Hannah Banks – Devising with Empathy: Goodbye Solo Genius – Hello Partnership


Hannah Banks

University of the Sunshine Coast

Devising with Empathy: Goodbye Solo Genius – Hello Partnership

“Empathising means understanding, sharing and creating an internal space to accept the other person, hence helping them to feel understood and not alone” (Cunico et al. cited in Flemmer et al. 2014: 549).

Empathy and connection are critical aspects of theatre and importance, and a desire to find understanding and community led me to create and research devised theatre. However, devising requires extraordinary amounts of empathy since practitioners are more vulnerable within a devising process as they are likely to be offering up their own life experiences and stories as material. Whereas a playscript, in a more traditional theatre process, provides a clear dramaturgical structure and a mediator between character and performer. Therefore, emotion and empathy need to be embraced within a devising process and not suppressed. While these ideas are important for any creative process, the uncertainty and intangible nature of devising means that they are even more crucial in a collaborative process. 

This paper will explore a new method for devising that I first investigated in my doctoral research: Flemmer, Dekker, and Doutrich’s theory of Empathetic Partnership for Primary Care Practice, in a theatrical devising context. Empathetic Partnership builds on “concepts of New Zealand nursing’s cultural safety” and creates a framework of six key elements, all of which are applicable in a devising room (Flemmer et al 545). I will outline the theory, explore how it can be applied in a devising context, and discuss its value for teaching devising in tertiary education, using a 300-level course from the University of the Sunshine Coast as a case study. By embedding this theory into devising methods, I believe we can challenge oppressive rehearsal practices and create safer rehearsal rooms with horizontal leadership and emotionally ethical and sustainable processes. Goodbye Solo Genius. Hello Empathetic Partnership.

Dr. Hannah Joyce Banks completed her PhD at Victoria University of Wellington in 2018. Her ground-breaking research explores women in devised theatre in Aotearoa New Zealand. She is one of the founders of award-winning theatre company My Accomplice and was a recipient of The Richard Campion Accolade for Outstanding Performance at the Chapman Tripp Theatre Awards in Wellington in 2014. She also received a PGSA Postgraduate Teaching Award in 2017 for her work at Victoria. In 2020, Banks moved to Australia to take up a lecturing position in Theatre and Performance at the University of the Sunshine Coast.