NiTRO + Creative Matters

Perspectives on creative arts in higher education

Critical Performance Studies in the Sir Zelman Cowen School of Music and Performance at Monash University

By Professor Stacy Holman Jones  — Collaboration, authorship and preparing a new generation of storytellers who critically question and ethically engage with knowledge systems and representations is at the heart of a new minor in critical performance studies at Monash University.

n integral part of the new Sir Zelman Cowen School of Music and Performance, this minor focuses on developing knowledge, skills, and practices that help our students understand, creatively engage, and transform the world around them.

Performance is a practical and creative method for participants and publics to access research findings and apply them to their own lives

 We’ve created a curriculum that offers an inclusive and safe laboratory for testing and working out responses to social problems on stage that can be translated into everyday life. Students learn how socially engaged arts research and practice work together to create, in the words of Donna Haraway, “collectives capable of new practices of imagination, resistance, revolt, repair, and mourning” that are now needed to compose a “common liveable world”[1]. Students do this work by exploring performance as:

  • The study of a particular performance or set of performance practices as a lens for understanding the ethical and relational nature of human creativity, communication, and collaboration. Performance Studies foundational scholar Dwight Conquergood calls this aspect of critical performance studies the analysis or ethical representation and interpretation of art and culture.

  • A method for learning about cultures, identities and ways of living as a foundation for ethical and collaborative knowledge creation. Conquergood calls this aspect of performance studies research the accomplishment or making of knowledge. The diverse knowledge students create in these explorations comes from doing, participatory and accountable understandings and performing as a way of knowing.

  • A way of making sense of critical theory and creative practice, with a particular emphasis on outreach; connecting to community; and creating social, cultural and political dialogue, transformation and change. Conquergood calls this aspect of performance studies research a focus on the articulation of our research findings. Here, performance is a practical and creative method for participants and publics to access research findings and apply them to their own lives.

Through units focusing on critical performance studies in the arts; critical intercultural performance; improvisation in performance; agency, advocacy and activism; the art of teaching performance; navigating the performing arts sector and critical performance studies and artistic research, students explore key concepts in critical performance studies such as: Performativity, which posits that identities and relations such as gender or family are the effects or accomplishments of our actions in the world, rather than the source/cause of those actions. Intersectionality, which recognizes these multiple and mutually influencing axes of social division and oppression and uses this understanding as a tool for assessing and responding to the complexity of the world[2] (Hill Collins & Bilge, 2016). Affect, which considers how, in addition to thought and thinking, the felt-sense of an experience, identity, or emotion shapes and shifts the social. And the concept and process of queer and queering practices, which attempt to “disrupt” the naturalised (and often oppressive) order of things in ways that create more open, more possible and more joyful futures for people and beings who are marginalized and subject to violence in the current world[3].

Students also consider positionality and representation in storytelling through a focus on autoethnography and narrative inquiry, both methods and modes of representation that bring together the embodied, emotional and experiential aspects of the personal storytelling with a process of analysing, asking questions about and coming up with ways to positively change culture and social life.

We see critical performance studies as integral part of preparing new generations of storytellers to question not only the assumptions of identity and cultural expression but also taken-for-granted knowledge systems and artistic practices. It is a discipline and a way of working that is centrally focused on creating – not only new works of art, but new and more equitable, sustainable and secure ways of relating and living together on our planet. That twin commitment to creativity and change has those of us in the Sir Zelman Cowen School of Music and Performance excited about how our new minor helps us meet the multiplicity, complexity and ethical demands of relationships, our environment and our past and our collective futures.

[1] Haraway, 2016, pp. 51, 40).

[2] Hill Collins & Bilge, 2016.

[3] Ahmed, 2006

References

Ahmed, S. (2006). Queer phenomenology: Orientations, objects, others. Durham, NC: Duke.

Conquergood, D. (2002). Performance studies: Interventions and radical research. The Drama Review 46(2): 145-156.

Haraway, D. (2016). c. Durham, NC: Duke.

Hill Collins, P. & Bilge, S. (2016). Intersectionality. Malden, MA: Polity Press.


Professor Stacy Holman Jones is a writer, director, researcher and educator in the Sir Zelman Cowen School of Music and Performance at Monash University, Australia. Her research focuses on performance as socially, culturally, and politically resistive and transformative activity. She has published more than 100 articles, book chapters, reviews, and editorials and has authored, co-authored and edited 13 books.  Her writing, directing and performance work has been featured at international venues and events including the Storytelling Centre in Edinburgh, Scotland, FEAST Festival in Adelaide, Australia and in conference venues in Australia, New Zealand, the US and Scotland.

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