Plethora and Bare Sufficiency:a new practice for a tragic theatre

Lead Research Organisation: University of Exeter
Department Name: Drama


For the last thirty or so years I have written, directed and designed plays for live performance. In this time I have developed a form of tragedy I have described as Catastrophic, to distinguish it from certain classical forms. In doing so I have invented and refined speech forms which are distinctive to me, and this process continues. I believe the text to be the first element of all dramatic experience. I also believe the traditional realistic play to be an exhausted form, but that the way to escape this dilemma is not to abandon text but to find new ways with it.

In the first place, I wish to know whether speech - which I believe to be an almost plastic, sculptural thing needs to convey meaning, or whether it might be employed to create tensions and ecstasies without bearing specific messages or content. Could a performer utter without - strictly speaking - saying anything? Yet could this audial experience still generate emotion in an audience? Secondly, the converse of this, could a single phrase, or pair of phrases, operate alone to generate emotion - or complexity - by being used rather as a bar of music is?

I call the first version 'Plethora', an overwhelming with words spoken by many voices, almost an orchestra of human sounds. And the second I call 'Bare Sufficiency', where the entire scene to be played hangs from a brief concept, or image, or even something banal. With and against this single phrase, the actions of the performers might serve to reveal unexpected meanings. By extending my practice in both directions - towards more (excessively) and towards less, I would hope to demonstrate the possibility of a new life for text in theatre.

In order to explore these directions I will write and stage two theatrical productions, one based on Plethora, one on Bare Sufficiency. The production of 'Plethora' will have at its heart linguistic excess, involving both the human voice -- both individual voices and chorus -- and sound (though not in conventional music-form). At the heart of 'Bare Sufficiency' will be linguistic spareness: this will be a piece in which the most strenuous attention is paid to movement and gesture; no improvisation will take place, and discipline will be critical to the outcome. Both plays will involve a combination of professional actors and postgraduate student actors from the Exeter Department and both will culminate in a full production for a public audience. Both productions will then become the subject of a one-day public symposium, resulting in publications

In the final phase of the fellowship I will re-work the playscripts for publication and write a critical and theoretical introduction articulating the theoretical basis of the work, considering the new tragic possibilities, and describing the creative process by which the texts and productions were achieved.

Working in the context of the Exeter University Drama Department will enable me to work with groups in a way impossible in the circumstances of professional theatre (in terms of time-scale, group size etc). . Throughout this process I will be working in collaboration with colleagues and researchers from Department, who will contribute in a variety of ways to the development of the practical projects, and to the critical and theoretical discourse which surrounds and supports them.


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Barker Howard (2011) Blok/Eko

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Goldingay S (2012) INTRODUCTION in Studies in Theatre & Performance

Description Playtext 
Type Of Art Creative Writing 
Year Produced 2011 
Impact Evolution of playwrighting and rehearsal techniques. Scholarship around Barker studies advanced (See Studies in Theatre and Performance Special edition). 
Title Charles V 
Description Staged Reading 
Type Of Art Performance (Music, Dance, Drama, etc) 
Year Produced 2012 
Impact Evolution of playwrighting and rehearsal techniques. Scholarship around Barker studies advanced (See Studies in Theatre and Performance Special edition). 
Description I have taken a practice-led approach to the exploration of two extremes of speech forms the plethoric and the barely sufficient. Two central outputs for the fellowship was the creation of two new plays. The first of these explored plethora and was entitled 'BLOK/EKO'. This was published by Oberon in time for the play's opening. My second work, 'Charles V', was work-shopped for the public as a staged reading at the Northcott Theatre in Exeter. The text of this appears in a special edition of the journal, 'Studies in Theatre and Performance' which explores both these outputs and their wider context. Recordings of both performances are help in The University of Exeter's Arts Archive. They were developed using innovative rehearsal techniques and subject to expert analysis though symposia attended by academics, theatre professionals and students.
Exploitation Route As a dramatist, director, artist and poet I have already used my findings and experience from this project to inform my practice. It has also informed the practice of other industry participants - in particular Wrestling School actors and professionals, in addition to non-professional performers and interns who took part in the productions and their surrounding outputs. Members of the general public and contributed to the aftershow discussions.
Sectors Creative Economy

Description The fellowship informed my evolution as a writer, director and artist in two key ways. First, it enabled me to confirm that the text is the primary element of all dramatic experience. Second it enabled me to explore new ways with the otherwise exhausted textual form. During the project, I staged BLOK/EKO with a cast of 8 professional actors and a non-professional chorus of 50. This enabled me to create the 'Plethoric' on stage - an overwhelming with words, spoken by many voices to crease an orchestra of human sounds. In creating this work I explored how speech - a plastic, almost sculptural thing - conveys meaning, how it might create tensions and ecstasies that overwhelm the purely referential (i.e. meaning-based) function of language. I examined how a performer can utter without - strictly speaking - saying anything. I also asked how, given these conditions, this audial experience could still generate an emotion in an audience. This was an important topic in the project's post-show discussion with the public, who had attended one evening's performance. The staged reading allowed an extended workshop with members of the The Wrestling School, researchers and students from the Universities of Exeter and Aberystwyth to physically embody and explore the text of 'Charles V' a work contented around a single word and an exploration of bare sufficiency.
First Year Of Impact 2010
Sector Creative Economy
Impact Types Cultural

Description Plethora and Bare Sufficiency 
Organisation Northcott Theatre
Country United Kingdom of Great Britain & Northern Ireland (UK) 
Sector Private 
PI Contribution We encouraged, supported and enabled the development of creative practice.
Collaborator Contribution Intellectually, we came to understand the Creative Industries better. Practically they provided a performance space, fully staffed and with technical support. They provided event marketing and P R support.
Impact We continue to collaborate on exploring and expanding contemporary theatre and its placce in the Creative Industries.
Description Identifying some platitudes with regard to the plethoric text 
Form Of Engagement Activity A formal working group, expert panel or dialogue
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Other academic audiences (collaborators, peers etc.)
Results and Impact Public lectures, evolution of playwrighting and rehearsal techniques. Scholarship around Barker studies advanced (See Studies in Theatre and Performance Special edition).

Evolution of playwrighting and rehearsal techniques. Scholarship around Barker studies advanced (See Studies in Theatre and Performance Special edition).
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2010,2011,2012