A different kind of failure : towards a model of experimental theatre as transdisciplinary performance

Doctoral thesis English OPEN
Heron, Jonathan
  • Subject: PN2000

This thesis draws on practice-as-research (PaR) and its documentation to investigate experimental theatre as transdisciplinary performance. I include case studies from my practice with Fail Better Productions and consider multi-/inter-/trans-disciplinary methods in theatre studies. Examples of twentieth-century experimental theatre are studied to define ‘three problems’ in performance: the organic/mechanical, theatrical/scientific and playful/experimental. The concept of ‘entanglement’ further develops my understanding of PaR methodology.\ud \ud In Chapter 1, Samuel Beckett’s later dramatic works are explored as ‘theatre machines’, with a particular focus on George Devine’s 1964 production of Play. Following an analysis of the Fail Better’s Discords (2010), Beckettian embodiment is articulated as ‘organic machinery’. The chapter concludes with a discussion of Beckett’s ‘corporeal hereditaments’ and ‘plasticity’ in performance. Chapter 2 investigates Artaudian ‘theatre laboratories’, in particular Peter Brook’s 1964 Theatre of Cruelty experiments. This is compared with Fail Better’s interdisciplinary project Endlessness (2011). The final section develops an analysis of ‘scientific’ theatre and experimentation–as–performance, focusing particularly on forms of ‘reflexivity’. Chapter 3 examines participatory performance, specifically focusing on corporeal movement within installations such as Fail Better Fragments (2012). Joan Littlewood’s experimental performance practices are analyzed, specifically her Fun Palace project (c.1961–8), for the influence of Rudolf Laban upon her work. The potential for community engagement within these ‘experimental playgrounds’ will be explored in relation to ‘permeability’ in performance and Laban’s ‘effort attitude’ of flow.\ud \ud Finally, the thesis re-articulates the ‘three problems’ in terms of play and discipline, which are interrogated via the concepts of failure, ludus, and embodiment. I will demonstrate how a historiographical approach to PaR can re-invigorate methodology, before considering transdisciplinary performance in relation to ‘playfulness’ and Csikzsentmihalyi’s ‘flow’. The thesis concludes by briefly developing an understanding of performances as ‘epistemic things’, PaR as ‘unfinished thinking’, and experimental theatre practice as a transdisciplinary phenomenon of ‘not-yet-knowing’.
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