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A close-up of the Rose Bowl, City Campus


With Children: The Child as Collaborator and Performer

Keynote Speaker: Professor Alan Read (King's College, London)

Theatre has a troubled relationship with children. As performers and collaborators, children’s participation in contemporary performance practice is haunted by historical concerns over young people’s labour and their potential exploitation in the theatre: too many long hours; too many performances; too many late evenings. Companies and artists working with children, both within and outside of the theatrical context, arguably inherit these anxieties around child labour and so creative processes are often dominated by discussions of risk, responsibility, and care in ways that are both productive and all consuming. Carrying the weight of these concerns for their well-being, children’s presence in performance can encourage a protective or nostalgic gaze from the adult spectator and lead to children’s work being seen in binary terms as too skilled or not skilled enough, too innocent or too knowing.

In recent years, contemporary performance, dance, and live art with children as collaborators as well as performers has begun to resonate with these issues of labour, agency, intention, responsibility, and related complexities surrounding child-adult relationships (Haircuts by Children Mammalian Diving Reflex; That Night Follows Day Tim Etchells/CAMPO; Before Your Very Eyes Gob Squad/CAMPO; Playing Up Sybille Peters; Men & Girls Dance Fevered Sleep). Scholarly work in the field has also taken up this invitation to problematise the role of the child in contemporary performance by theorising the child as a sign of ‘effective labour’ in the theatrical economy (Abrams 2012); a productive theatrical ‘hazard’ raising issues of risk-avoidance and responsibility (Orozco 2010) and as a politically active ‘beginner’ (Senior 2015). Nevertheless, the child’s voice in debates about children’s work and participation in performance is still largely absent from performance scholarship. 

This symposium seeks to address this gap by exploring the questions and issues concerning the role of the child as collaborator and performer in dialogue with children. It asks the following questions:

  • What are the possibilities and limitations of the categories of ‘child’, ‘children’, and ‘childhood’ for thinking through the appearance and representation of children and young people in performance?
  • How are childhoods imagined and re-imagined by the appearance of children in live art, theatre, dance and other performance-related practices?
  • To what extent are children active ‘agents’ in the collaborative process of making performance work?
  • What are the aesthetic, political and ethical issues (beyond safeguarding policies) for makers and spectators of performance when collaborating with and encountering children in performance?
  • Which research methods are (or should be) available to us when writing about the complex issues surrounding children and specifically children’s bodies in performance contexts?
  • How can/do children become political agents in performance?

We are very pleased to confirm that the symposium will feature provocations, papers, performative presentations and showings from: 

Professor Karen Lury (University of Glasgow)
Miffy Ryan & Shirley Cameron
Professor David Harradine (Fevered Sleep/Royal Central School of Speech and Drama) 
Beth Cassani (Leeds Beckett University)
Dr Antje Hildebrandt (University of Lincoln)
Deborah Norris (Edge Hill University)
Grace Surman
Dr Erin Walcon (University of Exeter)
Isis Germano (Utrecht University)
Dagmar Vestergaard Friis (Center for Live Art, Denmark) 
Dr Misri Dey (Falmouth University)
Dr Geraldine Morris (University of Roehampton)

A full schedule of speakers and panels can be viewed here.

The symposium is co-convened by Dr Adele Senior (School of Film Music and Performing Arts, Leeds Beckett University) and Dr Gary Anderson (Institute for the Art and Practice of Dissent at Home & Liverpool Hope University). 

If you would like any further information please contact us on A.M.Senior@leedsbeckett.ac.uk and andersg@hope.ac.uk.

Event Details

28 January 2017 -
28 January 2017
9:00-18:30 (with evening event 18:30-20:00)
Beckett Studio 1, Headingley Campus, Leeds Beckett University
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