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Performance (in) Ecology:
A Practice-Based Approach
PhD, AHRC Collaborative Doctoral Award, University of Glasgow & Catherine Wheels, 2012-2017
Sarah's doctoral research explored and developed an ecological performance practice using a practice-as-research methodology. It explores how performance can engage the ecological, where performance (in process and product) is understood as an ecology of diverse humans and nonhumans, which participates within the wider ecology of Earth. Whilst recent publications have given sustained attention to the ways performance can respond to ecological imperatives (Allen and Preece, 2015; Heddon and Mackey, 2012; Bottoms, Franks and Kramer, 2012; Arons and May, 2011; Kershaw, 2007; Bottoms and Goulish, 2007), there has been scarce attention paid to how performance practices and creative process can be and do ecology. In attending to that gap, this research develops a critically-engaged practice of performance (in) ecology, exploring how performance – in its very methods, modes and live moments of practice – can enact the ecological.
The project developed an ecological practice through intergenerational and professional-nonprofessional collaboration. It was led by two performance works – Age-Old (2013) and Wild Life (2014). Age-Old involved collaborating with a seven-year-old girl to co-devise a new performance and it formed a developmental period of the research inquiry from which key methods were taken into the more ambitious work, Wild Life. This performance explored ‘wildness’ and was a collaboration with eight professional and nonprofessional performers, aged between nine and 60 years old. It presents the main body of the research. The written component of the thesis frames and elucidates the practice-based research findings. The thesis proposes that involving collaborators of diverse ages and skills presents a dynamic performance ecology through which an inclusive ecological practice can be developed. Its claim is that collaborative practice offers a potentially radical enactment of ecological qualities and dynamics, where this enactment is the ‘wilding’ of performance. Conducted through a Collaborative Doctoral Award from the Arts and Humanities Research Council, the project was supported by Catherine Wheels Theatre Company. It offers new approaches for practice and scholarship in the fields of performance and ecology, devised performance, movement and ecology, and intergenerational practice. It also contributes to wider meanings of ‘ecology’ as advanced by scientific views, including posthumanist and rewilding perspectives.
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