Porous Dramaturgy: 'Togetherness' and Community in the Structure of the Artwork

Lead Research Organisation: University of Exeter
Department Name: Drama

Abstract

This network will discuss communities formed or implicit in interactive, immersive, site-specific or otherwise 'porous' artworks, identifying their implications for the theatre institution and its social role.

We have coined the term 'porous' dramaturgy to describe this work, as a counterpart to Kully Thiarai's idea of a 'porous' theatre institution, which is open to collaboration, is flexible in its use and which catalyses activities beyond its own walls. We ask whether 'porous' artwork has the democratic aims of this porosity built into its own structure, and/or whether it is a critical partner in modifying and developing concepts of 'togetherness' and community, with implications for producing organisations.

Our project partners are practitioners from Dubrovnik, Croatia and Belfast, Northern Ireland. As Croatia prepares to join the EU, we are interested in exploring network ideas in relation to this political context and forging new links with this country. Northern Ireland also provides an opportunity to discuss the political significance of the work within a politically pressurised local and national context.

Two events will bring all network participants together to discuss these questions and will also engage the network participants in direct experience of 'porous' strategies through workshops on the work of Shadow Casters (Croatia) and Wrights & Sites (UK). The first event will focus on the work of Shadow Casters, in a workshop examining the principles and processes of their trilogy, 'On Togetherness', which takes place within a theatre building, making the audience-as-community its direct concern. The second event will focus on Wrights & Sites' site-specific practice in South West England as an engagement with identities connected to place. The network will visit their public artwork in Weston-super-Mare, 'Everything you need to build a town is here' (2010). By introducing these case studies, we aim to acknowledge Helen Freshwater's suggestion that theatre scholarship has tended not to examine the experiences of audiences themselves (2009) by making an experiential enquiry (albeit not a sociological one) part of our approach. Network participants will include theatre producers, artists, dramaturgs and academics. Each network will end with an open forum to enable wider debate with academics from a range of fields and with local stakeholders from arts organisations.

The PI and CI will produce papers reporting on these discussions to two further public panel events which will take place in Dubrovnik, Croatia and Belfast, Northern Ireland, where the PI and CI will discuss network findings with project partners, Shadow Casters and Hanna Slattne, dramaturg for Tinderbox Theatre (N.I). This will enable the network findings to be considered and inflected through relationship to the challenges of specific national and socio-political contexts.

Throughout the project, an online blog will document and disseminate its progress and will also provide a forum for edited commentary and extended contributions from network members, who will contribute papers, discussions and other contributions. Links will be placed on relevant websites to raise awareness in relevant academic and professional contexts. Subsequent to the four events described above, the PI and CI will deliver papers at international academic conferences (e.g. IFTR 2013) and publish two articles in peer reviewed publications (including a cross-disciplinary publication such as 'Social and Cultural Geography') and a book chapter (in 'Dramaturgy and Architecture', contracted to Palgrave Macmillan). An online report will be included on the blog site.

Planned Impact

Who will benefit from this research?

Chief beneficiaries of this research will include the following:

Theatre and Festival Producers
Arts policy makers and funders
Dramaturgs
Artists
Audiences

How will they benefit?

The project will connect dramaturgical analysis of a range of interactive, immersive and site-specific artworks to their producing contexts, examining the relationship between the two. It will identify points of consonance and divergence in the kinds of communities organisations and artists seek and create. This may suggest new tactics or confirm the importance of existing ones for producers, curators, policy makers and funders. Representatives from the theatre industry will be directly involved in the network, bringing them into discussion with academics in related fields, so facilitating new partnership and ongoing dialogue between academia and industry.

The project has also been designed in such a way that the network itself becomes porous, by taking the findings of the first two network events into small public fora at the close of each event and from there, into new contexts and wider public discussion at theatres in Dubrovnik and Belfast. Producers, curators, policy makers and funders will be invited into the discussions at every stage. This includes the contribution of local stakeholders at the public fora and in the context of the two public events in Croatia and Northern Ireland, where network ideas will be considered in the light of specific contexts and practical concerns. Thus the network findings are not presented to stakeholders, so much as developed in dialogue with them.

Subsequent to these events, the investigators will produce a report that will summarise project findings. While it may not be desirable to create a set of recommendations for ubiquitous use, the project will aim to provide suggestions, starting points and examples of direct relevance to those concerned with theatre's public role. This document will be made available via the project website and via links on other industry websites.

Dramaturgs will benefit by their centrality in the discussion as theatre professionals whose job often entails identifying the connection between the politics of the artwork and the wider political context. Their facilitative role will be given consideration. It is hoped that new partnerships will arise from this network, which might include exchanges between dramaturgs and artists in England, Wales, Scotland, Northern Ireland and Croatia. The project will seek to create new links between dramaturgs in different countries and institutions, since in the context of the British Isles, the role can be an isolated one.

Artists will benefit from an investigation of the social significance of the communities created or identified through their work. One of our aims is to facilitate links between the British Isles and Croatia, with the potential for artistic, as well as academic collaboration and exchange. Local artists attending wider network discussions in Canterbury, Exeter, Dubrovnik and Belfast will benefit from sharing their ideas in an open forum and will be able to make new connections with network members.

The ultimate aim is to benefit audiences through the enhancement of theatre's positive role in the construction or identification of communities, provisional or otherwise. This can be achieved by identifying examples of significant practice which might provoke innovative approaches to theatre programming. It can also be achieved by prompting collaborations and exchanges across Europe.
 
Description This grant drew together a network of practitioners and academics who were concerned with the participation of audiences in creating artistic work. By this we implied that the audience contribution was in some way integral, rather than simply an additional feature to an essentially stable artistic framework. We held four events in total, two of which brought about 25 network members together to discuss broad themes. The further two events were more focused on the project team, and the work of project partners, Tinderbox Theatre (Belfast) and Shadow Casters (Zagreb). These events opened the questions up to discussion among audiences in Belfast and Dubrovnik, raising questions about the different understandings of porous work in those contexts.

Our key findings suggested that the multiplicity of ways in which work can be 'porous' makes it difficult to talk across the different kinds of work although in some ways they might share similarly open structures. Shannon Jackson proposes that it may be difficult to establish 'what we understand the social to be in social practice, particularly when community claims, public funding, private funding, and state welfare models differ so extraordinarily across regions and nations as well as across the political economies that finance particular arts fields. To my mind, the lack of clarity about the differences these differences make is the elephant in the room at every gathering on art and politics' (2011:17). This 'elephant in the room' was often apparent in our discussions, and by starting to articulate the differences between us we were able to identify a range of approaches to environment, ideas of community, conceptions of political practice, and ethical considerations. In particular, there was unease around a possibly instrumentalist conception of art, neo-liberalist policies of social inclusion and yet the wish to include and stimulate the creativity of the audience member or participant. The two smaller events enabled closer attention to specific examples, and were consequently illuminating in relation to the particular practices observed. The discussions in Dubrovnik and Belfast suggested the political usefulness of porous work in these charged contexts, where questions about the possible commodification or co-option of interactive work seemed less urgent than the need to reconnect.

This brings us to a splintering of notions of 'porosity', although the original intention was to coin a term that would be more precise about the 'social in social work'. It suggests that to describe a dramaturgy as 'porous' in its structure (ie open to the audience/participant's contribution) is not sufficient as a common denominator. A number of sub-categories emerged in discussions, such as 'eco-porosity', for example, which suggests an approach that opens up the work to non-human contribution.

Our intention to provide a report that might suggest creative methodologies towards a porous dramaturgy has been modified to accommodate this sense of plurality. The document (in preparation) will draw on the contribution of project partners and the case studies considered, so that several possible approaches sit side by side. Thus we think this will be a useful starting point, but it will not be a 'manual'. Rather it will prompt consideration of where the artist or student might sit in relation to these practices.
Exploitation Route We are gathering together a document concerning different methodologies for generating and creating 'porous' work and this will offer a range of possible starting points for artists and theatre companies approaching participation, interactivity and social practices, particularly when this is a new venture. This would also be a useful student resource, at secondary school, FE and HE level, and will be open access.

Our discussions of specific possibilities have raised the profile of public partners and contributed to ongoing discussions of site-based and community practices. Radosavljevic has entered into a new collaboration with network participant Lena Simic, which draws on some of the research findings and concepts but extends them into work concerning very young children.

The notion of 'eco-porosity' could be useful in identifying ways in which site-based work can contribute to understanding of environment.
Sectors Creative Economy,Education,Environment

URL http://expandeddramaturgies.com/category/porousdramaturgy/
 
Description Introduction of Shadow Casters work to UK and N Ireland practitioners raised the profile of the company and associated artists. As a result, Katarina Pejovic was invited to lead a workshop for Tinderbox, N Ireland, funded by that company and communicating ideas to other practitioners in Ireland.
First Year Of Impact 2013
Sector Creative Economy
Impact Types Cultural

 
Description Audience and Authorship 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach National
Primary Audience Professional Practitioners
Results and Impact 'Friday Salon' on 'Audience and Authorship' at the ICA, London, 25th October, hosted by Accidental Collective. Duska Radosavljevic, CI on this project, presented ideas concerning 'Audience and Authorship' and drawing on the theorisation of Porous Dramaturgy developed through this project. Duska's recent work with the 'Mothers and Babies Ensemble' continues to draw on this theorisation (see Radosavljevic, Rigby and Simic 2015:71).
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2013
URL https://www.ica.org.uk/whats-on/friday-salon-lifting-curtain-audience-and-authorship
 
Description Discussion with artists, Dubrovnik 
Form Of Engagement Activity Participation in an activity, workshop or similar
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Professional Practitioners
Results and Impact As part of our Dubrovnik event, we invited local artists to discuss 'porous dramaturgy' in that specific context.

The workshop contributed to support for the work of Shadow Casters, then taking place in Dubrovnik, and causing some controversy due to its open structure that brought the performance out into the streets. We were able to demonstrate an understanding of the work as significant, and reported on the performance itself across a range of fora, in the English language.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2013
 
Description Invited speaker, University of Aberystwyth, Drama Department 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach Regional
Primary Audience Postgraduate students
Results and Impact Invited lecture for postgraduates and staff at the Drama Department, University of Aberystwyth.

I was asked to return to participate in a symposium concerning the work of Cliff McLucas, which brought together archivists, artists, postgraduate students and researchers in discussions of Welsh artistic policy, multimedia and site-based arts practice and related archival challenges. The McLucas archive, which I drew on, offers a unique example of such an archive and the event drew attention to it in a useful way. The second paper did not draw directly on the concept of 'porous dramaturgy', but had connections to my focus on site-based practices here. The invitation was related to the appreciation of this paper.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2013
 
Description Workshop and discussion, Tinderbox, Belfast 
Form Of Engagement Activity Participation in an activity, workshop or similar
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Professional Practitioners
Results and Impact Project partners, Hanna Slattne (Tinderbox) and Katarina Pejovic (formerly Shadow Casters) led a workshop with Belfast artists. At the conclusion of this workshop there was a discussion of 'porous dramaturgy' which included artists and researchers from Belfast and surrounding areas. PI and CI discussed the wider project and its concepts as part of this, and gathered responses from the group about the significance of porous work in this specific context.

Some of the artists involved expressed their excitement in relation to the methodologies shared, and changes in their ongoing practice were reported in relation to this. This event resulted in a list of principles that will inform the online document on methodologies.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2013
URL http://www.tinderbox.org.uk/2013/06/27/making-work-that-invites-its-audiences-to-interact-with-and-s...