By Associate Professors Alyson Campbell and Stephen Farrier, interviewed by Dr Frederic Kiernan
What is the Feral Queer Camp?
Alyson: the Feral Queer Camp, at its most simple, involves pulling together a “gaggle”, a group or gang, of queer people who are interested in performance – this could be theatre makers, audience members, writers – and just travelling together through a series of performances, so that we can build a vocabulary for talking about the works together. And the best way to do that is when there’s lots of queer performances going on, which is usually around queer festivals. Stephen and I have run it at Midsumma and also at Outburst queer arts festival in Belfast.
Stephen: Each time I answer this question, it’s different, because our aims for the FQC keep evolving. Alyson and I both work at very well-resourced institutions, and we’re conscious that many people in the queer community don’t have access to these resources, to the theory that is written about them, or the works that represent them. Certainly, in the UK context, it’s incumbent upon universities to do their civic duty, to engage with the communities that they exist within. So one of our drivers is to collapse that divide a bit, taking some of the resources from the university into these particular contexts. And likewise, to take some of the intelligences that emerge in the queer community back into the university.
Alyson: And I’d like to mention why it’s called “feral”. This idea is about “the domesticated gone wild”, and for us as queer-identifying people within the academy, there’s a wrangle for us about being “inside” and having access to the academy’s resources. It’s very easy to talk these days about knowing your privilege, but for me it’s about knowing that I sit both within the queer community as well as in a scholarly community. So with this idea of “feral”, we’re looking at how things can become very comfortable very quickly, because it’s easy to forget what it’s like to be without that comfort and privilege. So the question becomes: how can we utilise this to expand autonomy around knowledge creation about ourselves?
Why is performance so important for the queer community?
Alyson: I think what makes it effective in bonding the community together is that it’s affective, in that affects emerge when we come together in a shared space. So we become temporary communities every time we go into a theatre space, and something happens between us that bonds people together. Of course, you can get ideas from reading a book on your own, and this even has affective properties, as does music, but somehow in theatre, or live performance, I think it works differently because it’s an embodied form. This produces a sense of kinship, of being together for a moment and having experienced something. It’s the “assembling”, as Judith Butler would put it: putting your bodies in place together.
Stephen: I’d also add that one of the reasons why performance does this is because it’s live (mostly). Downloading a music track is not the same as seeing that performer do it live. So there’s something about “live-ness” that’s important. And, theatre spaces are one of the few places where adults can go where everyone understands it’s a game, it’s play. And in it, you can do things and be things that you can’t be in the “real world”. In these spaces, you can test ideas, you can manifest a new future, you can be the things you can’t be, or are restricted from being, outside of the theatre space. To pick up on Alyson’s point about assembling, this means to come together, but it also means to put things together, so we can also construct things in theatre that can’t exist outside.
Alyson Campbell is a theatre-maker and academic whose research mainly focuses on gender and queer theory/performance, directing and dramaturgy, phenomenological approaches to performance and social justice in the arts. She is currently Associate Professor in Theatre at the Victorian College of the Arts, at the University of Melbourne.
Stephen Farrier is a theatre-maker and academic who has a deep and long-lasting fascination with the theatrical representation and performance of identity. In particular, he has a commitment to studying and producing performance practice around narratives of gender and sexuality. Currently he is Reader in Theatre and Performance at the Royal Central School of Speech and Drama, University of London.
Frederic Kiernan is an early career Research Fellow at the Creativity and Wellbeing Hallmark Research Initiative at the University of Melbourne. His work examines the relationship between music, creativity, emotion and wellbeing, both presently and in the past. He recently co-edited a special issue of the International Journal of Wellbeing on the theme of “creativity and wellbeing” with Jane Davidson and Lindsay Oades.