James Dalton – Conversing through the mechanism – improvisation and play between medical students and patients


James Dalton

University of Sydney, Australia 

Conversing through the mechanism – improvisation and play between medical students and patients 

Medical schools train their students in three areas: medical knowledge, clinical skills, and a third craft called ‘professionalism’. Of the three, ‘professionalism’ has been the most open to flux; once considered a normative set of practices for all doctors, more contemporary medical educators call for students to develop their own individualised ‘doctor identity’. This flux is linked to the medical profession’s relationship with society — the former has the privilege of self-regulating because medicine agrees to a social contract, one that can change as society’s priorities for ‘health’ changes over the decades. With these shifts comes pressure for culture change in medicine and healthcare, along with economic and political imperatives that can be more harmful than curative. My interest as a theatre maker and researcher is to grasp how professionalism is constitutive of a particular kind of cultural performance, and of what role such performances play in calls for culture change in healthcare.

This paper presents a vignette of medical student and patient working together in conversation to develop a ‘case history’, which is a fundamental part of medical training. My observation is that when talking with patients away from supervisors, they sometimes co-create a more playful relationship. I am interested in how this playful relationship is an example of Tim Fitzpatrick’s ‘flexible performance’ for the purposes of students developing their own ‘doctor identity’, as well as how this may relate to Sherry Ortner’s concept of ‘serious games’ in terms of potential culture change through performance.

James Dalton is a theatre-maker and PhD candidate in the Department of Theatre and Performance Studies at the University of Sydney, Australia. His research focus is on medical students and the multiple performance modes that afford their developing medical subjectivity. James’s artistic focus is on developing new writing, staging immersive participatory projects, and multidisciplinary collaborative CACD projects. His collaborations have included works at the Prague Quadrennial, in Novi Sad, and in theatres and found spaces around Australia. These projects reflect his interests in anxiety, community-building, historiography and apocalypse. James is a graduate of the National Institute of Dramatic Art, Australia.

Lawrence Ashford – The Flexible Performer in Applied Theatre: In-hospital Interaction with Captain Starlight


Lawrence Ashford

University of Sydney

The Flexible Performer in Applied Theatre: In-hospital Interaction with Captain Starlight 

This paper explores how Australian non-profit organisation the Starlight Children’s Foundation employs professional performers to play the role of Captain Starlight in order to distract, entertain, and interact with children and young people in hospital. Drawing from the author’s experience working for the organisation, it will provide an overview of Starlight’s programs, before locating the Captain Starlight program within the field of Applied Theatre, and then describing how theories of clowning, improvisation, and theatrical performance are conceptualised and practised within that program. It then presents an account of a moment of performance, before arguing that the approach adopted by Captain Starlight bears much in common with the process of ‘flexible performance’ identified by Tim Fitzpatrick in the commedia dell’arte. Ultimately, this paper finds that by generating performance in this manner, Captain Starlight creates an interactive space for children and young people to exercise their agency within the hospital setting. 

Lawrence Ashford is a performer, theatre maker, and PhD candidate. Theatre credits include Flirt Fiction (theSpaceUK/Red Rabbit Collective), They ran ‘til they stopped (PICA/The Duck House), EMPIRE: Terror on the High Seas (Bondi Pavilion/Rock Surfers), Pollyanna, and Monroe and Associates (both for Fringe World/The Last Great Hunt). In 2013 he completed a Dramaturgy Internship with Playwriting Australia, and in 2015 he graduated with Honours (First Class) in Theatre and Performance Studies from the University of Sydney, where he is currently undertaking a PhD with the support of an Australian Postgraduate Award. Lawrence has performed as Captain Starlight for the Starlight Children’s Foundation since 2012. 

Morgan Batch – Experts by experience: Dementia activism as performance


Morgan Batch


Experts by experience: Dementia activism as performance

Dementia has been a growing part of the Australian social consciousness for several decades now, intermittently coming into prominence with events like the legalisation of voluntary assisted dying (under Victorian and Western Australian law) and the Royal Commission into Aged Care Quality and Safety, to give two recent examples. While conversations around such events invariably engage with concerns for people with dementia, people living with dementia are rarely given the space to contribute to these dialogues themselves. A large majority of people with dementia are over 65 – already a marginalised group – and the cognitive decline associated with dementia sees their position devalued further.  In this paper, I will consider dementia activism as performance, examining the characters, ‘victims’ and ‘villains,’ vernacular and dialogue, mythologies, and shared stories that emerge. Some of these have emerged on social media platforms. Talbot et al. (2019) analysed the Twitter accounts of 12 people living with dementia, identifying six themes: nothing about us without us, collective action, experts by experience, living with dementia not suffering from it, community, and stories of dementia. Many will recognise parallels with broader disability activism – especially in the use of ‘nothing about us without us’ – a more established area of activism led by those to whom it directly pertains. Another theme, ‘experts by experience,’ emphasises the absence of those with lived experience of dementia from key conversations. With regards to vernacular, Australian dementia activist Kate Swaffer has preferred language around her condition that has not been widely adopted; instead, certain problematic language persists in governmental, journalistic and lay dialogue. This paper will begin laying a contextual foundation for a potential project that would use the arts and storytelling as a means to bring people living with dementia into the conversation, to have a more active role in conversations about dementia, socially and legislatively.

Dr Morgan Batch is a sessional academic based at the Queensland University of Technology (QUT). Her PhD (conferred in 2019) studied the representation of dementia and people living with dementia in contemporary theatre, with a particular focus on work outside the traditional dramatic convention. She has a passion for theatre that makes use of any and all theatrical tools available to practitioners to tell diverse stories. Her broader research interests lie in representations of neurodiversity in performance and popular culture.