Playing with intimacy & intensity: an interdisciplinary network for participatory performance practice.

Lead Research Organisation: Royal Central Sch of Speech and Drama
Department Name: Faculty


Performance culture is changing. There is a turn towards playful invitations to intense and intimate encounters, that is proving 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. There is a need to make stronger connections between these disciplines, to enhance shared understanding in the sub-disciplines of participatory performance that are emerging in each case, and thus to stimulate new directions of enquiry in practice and theory.

This network brings together those who explicitly and implicitly research playfully intimate and intense participation, involving artists, academics and artist-academics across and between the intersections of art forms and academic disciplines, to stimulate shared insight and highly productive reflection on the artistic potential and ethical complexities of this work. The network proposed is international, with expertise in creating and theorising performance practices across this range of art forms and academic disciplines, with proven ability to achieve high quality and high impact outcomes in writing and performance. These changes to performance culture are happening now, and the growth of participatory performance across international cultural industries shows no sign of abating. The urgency of this research is that interdisciplinary practice-oriented research, involving practitioners and theorists from across intersecting art forms and disciplines with the deeper understanding it will bring, is needed to enhance and drive innovative practical responses to the complex ethical and aesthetic challenges of intimate and intense participation.

Planned Impact

Impact is embedded with the involvement of participants from beyond the academy. The lab events will bring together practitioners and practitioner academics with diverse experience and connections, and the concluding conference will gather stakeholders from within and outside the academy, thus the work will directly benefit performance makers, audiences, producers and commissioners. The Steering Group will monitor and advise the network, with support from the non-academic participants, ensuring the research remains relevant to key stakeholders and impact is delivered.
Performance makers
The work of the active practitioners and their respective theatre and performance companies will be enriched by participation in the network. Some - Coney, Lundahl and Seitl and ZU:UK - are established and influential, with a reach that will extend the impact, shaping the work of emergent artists and practices. Others are emergent companies (FANShen) and artists (Silvia Mercuriali, Jamal Harewood), who will develop their influence in turn. Practitioner-researchers (Barton, Stenros, Dinesh, Lopez-Ramos and Barnard) will also develop new and influential practices. All will develop ethical and challenging approaches to play, participation, intimacy and intensity, and change the way they work as a result of their participation in the network. For example, new performance works that exploit this combination, or the refinement of existing projects that put it to work more rigorously or in original ways will be developed. It will lead to collaborations between the participants along with the initiation of new ventures that put participatory performance into new contexts. As Ludahl and Seitl say in their letter of support, they appreciate the opportunity to collaborate and share new ways of working and to draw inspiration from others who have thought deeply about and experimented with these issues. The most immediate short-term impact of the network will be in new and invigorated performances and performance practices.
Producers and commissioners of new work
Producers, commissioners and critics will attend the concluding conference, with the aim of extending understanding of the challenges that participation offers to audiences and to those who help to stage it. The deeper understanding of the interaction between aesthetic, ethical and practical elements of staging participatory performance will allow these stakeholders to make more informed interventions in their roles. For example, they will have better understanding of how ethical dilemmas can be playfully built into participatory practice, rather than eliminated in advance, and how intimacy can encourage atmospheres of risk while remaining safe. Involving performance critics will contribute to public discourses around participatory performance that is mindful of the dynamics between risk and safety, challenge and satisfaction. Thus, in the long term, ambitious work is encouraged, facilitated and staged more successfully.
Audiences and the wider community will benefit through enriched performance and game events, and the better support offered to these events through the involvement of stakeholders. As public appetite for participatory performances and gaming experiences with artistic ambitions grows, a rapidly expanding range of practices is on offer, but not all are of high quality or take good care of participants in ethical and practical terms. The cross-fertilisation of practices and ethical approaches will help make these experiences more rewarding, as they become more enjoyable, challenging and safely and ethically delivered. Audiences for participatory practices are often more diverse, including sections of the community under-represented in theatre audiences generally. As participation becomes more aesthetically and ethically ambitious, offering more than spectacle and narcissistic sensation, these audiences will experience more complex cultural experiences.


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