The Many and the Form – Methods for Participatory Practices in Contemporary Theatre

edit kaldor, østfold university college, norwegian theatre academy

The aim of the research is to explore, develop and share working methods for practitioners
embarking on participatory co-creative processes. It builds upon my 15-year-long practice as theatre maker creating work with non-artists from a wide range of ages and backgrounds in theatres across Europe, highlighting the complexity of often extreme or traumatic experiences, and interrogating the limits of communicability.

During the research my existing methods will be challenged and expanded by theoretical reflections and existing practices. Alongside, three contemporary theatre-makers will be invited to collaborate on developing a series of workshops exploring strategies that allow for the involvement of non-artist participants in the first phase of the creative process: the conceptualising of the performance. Through this the project intends to address the primary dilemma of participation: how to create enriching experiences for the participants while retaining high artistic ambitions for the work. It positions this question in the context of contemporary theatre (of the situation), and probes through practice the deeper issues
of participation and its potentiality for contemporary theatre aesthetics, as well as some of the broader social implications. Recent shifts to divisive rhetoric and deeds in politics and public life amplify the urgency for exploring and rehearsing more differentiated attitudes towards ‘the other’ and oneself. This brings a new relevance to the role of contemporary theatre as a space where experiences outside dominant narratives can be articulated and reflected upon, also collectively. Correspondingly, the last years have seen a surge in ‘participatory’ theatre works, performed by and co-created with people from outside of the arts. Yet, at present there is a lack of sufficient upto-date resources providing concrete artistic tools for the practice and reflection on the field by a practitioner.

The projected outcome of the research includes a series of performances developed through workshops for artists and non-artists, where new working strategies and tools for conceptualising and devising pieces based on personal knowledge of the participants are tried out and practiced. The processes of the research will be documented and shared in the first place through an online platform. This interactive forum, accessible to interested practitioners, will reflect the findings and documentation of the research project as well as facilitate an open exchange of experiences and strategies in participatory theatre. The research aims to inform and stimulate the long overdue discourse on participation in theatre from the point of view of practitioners and participants.

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