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Title: The construction of skill in contemporary experimental theatre
Author: Belloli, Giacomo Giuseppe
ISNI:       0000 0004 8501 4208
Awarding Body: University of Cambridge
Current Institution: University of Cambridge
Date of Award: 2018
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A concern with 'skill' - the embodied process of becoming accustomed to, and getting better at, particular practices - underpins the work of a range of recent experimental theatre-makers in the UK. While Tom Cornford has proposed that the theatre has not experienced a 'turn to the crafts' to match the concurrent one in the visual arts, I argue that theatrical practice is caught within this turn. The encounters that occur in theatrical auditoria become sites for the construction of skill, where the skilled practice of performers and audiences can be developed and celebrated, but also where the implications of what that means can be interrogated. Rather than illustrating Richard Sennett's and Tim Ingold's theories of skill, these performances develop a critical dialogue with them. Chapters 1 and 2 compare the plays of Martin Crimp and Tim Crouch. Taken together, these chapters reveal how each author negotiates between two different understandings of playwriting within contemporary British dramaturgy: as a distinctive craft producing material with and on which other crafts work, and as one component of a more fluidly collaborative theatre-making ecology that the text documents. I associate these understandings, respectively, with the anthropological models of the trap and the gift. In the indeterminate worlds of these performances, a skill that is both regulated and spontaneous is as feasible as a gift which is both freely given and socially conditioned. Chapter 3 focuses on productions by Forced Entertainment since Bloody Mess (2004), as the company have attempted to reconcile their commitment to avant-garde convention-breaking with a reliable, recognisable set of practices. I argue that they rigorously negate skill, by sustaining a practice in which the coupling of abstract reflection with embodied action continually breaks down. Their performances critique Ingold's phenomenological approach to skill, by drawing attention to those practices and atmospheres that humans are unable to understand through immediate participation. Chapter 4 offers an analysis of METIS Arts' World Factory (2012-17), and the challenges of making an interactive performance about the unequally deskilled labour conditions of global capitalism. A dialectic of deskilling and reskilling operates across the labour conditions that the production explores, the company's production process, and actor-audience interactions within the performance. This dialectic offers a critical alternative to much contemporary immersive theatre, figuring performance as rehearsal for action within a networked, postcapitalist society. My conclusion explores the political opportunities that the troubling, or the refusal, of a 'turn to the crafts' in the contemporary theatre might offer in the face of systemic financial and ecological crisis. In particular, I consider how a strain of modernist dissidence within my examples might come to be identified and enabled in a wider variety of theatre-making contexts.
Supervisor: Connor, Steven Sponsor: Arts and Humanities Research Council
Qualification Name: Thesis (Ph.D.) Qualification Level: Doctoral
Keywords: theatre ; performance ; skill ; contemporary ; Tim Ingold ; Richard Sennett ; craft ; labour ; studio ; deskilling ; neoliberalism ; modernism ; audiences ; phenomenology ; ecology ; trap ; gift ; Martin Crimp ; Tim Crouch ; Forced Entertainment ; METIS ; globalisation