. The dialogue at the centre of this chapter considers the emancipatory and political possibilities offered when an audience’s disability-gaze is subverted in a piece of queer crip cabaret.

Part 4 – Provocations of Practice

Cahill, Aitken and Hatton

Through a series of confessional letters, the authors Cahill, Aitken and Hatton, examine how a turn toward poststructuralist theory elaborates and complexifies drama/theatre research. In a letter, they share moments within their individual research or teaching that challenged them as practitioners to which the co-authors responded through a variety of theoretical lenses. They challenge the basic premises of drama/theatre research and demonstrate how, “theory can provide a rich set of metaphors through which to account for the types of learning that can occur through drama-based practices.” Their focus on making meaning through the metaphors that emerge through their letters reveals expository insights into how we make meaning of our work as researchers and scholars.

Hatton and Duffy

Through a duo-ethnography process of reflective practice and self-study, Hatton and Duffy enter into a reflexive space where they trace their work as drama/theatre researchers and practitioners back to their roots. In doing so they consider how they became learners and how their early learning experiences have impacted their research and ways in which they conduct it. Through an act of collective memory sharing, the authors retrace the threads of their experience back to their earlier learning selves and discover critical moments which have shaped their pedagogy and research. More than an exercise in autobiography, the authors take a critical and at times confrontingly frank look at themselves, each other, and their research.

O’Toole and Duffy

Through the narrative device of a series of fictional email exchanges O’Toole and Duffy look at contemporary drama research practices through the lens of a community of higher-degree research project students and their supervisors in a university setting; this chapter is bound to generate empathy, winces of recognition and subsequent discussion from researchers, research students and supervisors alike.

Anders, Duffy, Hatton and Sallis

In the final chapter Allison Anders first discusses the understandings she has come to regarding as an Arts Based Research ethnographer when she has responded to participant feedback, stakeholder interests and to shifting sands at the site of her research. These ‘lessons’ include the potential for there to be a shift in roles, responsibilities and power relations and for research to unfold in unexpected and exciting ways. The editors then use Anders’ writing as a springboard to discuss the new learnings encountered through editing this book. In particular their inquiry leads them to unpack innovative processes used in the creation of this book.

***

Each of these chapters attempts to reconfigure or move altogether the field’s boundary stones. We wish to thank the authors for their commitment, tenacity and bravery. Reimagining the boundaries is ambitious and risky work. We are grateful for each contribution and the reflection, collaboration and challenge they represent. We now ask that the readers critically participate in each dialogue within the text. We hope you read with inquiry and an engaged mind. We hope that your voice will be dialogically present as you make meaning from each provocation and reflect on how the meaning you make from these collaborations will inform and provoke your practice going forward.

Reference

FrostR. (2002). Robert Frost’s poems. New York, NY: Macmillan.

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