In my research, I examine the evolution of performance authorship in recent years. Performance is collaborative by definition, but the use of collaborative techniques to build performance texts has become increasingly nuanced in the past two decades. In the mid-twentieth century, collaborative performance processes were adopted by the avant-garde as a protest against authorship. In recent years, rhetoric and practice has shifted, and authorship itself is often based, in various ways, upon creative social relationships. My dissertation argues that new forms of social authorship are emerging, and that these social approaches to performance-making reposition the creative process, rather than the performative encounter, as the new locus of the political and aesthetic engagements of the performances. Many interested in cultural democracy understand these to be overwhelmingly positive developments; indeed, creating platforms for open authorship can encourage creative citizenship. However, social authorship even when it “feels good” does not, as a matter of course, “do good.” Social authorship, situated in the middle ground of a spectrum between communitarianism and creative autonomy, represents a paradigm shift, and my work provides a framework for understanding the social and aesthetic importance of this change.
My dissertation traces this evolution through contemporary case studies, from the broadly performative to the theatrical, and in my own creative practice. In the past two years, my conference papers and invited talks have been enthusiastically received. I spoke at the International Federation for Theatre Research conference and at the American Society for Theatre Research conference in 2013 and 2013. An article on The Mill - City of Dreams appeared in Contemporary Theatre Review in November 2013, and an article on the temporality of socially-authored performances, “When is a Performance? Temporality in the Social Turn,” appeared in Performance Research in October 2012.
My practical research, based in a combination of devising and playwriting techniques, investigates from a more personal and artistic angle the aesthetic and social issues that arise when authorship is a social process. How many ways can a play be “written”? How are decisions made? What belongs to whom? Does this theatre, even when it is oriented more aesthetically than socially, change the social landscape of the performance process? In the fall of 2012, I conducting the culminating portion of this research in collaboration with a group of performing co-authors, based at the Bush Theatre in London. Our work creating piece on the theme of family histories became the basis for my solo performance You Know How I Feel..
Through my practical work, I seek to build connections between the professional and academic theatrical worlds, enriching both. My research associate role at the Bush Theatre worked directly in this capacity; I was a pair of outside eyes upon a theatre that has taken up a mandate to re-invent “new writing,” a vital link to help communicate this to the public, a researcher learning from the theatre’s example, and an artist exploring these ideas in practice. Beyond this role, my theatrical work in both the US and in Europe has approached authorship in many different ways, always aiming to bring thoughtful reflection to the professional theatre and to carry creative responses back to the academy. The experiments I have been conducting are undoubtedly the creative work of my career, and this research will continue.
The real implications of social authorship are unfolding rapidly in the present, and the subject will remain highly relevant in the years to come. Once I complete my dissertation, I will continue to observe authorial practices in theatre and performance: new creative models across the performative cultural sphere, the ways theatre companies and playwrights are responding, and how the socio-aesthetic grounding of performance continues to shift as its authorship becomes more social. I will further my practice as a playwright and devised theatre practitioner, engaging my US and European theatrical networks, and use this work to explore new creative models in practice. I plan to write a book manuscript based upon my dissertation, and I will approach journals such as Theatre Journal, Theatre Topics, and TDR with articles exploring narrower aspects of my research, and continue speaking at conferences such as IFTR, ASTR and PSi.
My research interests fall between established disciplines and theoretical concepts. I work between theatre studies and performance studies, writing and devising, text and movement, product and process. As such, I have a perspective that is both unique and widely applicable. However my specific research interests evolve over time, I am certain the in-between spaces of performance will continue to be my passion.