Eric Robidoux in case-study company Pidgeons International’s 2013 production In the Forests of Siberia.


Interactuality in Physical Dramaturgies (2009 – 2014)

SSHRC Standard Research Grant


“Physically-based” and “devising” are sufficiently broad terms as to incorporate a wide range of very different objectives, techniques, and styles. However, in general, the terms identify an approach to theatrical creation and performance for which text is not accorded primary or “sacred” status—indeed, one in which text may be secondary in terms of its authority within the developmental process and secondary in terms of the order in which the performance elements may be selected and incorporated into the final production. Rather, in devised theatre the elements of visual and aural presentation, as well as the work’s engagement with narrative, equally emerge out of a set of often collaborative processes that are based in movement, song, and collage and that employ improvisation and collective composition with systematic discipline.

As I discussed in my introduction to my edited essay collection Developing Nation (2009), and as is repeatedly observed throughout the articles collected in it, several decades of scholarship in Canada have argued that the development of professional theatre in this country generally adopted an early and defining preoccupation with text-based, largely realistic theatrical forms and conventions. According to this interpretation, all alternative stylistics were thus measured against these conventions in terms of social relevance, commercial viability, and aesthetic value. Ironically, however, the aesthetic priorities of many of devising companies reflect and extend this literary bias through a paradoxical relationship to writing and written text.

 As opposed to extending this binary, this research argued that is called for are dramaturgical strategies that treat all modes of expression (including textual expression) as interwoven acts of composition, in a manner related to J.L. Austin’s “speech act”: a use of words that does work, that has affect (or, at least, which attempts to do so) (Austin 101-08; Loxley 6-21). Put simply (and not simply at all), what is called for is dramaturgy attuned to the overt interactuality of the devised theatre context. The overall goal of this study, then, was to articulate a theoretical perspective that can potentially heighten and broaden a devisor’s ability to identify and work with possible connections, patterns, and intersections (physical, textual, conceptual, etc.) drawn from within the full range of compositional modes as they interact.

The program of research, supported by a Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council Standard Research Grant, involved a substantial literature review, a series of six in-depth national case studies, and a large “Performance Lab” and showcase with 20 prominent artists from across multiple disciplines (conducted at Simon Fraser University in Vancouver). The research design draws on a theoretical intersection of performativity studies, affect theory, and an enactivist orientation to perception and cognition. Ultimately, the intention was to develop, apply, analyze, and revise a conceptual vocabulary for cross-paradigm exchange and collaboration among physically-based devised theatre practitioners and their audiences, both general and scholarly.

Vancouver Laboratory participant Tara Cheyenne Friedenberg’s Porno Death Cult premiered in 2014.

This research has been deeply formative for my subsequent activity as both a scholar and a practitioner, and its influences are evident in both explicit and implicit ways in both spheres. The resulting emphasis on interdisciplinarity laid the groundwork for my next SSHRC-supported projet (“Close Relations”) as well as the subsequent creative projects emerging out of Vertical City Performance. A sample of the resulting publication is listed below, and additional publication is forthcoming.

“‘Interactual’ Dramaturgy: What a performance is doing, rather than what it is trying to be.The Routledge Companion to Dramaturgy. Ed. Magda Romanska. London: Routledge, 2014.