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.