TaPRA 2024 Directing and Dramaturgy working group

Deadline: Wednesday 10 April 2024


For two decades, precarity has been used within and outside of the academy as a framework for understanding the increasingly unstable and contingent conditions of human existence under late capitalism. 

Anthropologist Clara Han distinguishes that “[on] the one hand, precarity is tightly bound to transformations of labor and the welfare state under conditions of globalization. On the other hand, precarity, and its companion, precariousness, is understood as a common ontological condition of exposure and interdependency that seems to be independent of forms of life” (Han, 2018, p.32). This provides a helpful starting point, a working definition, whereby precarity can be understood in its connection to working conditions and as an ontological concept.

Like Han, Judith Butler considered precarity essential to the human experience, writing that “[a]nything living can be expunged at will or by accident; and its persistence is in no sense guaranteed” (2009, n.p.). Following Butler’s intervention, the term and her definition have been used to refer to a wide range of impermanent, vulnerable or contingent states. These range from poor working conditions (precarious employment), deregulated or punitive social and political policies (resulting, for example, in precarious housing, precarious citizenship) to extreme vulnerability in the face of war, migration, and climate disasters.

Precarity/precariousness might therefore be thought of as linking the global to the local, the massive to the particular. As Butler (2009) suggests, precarity is inevitable because all life is precarious, and yet, some lives are more precarious than others due to conditions of inequality and exploitation.  

A more recent rumination on the subject, Nicolas Rideout and Rebecca Schneider’s 2012 special issue on Precarity and Performance, examined how early 2000s performance offered a space for affective and critical engagement with precarious futures.They suggest that, if  “precarity is lived in relation to “someone else’s hands” it is also newly experienced by many as life lived in relation to a future that cannot be propped securely on a past” (Rideout & Schneider, 2012, p. 9). 

Today, precarity/precariousness might evoke specific contemporary concerns related to the cost of living crisis, emerging from a global pandemic, mass migration, war and climate crisis. It can also prompt consideration about the precarity of drama as discipline and industry in the UK and elsewhere, where cuts in funding are shaping and affecting every aspect of the theatrical ecosystem. Precarity is inextricable from questions of agency and the who, where, how and why of theatre and performance are increasingly pressing concerns.  

As a response to this trend in 2021 critics Maddy Costa and Andy Field assembled an anthology, Performance in an Age of Precarity, that reflected their thinking about, and experiences of, contemporary performance local to them. It served to document artists “attempting to survive and to make work with increasingly limited resources” (Costa & Field, 2021, p. 2-4). In this regard, performance in precarious times might refer to work which is created on the margins of a profitable or commercial entertainment industry, or which centres the lives and experience of those living with uncertain futures. Despite the underpinning urgency, this collection of writing thrums with a joy emerging from what this precarious “work has to say about the ways in which artists are attempting to live within this world. And the different kinds of relationships and social structures – between people, between species – that might make this world more liveable” (ibid). There emerges a duality that continues in more recent work such as Gecko’s Kin (2023-), which represents the migrants’ experience of being in between places and cultures; in its exploration of precarity/precariousness, it is a piece intricately interwoven with desperation and empathy.

In this call for papers, building upon rich and varied scholarship and reflecting on the present debates, imminent ideological and political crises, we ask again what it means to make theatre in an age of precariousness/precarity. Are these terms helpful in understanding the pressures, vulnerabilities and upheavals which are faced by theatremakers in the UK and globally? How are contemporary dramaturgies informed by the precarity of the conditions in which they are created, and/or which they attempt to represent and change? Is there hope within precarity?  

We welcome proposals that consider how dramatists, directors, theatre makers and other creative artists are responding to precarity/precariousness, to consider how far directorial and dramaturgical intervention might be a tool for understanding social and economic precarity today and whether alternative epistemologies and aesthetics are being created.

Proposals might include but are not limited to:  

  • Precarious times and spaces
  • Theatre and performance institutions and workers in the context of the cost of living crisis. 
  • Dramaturgy and the economic conditions of theatre-making (today and historically)
  • Who is safe and supported in theatre-making spaces? Who is not?
  • Migration and theatre, touring and barriers to theatre-making
  • Global majority dramaturgies
  • Precarious work in the theatre industry, including technical theatre workers
  • Accessible dramaturgy, and the precarity of accessible and safe spaces
  • Practitioners working on the margins
  • Precarity of the text in performance
  • “Good precarity” versus “bad precarity” (Rideout & Schneider, 2012)
  • The aesthetics of precarity in theatre
  • The role of precarity in the dramaturgical process
  • Pracarity explored and expressed as form and/or content
  • Theatre making in a time of environmental precarity
  • Continuations of last years discussion of ‘Backstory’ and its intersections with precarity/precariousness

We welcome speakers who wish to develop ideas from previous presentations; we also encourage collaborative presentations and creative interventions from both previous and new contributors to this Working Group, including provocations, practice demonstrations, performative presentations, and formal papers of no more than 15 minutes. We welcome approaches from all aspects of performance and theatre studies, all cultures and regional and global backgrounds and all periods, from researchers across the spectrum of new, emerging, early, experienced, emeritus.

Please indicate your preference of format clearly in your proposal, with a specific breakdown of any technical or access requirements. We will endeavour to accommodate all requests but we are working within finite resources and we may need to suggest alternative format. 

Selected references:
Aragay, M. & Middeke, M. (2017). Precariousness in Drama and Theatre: An Introduction. In M. Aragay & M. Middeke (Ed.), Of Precariousness: Vulnerabilities, Responsibilities, Communities in 21st-Century British Drama and Theatre (pp. 1-14). De Gruyter. https://doi.org/10.1515/9783110548716-001 
Butler, J. (2006). Precarious Life: The Powers of Mourning and Violence. Verso Books.
Costa, M. & Field, A. (2021). Performance in an Age of Precarity. Methuen Drama.
Han, C. (2018). “Precarity, Precariousness, and Vulnerability”. Annual Review of Anthropology, 47(1), pp. 331-343.https://doi.org/10.1146/annurev-anthro-102116-041644 
Puar, J. (2012). “Precarity Talk: A Virtual Roundtable with Lauren Berlant, Judith Butler, Bojana Cvejić, Isabell Lorey, Jasbir Puar, and Ana Vujanović.” TDR (1988-), 56(4), pp. 163–77. http://www.jstor.org/stable/23362779
Ridout, N, & Schneider, R. “Precarity and Performance: An Introduction.” TDR (1988-), 56(4), pp. 5–9. http://www.jstor.org/stable/23362768

Conference structure
Northumbria University will host the TaPRA 2024 annual conference in central Newcastle-upon-Tyne (UK) as a hybrid event from 4 to 6 September 2024. We welcome online and in-person delegates.

Process for submitting a proposal
Please email a submission with the following elements by midnight on 10 April 2024 to the Working Group convenors at directinganddramaturgy@tapra.org:

  • 300-word max abstract
  • 100-word max biography
  • Confirmation on whether you plan to attend online or in person
  • Any specific requirements relating to space or AV technology

Please note: You may only submit a proposal to one working group (or to the TaPRA Gallery) for this conference, proposals submitted after the deadline will not be considered.

TaPRA will inform you whether or not your proposal has been accepted in mid-May 2024. Registration will also be open from mid-May 2024, which will ask for accessibility and dietary requirements. A draft schedule will be ready by the end of June 2023. Registration will close on 1 August 2024. Accommodation options in central Newcastle with special rates will be available to all delegates.

Conference costs
There are two main delegate types (standard and concession, definition below) and all fees include one-year TaPRA membership of £35 (standard) or £17 (concession). Early bird rates only apply to in-person full conference fees.

In-person fees: (early bird/late bird)

  • Full conference fee: £250/£300 (standard) and £180/£230 (concession)
  • Day rate: £130 (standard) and £100 (concession)
  • WG Convenors and Exec: £198 (standard) and £17 (concession)
  • Life members: £163

Online fees:

  • Full conference fee: £110 (standard) and £90 (concession)
  • WG Convenors and Exec: £108 (standard) and £17 (concession)
  • Life members: £73

A day rate is not available for online delegates.

Concession definition
Concession rates apply to all students, postgraduate researchers (MA or PhD), unwaged, unaffiliated, and retired researchers, and staff on contracts of either less than 0.6FTE or else fixed for less than 12 months. These categories apply to the delegate’s circumstances on the first day of the conference.

Each Working Group manages a bursary to cover the fee and some expenses, offered on a competitive basis. Preference will be given to those without access to any institutional funds. This process is open to accepted presenters only and will be managed by the Working Group convenors post-confirmation of acceptance.

Please note: only one proposal may be submitted for a TaPRA event. It is not permitted to submit multiple proposals or submit the same proposal to several Calls for Participation. All presenters must be TaPRA members, i.e. registered for the event; this includes presentations given by Skype or other media broadcast even where the presenter may not physically attend the event venue.

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