Dynamic Tensions: A Research Network for Theatre, Performance, Sport, and Physical Culture

As part of the AHRC-funded research leadership fellowship Dynamic Tensions: New Masculinities in the Performance of Fitness, this interdisciplinary research network aims to bring together researchers and practitioners from theatre and performance studies engaging with practices of sport and physical culture, with scholars, athletes, and researchers in sports studies (which may include kinesiology, sociology and sport, and physical education) interested in artistic and performative methods.

Historically, cultural performance and sport have been deeply imbricated. Sport has been represented onstage throughout theatre history, from the metaphorical language of athletics woven through Aeschylus’ Oresteia (see Pritchard 2013) to Orlando’s bout with Charles the Wrestler in Shakespeare’s As You Like It. Sport too, comes to draw on the language and vocabulary of dramatic writing when describing a match or event, and the high drama of the sporting event has proven a fertile ground for dramatic writers to explore other issues of race, gender, and class, as in the plays of John Godber, Kristoffer Diaz’s The Elaborate Entrance of Chad Deity, Greg McGee’s Foreskin’s Lament, Roy William’s Sucker Punch, and Charlotte Josephine’s Bitch Boxer. Furthermore, British and North American theatre has a rich tradition of physical culture and sport presented as spectacle on the music hall or vaudeville stage, from the Victorian period to the end of the Second World War. Sport has been deeply influential for practitioners of performance training including Jacques Lecoq, Jerzy Grotowski, and Keith Johnstone. More recently, a growing number of artists today have been, in Jennifer Doyle’s words, ‘mak[ing] work that has something to say about physical practice, sport, and play—work that is feminist, anticolonial and queer’ (Doyle and Getsy, 2014). Such works as might fall into Doyle’s ‘Athletic Turn’ include Cassil’s Becoming an Image, PanicLab’s Rite of Spring and Theseus Beefcake, or Amber Hawk Swanson’s durational CrossFit performances. Sport, and theatre, are both representations of life, and yet at the same time deeply material events with real effects. Hence, the Haudenosaunee First Nations name for the game of lacrosse, ‘Little Brother of War.’

This research network aims to build upon this fertile ground by consolidating, disseminating, and promoting interdisciplinary research in performance and sport. In particular, it aims to encourage innovative and especially embodied research methods into this interdisciplinary area, and to challenge the disciplinary boundaries around sport studies and performance studies.

  • How might research methods from theatre and performance studies be used to understand practices of sport and physical culture, and vice versa?
  • How might ethnography—so prominent in sociology of sport—work with artistic research/Practice-as-Research in theatre and performance?
  • How can theatre and performance challenge or queer normative representations of bodies and subjects constructed by sporting practices, especially as they intersect with gendered, sexual, racial, and class-based identities?
  • How can new technologies of data gathering (fitness trackers, for example) form the basis of artistic practice as/and research, and how might artistic methods challenge notions of the quantifiability of the body?
  • And how can interdisciplinary research in theatre and performance and sports studies intervene in the individual economies of art, sport, theatre and performance, questioning existing ideas of labour, commodity, and value?

The following initial events are currently planned for the Dynamic Tensions Research Network: 

  • Early 2017 (TBC): Defiant Embodiments in Theatre, Sport, and Performance(One-Day Symposium, in conjunction with the Theatre and Performance Research Association Performance and the Body Working Group) (Brunel University London)
  • June 2017: Research Seminar (London, UK)
  • October 2017: Performance(s) (London, UK)
  • January 2018: Research Seminar (Location TBC)