Theatre and Performance Research in an Age of Conspiracy

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Theatre and Performance Research in an Age of Conspiracy

TaPRA-SCUDD 2021 Postgraduate Symposium

Friday 25th June 2021, Online (GMT)

‘While you here do snoring lie, Open-eyed conspiracy His time doth take. If of life you keep a care, Shake off slumber, and beware: Awake, awake!’

– William Shakespeare, The Tempest (c. 1610-1612), Act II, scene 1. Song, line 295.

‘Theatre is the memory place where conspiracy theory is privileged. The rites of memory are passed from generation to generation, although what is there is to be remembered is passing out of mind. “Look again, look again, search everywhere,” chant the Furies, those gray and aged children, remembered and remembering, with their fierce intelligence, hunting the prey. There we are, looking, in the dark’

– Herbert Blau, ‘Theatre and History: A Conspiracy Theory,’ Performing Arts Journal, vol.5, (1), 1980 p.23


This symposium will consider how conspiracy, counter-conspiracy, telling lies, myth making, finding connections and constructing realities are often an essential part of theatre and performance practice. In a world where our political reality is being increasingly shaped by conspiracy theories, what strategies and insights can theatre scholarship bring us?

With greater connectivity provided by the internet, digital cultures and proponents of conspiracy theories holding powerful political positions, we have seen a sharp rise in the spread and belief of conspiracy theories. These are often sinister in nature, perpetuating prejudice against minority groups. There has been widespread belief in conspiracy theories surrounding the COVID-19 pandemic and this misinformation has had a huge human cost, manifested in the violent attacks targeted at East Asians.

‘Telling the truth’ has an uneasy relationship with theatre-making. We often sit in the dark, enjoying the falsity of theatrical illusion. In documentary and verbatim theatre, the truth is often contested. And in performance art, Abramovic’s claim that ‘the blood is real’ is immediately challenged by Paul McCarthy’s liberal use of tomato ketchup. As conventional definitions of theatre teeter towards irrelevance and the theatre industry (as we know it) seems to collapse around us, the illusion of theatre as one big inclusive “family” crumbles. What are the structural inequalities and injustices of theatre-making and audience participation that have been revealed? Is the future of a more equitable and just theatre online? Must theatre go online in order to effectively intervene in the age of conspiracy?

Suggested topics may include or use as a starting point:

  • The relationship between the truth and theatrical illusion, how illusion might reveal hidden truths in performance, the perpetuation of myths in drama.
  • The notion of truth and authenticity in documentary and verbatim theatre, and how theatre mediates the truth.
  • How the gap between reality, authenticity and the real are exploited by practitioners
  • How the creation of myths, mystification, tenuous truths, secrecy and plausibility are used by performance-makers
  • How theatre scholarship can present new ‘truths’ to counteract official, canonical or established ‘truths’
  • The role of rhetoric, manipulation, cognitive biases, emotional control in dramatic speech and the performance of politics
  • The impact of anti-semitism, racism, ableism and transphobia as it is spread through prejudice and conspiracy theories. Theatre’s resistance and/or complicity with these prejudices.
  • Plots, plotting, secrets and revelations, including in dramatic structure
  • Myth-making within theatre and performance practice, research and theatre history
  • Integrity in theatre and performance research and/or in theatre making

The Theatre & Performance Research Association and the Standing Committee of University Drama Departments invites proposals for papers or performative presentations (15 minutes) relating to the theme from postgraduates at all levels of study (including MA students), postdoctoral researchers and early career academics to be delivered live over Zoom. The symposium is free to attend and open to all postgraduates and early career researchers, based anywhere in the world (bearing in mind the symposium will take place in GMT).

We invite presentations that relate to the theme in all forms of theatre practice, theatre history, performance, performance studies, formal and informal performer training, stagecraft and theatre/drama in education.

As part of the symposium we will have a workshop on accessibility and care. This workshop will be a relaxing space to consider how we can make our home working environments more accessible for our own needs and introduce participants to ways of creating online spaces that are more mindful of the accessibility needs of those around us.

We will be providing structured and informal networking opportunities for participants. Abstracts should be 250 words in length. All abstracts should be sent to When submitting your abstract, please also include a short biography (no more than 50 words) in the same document. Those wishing to use alternative approaches to presenting research, such as performance lectures, can include an additional 100 words detailing their intended presentation methods. Please also let us know if there are any access provisions – for example, captioning – that would better enable you to participate.

Deadline: Monday 15th March, 5pm

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