Is theatre guarding our culture?

December 29, 2015

Professor Helena GrehanSmartphones, 24-hour news, social media … theatre.

In the modern digital age, is theatre still a relevant forum for discussion?

Researchers at Murdoch University are leading a global project to explore the value of theatre in the 21st century.

The research team will explore theatre’s role in contributing to social discussion by providing a space for consideration of some of the key social, political and cultural issues of our time.

Murdoch University’s School of Arts has received funding for the study from the Australian Research Council (ARC).

Professor Helena Grehan, Associate Dean, Research, has been appointed Chief Investigator on the three year, ARC Discovery Project (DP).

Professor Grehan explained: “Many scholars argue that we live in a ‘post-political’ age and it is our aim to explore the role of critically-engaged theatre practice within such a context.”

Power and Performance: Revaluing Theatre in the 21st Century, is a truly global, collaborative effort, working with four partner universities.

The study will examine theatre’s social value in a society where there are constant demands on our attention and where we are encouraged to achieve consensus rather than to engage in debate and discussion.

Can theatre make a difference to the way we think, to our ability to form opinions? Or is it a tool of capitalism, one of the many ways in which capitalists manufacture consensus, ensuring the population maintains an appetite for focusing on the needs of individuals over the community?

Researchers will conduct their research at locations around the world, including Australia, Europe, Japan, the US and the UK.

They will speak to artists, search through archives, attend and facilitate workshops, conferences and theatre performances as they gather the necessary information required to construct a critical framework.

At the end of the three year study, researchers hope to have produced a guide that recognises and records the value of the arts in the contemporary context.

Professor Grehan said: “This collaborative project will analyse the interplay between prevailing political conditions and contemporary theatre practice.

“It explores theatre’s ability to reanimate politics in such a way that it might encourage spectators to imagine, feel and think differently about their participation in their various communities.”

The research team hope to form the basis of their structural plan from the answers to these questions:

  • What role might theatre and performance play in opening up spaces for new subjectivities and new understandings of value?
  • How can theatre unsettle the status quo and foster engaged participation in, and deep consideration of, the current consumer-driven age?
  • What kinds of theatre and theatre institutions do we need to reclaim the political from its apparent ‘post’?
  • What will it take to reanimate politics in such a way that it might once again be understood as ‘the invitation to speculate, imagine, feel, build something better’

As well as the framework, the research team will produce a new lexicon that identifies and communicates the dramaturgy – the study of dramatic stage composition and representation – of theatre.

The researchers will workshop the material they produce and travel to various countries to carry out fieldwork and conduct interviews.

Partner universities include the University of New South Wales, University of Melbourne, City University of New York, and the University of Warwick in the UK.


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Media contact: Jo Manning
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