Asher Warren – Living Rooms and Populist Listening


Asher Warren

University of Tasmania

Living Rooms and Populist Listening

In 2018, struggling with a sense of dislocation and strangeness after moving to a new city, I began a project to try and bridge a gap with between myself and what seemed to be the dominant force in the local theatrical ecology: the musical theatre crowd. Since then the project (Living Room Musicals) has moved through a series of stages, to approach a public launch in 2020. It was planned to be launched at the Australian Musical Theatre Festival in Launceston, which was cancelled due to the Covid-19 pandemic. The project itself, which consists of a ‘do-it-yourself’ musical theatre toolkit to empower people to express their own place-based stories, rather than reciting Broadway narratives, and perform them in their homes for family and friends, has taken on some unexpected urgency in a time of quarantine by social isolation. However, this presentation seeks to examine the process that had led to this stage; reflecting on the workshops across the state of Tasmania with musical theatre enthusiasts from across the community. On the one hand, it is to unpack a model of engagement with theatrical production and reception I wish to term ‘populist listening’, expanding on the paradoxes that Philip Auslander (2008) teases from the Milli Vanilli lip-sync scandal regarding the live performance of music, and turning these toward the production and reception of musical theatre, with a focus on the overwhelming familiarity of the musical theatre ‘canon’. On the other, it is to track my own adventures into territory I would not otherwise venture; and coming to re-evaluate my own assumptions, prejudices and values. Through examining a range of acts that in the first instance were intended to gather data; I explore how they have accumulated a longer tail of unexpected associations.

Dr Asher Warren is a Lecturer in Theatre at the University of Tasmania. His research interests include intermedial and networked performance, participatory and collaborative practices, and the sites of contemporary artistic practice. He is a member of ADSA, PSi, and the IFTR intermediality working group, and currently sits on the PSi Future Advisory Board. His writing has been published in Performance Paradigm, Performance Research, Australasian Drama Studies, Refractory: Journal of Entertainment Media, and in the edited collection Performance in a Militarized Culture (2017).