Paul Rae – Method Assemblage and the Missing Methodologies of Theatre and Performance Studies

Presentation

Paul Rae

University of Melbourne

Method Assemblage and the Missing Methodologies of Theatre and Performance Studies

Theatre and Performance Studies (TaPS) is a vibrant, varied and highly self-reflexive discipline whose history, scope, and theoretical underpinnings have received extensive consideration. However, while what is researched and why are widely understood, much less critical attention has been paid to how research in this broad field is or could be done. Indeed, we might go so far as to say that TaPS lacks a defined set of research methods, a rationale for their selection, and agreement on how to interpret the resulting documentation, information or data even though there is broad recognition about topics of importance. This is not to say methods are absent from the discipline. If anything, theatre and performance research is conducted using a bewildering array of research methods with appeals made – whether tacitly or explicitly – to a correspondingly wide-ranging set of justifications.

In response, I propose ‘method assemblage’ as a means of exploring how TaPS might be done – and perhaps done better. In After Method (2004), sociologist John Law describes as ‘method assemblage’ the way diverse, ramified materials are gathered and configured in such a way as performatively to produce realities. As such, ‘method assemblage’ is not, in the first instance, a research project, so much as the activities conventionally researched. What the concept also points to, however, is the extent to which research processes are themselves extensions of the activities being researched: there is no point at which one definitively leaves off, and the other begins. Applying this idea to some common approaches in our discipline, I argue that, perhaps by dint of our disciplinary investment in the ‘acts of gathering’ that performances are (and whose importance is recognised in the conference theme), we have failed to pay sufficient attention to the acts of gathering that we, as scholars, do. I then go on to explain how we might understand methodological continuities between both sets of processes, as a mechanism for stabilising some of the more inchoate aspects of our discipline. 

Paul Rae (prae@unimelb.edu.au) is Associate Professor in Theatre Studies, and Head of English and Theatre Studies at the University of Melbourne, Australia. He is author of Theatre & Human Rights (2009) and Real Theatre: Essays in Experience (2019), and from 2015-18 was Senior Editor of the journal Theatre Research International. He has published widely on contemporary theatre and performance, with a focus on the Asia-Pacific region. An award-winning theatre director and playwright, Paul is currently working on two books: Performing Islands, and Mousetraps: Adventures in Theatrical Capture.

Richard Jordan – The Posthumanist Playwright: Experimenting with Eco-Critical Dramaturgy in The Tiniest Thing

Presentation

Richard Jordan

The University of New England

The Posthumanist Playwright: Experimenting with Eco-Critical Dramaturgy in The Tiniest Thing

Over the past 20 years, according to Mohebat Ahmadi, Australian drama has undergone a “representational shift” (2017) in exploring environmental themes, as the nonhuman forces of Nature increasingly affect the material realities of human characters on stage, usually within the context of climate change. Yet coupled with this shift has been a wide diversity of dramatic forms employed by Australian playwrights approaching this issue, from earnest realism (Ian Meadows’ Between Two Waves) to absurdist farce (Stephen Carleton’s The Turquoise Elephant) to black political satire (David Finnigan’s Kill Climate Deniers). As a playwright myself, I too have grappled with how best to dramatize a phenomenon that often seems beyond the scope of human-centred “drama”. At the same time, the Anthropocene is by definition a human-created problem, and the emotional impact of our doom-laden future bears a tangible human effect. When choosing a form, then, for my own new play about climate change, something of a balance seemed important to me: a human-centred approach that might nonetheless let the outside world in. This paper outlines my dramaturgical experiments in writing my resulting new play The Tiniest Thing: a middle-class Australian family drama that is rudely interrupted by the natural world. As a forest emerges from a pantry, long grass appears beneath the living room carpet, and dead birds begin to fall from the ceiling, the human characters remain caught up in their own family tragedy. Ultimately concerned with the politics of perception, The Tiniest Thing asks: Do we always choose what we want to believe? And how might rigid ideologies become our own hamartia? Although the play remains in development, I offer these experiments as one playwright’s approach to bringing an eco-critical dramaturgy to a new Australian play.

References:

Ahmadi, Mohebat. “Towards an Eco-Critical Theatre: Staging the Anthropo(s)cene.” PhD thesis, University of Melbourne, 2017, http://hdl.handle.net/11343/190775.

Richard Jordan is a playwright and Lecturer in Theatre Studies at the University of New England. His plays have garnered several awards and honours, including the Australian Theatre Festival NYC New Play Award (The Tiniest Thing, 2020), the Queensland Premier’s Drama Award (25 Down, 2009), the Lord Mayor’s Award for Best New Australian Work (Machina, 2015), three Matilda awards (2009; 2015), and a Creative Fellowship at the MacDowell Colony, New Hampshire (2013). His PhD (UQ, 2015) identified a new genre of theatre called posthuman drama. He is currently expanding his thesis into a monograph on posthumanist approaches to dramatic form.