Performance as Research

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Course TypeCourse CodeNo. Of Credits
Foundation CoreSCC2PS1054

Semester and Year Offered: Monsoon

Course Coordinator and Team: Deepan Sivaraman & Prof. Anuradha Kapur

Email of course coordinator: deepan[at]aud[dot]ac[dot]in

Pre-requisites: No prior knowledge assumed.

Course Objectives/Description:

Performance studies has articulated a critique of knowledge and research to question their modes of production, transmission and accumulation by positioning the notion of performance as ‘episteme’, as a way of knowing reality. The notion of performance as embodied knowledge- as bodily movement and sensorial experience constitutes a specific realm of language, reason and modes of dissemination. Processes of signification thus arrived at resist fixity and encapsulation that characterize specific linguistic systems, narrative description, and traditional notions of scientific methodology. Practice as Research both within academic institutions in the form of research and in the ‘field’ as informed creative practice can be viewed as a creative/academic response to the larger twentith century phenomenon signalling a ‘turn to practice’. Within the academe, conventions of knowing, experiencing and recording (writing, documenting and reproducing) are constantly being challenged and appended for measuring the terms and meanings of the informational flux between social reality, its embodiment and expression through performance. The field of performance practice hasn’t remained untouched by this blurring of boundaries between creative practice and critical analysis, between epistemology and ontology. Conventional notions of theatre and performance practice have been problematised and reconfigured to think of preparatory work, production processes and time based cultural events like theatre production, installation, film, live art themselves as forms of research. At the very basis of PaR in performance is a dislocation of the understanding of knowledge as emanating strictly from abstract theorising and scientific rationality to accommodate action based investigations oriented towards practical engagement in the world.

Course Outcomes:

  • To explore the notion of ‘performance’ as ‘episteme’- as a way of knowing, experiencing and being in the world.
  • To map the brief historical trajectory of the field of PaR- theoretical premise, philosophical energies and practice based research trends.
  • To introduce contexts, methods and practice of PaR across geographical, cultural and artistic boundaries
  • Learn how performance practice relates to the larger cultural and political systems in which it takes place and dialogues with/challenge issues of authority, censorship, access to resources, documentation etc.
  • Learn the relationship between institutional methodologies and independent practice.
  • Preliminary hands on experience of formulating research projects, and employing and reflecting on creative methods for theoretical enquiry in theatre/performance contexts.

Brief description of modules/ Main modules:

Week 1


This week discusses the terms performance-practice-research and how performance has been seen as a critical way of producing and transmitting knowledge within the academe. The focus will be on laying the context for the emergence of the field of performance/theatre studies, its brief history and challenges, looking briefly at its genealogies, particularly in the Euro-American context. Many of the key terms that will be encountered through the course will be introduced and opened up for discussion.

Week 2


The week locates PaR methodology within the Performance Studies’ critique of knowledge, its production and dissemination and discusses its premise as a paradigm shift within the discipline. A mapping of PaR conceptualisations and workings within British and American institutional contexts are examined.

Week 3

Cartographies- 2

A pioneering PaR Project PARIP (2001-06, University of Bristol), as documented and reflected upon by a participant artist, Bella Merlin and a leading Practitioner-Researcher Baz Kershaw provides the case for discussion on key ideas and concepts involved in PaR. the relationship between institutions, researchers and how they enable or obstruct the production of certain knowledges is also reflected upon.

Week 4


The week looks at the historical understanding of knowledge and the privileging of the written word therein, right from the theorisation of Plato. Theories of phenomenolohy, post-structuralism and performativity within the western intellectual tradition are examined to look at ideas of self- reflexivity, experiential insights and ‘tacit knowledge’ for the purposes of Practice based research.

Week 5

Performing archive- archiving performance

The week explores the notions of the archive and the repertoire and their relatuonship not sequentially but as forces that are in constant tension with one another that play themselves out through stagings of history, memory and conflict. the second reading provides a basis for the discussion on how the repertoire of embodied practices are translated through performance as important systems of knowing and transmitting historic data, experience and trauma.

Week 6

Ways of Seeing: Towards Materiality in theatre/performance

The readings and discussions this week will focus on bringing back the notion of materiality: space, objects and bodies to bear upon the perception of performance and its transformative possibilities.

Week 7

Being and creating: Towards a dramaturgical approach

The week looks at dramaturgy as a conceptual tool that forces a rearrangement of materials for performance: the objects of the archive, the landscape, texts and actors. Dramaturgical practice and attitude are considered ‘as research’, that bring the focus back on the processual and the interactive rather than the fixity of the product in performance making.

Week 8

Performing History and heritage in postcolony.

The methods of PaR as put in practice in these two performance- research projects help an understanding of organising practice, archival materials, repertoire of images, bodily experiences and how these are translated as research in the form of a written document.

Week 9

Performance, Document and Documentation

The week returns to discuss the making of the archive, through documentation practices. Documentation of PaR projects, as distinct from commonsensical understanding of the term takes into account corporeal or embodied documentation as in the actor’s body and notions of time/memory, space/embodiment within time-bound live events as well as performances that are durational, use multi-media, are site specific etc.

Week 10

Physicality and Embodiment

The week investigates the Research models of key modern actor trainers like Eugino Barba, Grotowski and Stanislavsky that hinges on modes of embodiment and representation.

Week 11

Politics, Aesthetics and transformation: Critical-Affective readings of performance

Week 12

Institutionalized culture and cultural politics: Theatre of the Roots (Indian Theatre)

The week focuses on the construction of historical models of modern Indian theatre practice within an institutional framework of cultural politics, representation and funding surrounded by the debates on national culture and politics of language.

Week 13

Feminist strands in Theatre Praxis: Case of women’s Theatre in Modern Indian Theatre

The week explores tools and techniques that researcher-practitioners use in body-centred performance research to explore their prevalence, purpose and organization. The work of three women theatre practitioners is considered to account for the ways in which they position the body as interpretable and flexible, yet materially and culturally specific in performances directed by them to create a feminist aesthetics.

Week 14

Performance Curation

This week will examine the emerging theorizations of curation within the performance studies context. Moving on from the visual arts perspective of curation and the figure of the curator or arts administrator, the notion of the ‘curational’ is posited as that which is inherent to the process of art making. what do these practices of curation- that are tied up with issues of internationalization, travel, collaboration, funding etc are central to contemporary performance making and can lend themselves to research.

Assessment Details with weights:

Students will be assessed for their overall understanding of the course and their contribution towards performances, group discussions and knowledge sharing. Attending weekly lectures and presentations are vital and any absence may affect the grades.

  • Weekly readings, class participation and attendance: 20%
  • Class presentation: 30%
  • Mid-term paper: 20%
  • End-term paper: 40%

*All students must participate in all course assessments to obtain a passing course grade.

Reading List:

  • Jackson, Shannon. Discipline and performance: genealogy and discontinuity in Professing performance: Theatre in the academy from philology to performativity. Cambridge University Press, 2004.
  • Simon Jones, “The Courage of Complementarity: Practice-as-research as a Paradigm Shift in Performance Studies,” in Ludivine Allegue et al, eds. Practice-as-Research in Performance and Screen (London: Palgrave Macmillan, 2009), 18-33.
  • Kershaw, Baz. "Practice as Research through Performance." Practice-led Research, Research led Practice in the Creative Arts (2009): 104-25
  • Nelson, Robin (2006) ‘Practice-as-Reseach and the Problem of Knowledge’, PerformanceResearch, 11:4, 105-116.
  • Conquergood, Dwight. "Performance Studies: Interventions and Radical
  • Research1." TDR/The Drama Review 46.2 (2002): 145-156.
  • Melrose, S. 2002. Entertaining other options: Restaging "Theory" in the Age of Practice as Research, Inaugural Professorial Lecture (delivered on 28 January 2002 at Middlesex University).
  • Jackson, Shannon. Practice and performance: modernist paradoxes and literalist legacies in Professing performance: Theatre in the academy from philology to performativity. Cambridge University Press, 2004.
  • Taylor, Diana. The archive and the repertoire: Performing cultural memory in the Americas. Duke University Press Books, 2003.
  • Phelan, Peggy. 1993. The ontology of performance: representation without reproduction. Unmarked: the politics of performance. London: Routledge, pp. 146-66.
  • Fischer-Lichte, Erika. The performative generation of materiality in The transformative power of performance: a new aesthetics. Routledge, 2008.
  • Ingold, Tim. "Building, dwelling, living: how animals and people make themselves at home in the world." Shifting Contexts. Transformations in Anthropological Knowledge (1995): 57-80.
  • Fleishman, Mark. "Remembering in the postcolony: refiguring the past with theatre." (2012)
  • Fleishman, Mark. "‘Stories like the wind’: Recontextualising/Xam narratives for contemporary audiences." South African Theatre Journal 19.1 (2005): 43-57.
  • SEREMETAKIS, Nádia. "The other city of silence: disaster and the petrified bodies of history." ReMembering the Body. Ostfildern-Ruit: Hatje Cantz Publishers (2000): 302-332.
  • Jim Davis, Katie Normington and Gilli Bush-Bailey with
Jacky Bratton, “Researching Theatre History and Historiography.” in Research methods in theatre and performance, eds. Kershaw, Baz, and Helen Nicholson (Edinburgh University Press, 2011) 86-110
  • Auslander, Philip. "The performativity of performance documentation." (2006).
  • Adam J. Ledger with Simon K. Ellis and Fiona Wright, “The Question of Documentation: Creative Strategies in
Performance Research .” in Research methods in theatre and performance, eds. Kershaw, Baz, and Helen Nicholson (Edinburgh University Press, 2011), 162-185.
  • Jones, Amelia. "Presence’in Absentia: Experiencing Performance." Art Journal 56.11 (1997).
  • Jonathan Pitches, Simon Murray, Helen Poynor et al. Training: Researching Practice in the Theatre Laboratory in Research methods in theatre and performance. (eds.) Kershaw, Baz, and Helen Nicholson. Performer Edinburgh University Press, 2011.