Queen’sMen Editions

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Performance as Research

Performance as Research [PAR] is a term that has only fairly recently come into scholarly parlance. It has its origins in the field of Performance Studies that emerged in 1990s New York under the leadership of Kate Taylor and Richard Schechner but is also closely related to the more recent initiative in Practice as Research led by Baz Kershaw in the UK. The defining ideas behind this emerging field are as follows. The embodied processes and procedures performance practice can be a means of research in and of themselves that offer insight equal to more traditional modes of research such as cultural theory and textual analysis. Given this premise, in PAR work, a performance itself is the research product and makes a valuable contribution to academic knowledge-building.

In keeping with the editorial introduction to PARtake: The Journal of Performance as Research’s introduction to the subject of PAR, we believe the different modes of research are complementary. The Queen’s Men Editions is the result of a series of PAR projects that integrate textual editing and records-based theatre history with the procedural and embodied knowledges generated by rehearsal and performance. 

In Toronto where the Queen’s Men Editions project originated there is in fact a much longer tradition of using performance to explore theatre history. The Poculi Ludique Societas began performing medieval plays in 1965 and has been operating continuously at the University of Toronto since that time. The Shakespeare and the Queen’s Men Project that staged first productions of the Queen’s Men plays featured on this site grew out of the work of this company. The project was funded by a research-creation grant newly instituted by the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council in 2005 and expressly designed to encourage the integration of research and artistic practice. Since that time the research team have developed more rigorous PAR methodologies that were recently the focal point of a major international conference and website: Performance as Research in Early English Theatre Studies: The Three Ladies of London in Context. The conference was organized by Melinda Gough and Helen Ostovich, with Peter Cockett and Jennifer Roberts-Smith. The website was created by Jessica Dell and edited by Erin Julian and Helen Ostovich.         

QME Video Records and Performance Annotations

It is not a coincidence that PAR as a discipline as emerged at the same time as the academy’s growing distrust of epistemological fixity and objective analysis. In PAR work the emphasis falls on meanings generated through process and through embodied experiences that can be hard or even impossible to translate in words. The videos featured on this site are a witness to the PAR experiments but are not identical to the experience of the scholars, artists or audiences, participating in them. Videos of theatre fix the performative moments. This offers the advantage of repeated viewing and detailed study but moves the emphasis away from the process that created the performances: the playful, explorative, procedures of the rehearsal rooms and the creative discoveries that occurred in collaboration with our audiences. The performance annotations in Queen’s Men Editions are designed to give insight into the processes that created the performances captured on video. Audiences witness the final choices made by the creative team, but these choices are the result of an extended collaboration between scholars, texts, historical records, creative artists and audiences. None of the choices witnessed by the video are definitive, some of them were not even conscious choices, and the performance annotations are intended to open up the creative and scholarly process that created them for further exploration and analysis.

Performance as Research Essays

The following essays, of which the abstracts appear below, linked to the full essays, were written for Performance as Research in Early English Studies conference using The Three Ladies of London as the point of reference in the Queen's Men plays, and working back to medieval drama and forward to 'presentist' problems that PAR can help to resolve. The first two essays (Billing and Conkie) examine the large issues of PAR in very different ways. The third (Jenkins) compares PAR to Practice based Research [PbR], using a medieval play as her example. Andy Kesson, in the fourth paper, sees PAR as a tool for understanding textual problems and interrogating genre: what kind of comedy includes deaths? Finally, Kevin Quarmby wonders at the general slowness to accept PAR as a working principle, suggesting that collaboration between textual specialists and theatre specialists will arrive at a more legitimate consensus on meanings based on experiments that respect the 'embodied skills' of the actor.

Christian M. Billing

Historiography, Rehearsal Processes, and Performance as Translation; or, How to Stage Early Modern English Drama Today?

Abstract: Taking any written text through rehearsal towards performance requires diligence, patience, and incremental iteration. In the case of historically distant drama, the process is more difficult because the text was first performed in architectural and scenographic environments that no longer survive, by playing companies that bear little resemblance to modern actors and directors; moreover, literary and dramaturgical aspects of authorship are frequently figurative, allegorical, and embedded within sets of cultural understanding, theatrical practice, individual imagination, and collective experience that are difficult adequately to reconstruct. So how can we attempt to re-stage historical drama today? This essay triangulates three research areas – historiographical examination of early modern plays in performance; modern systems of rehearsal; and translation theory – in order to consider how concepts of 'linguistic hospitality', 'thick translation', and 'translational and performative community' can aid theatre professionals in developing work fine-tuned for historically distant material.

Citation: Billing, Christian M., ‘Historiography, Rehearsal Processes, and Performance as Translation; or, How to Stage Early Modern English Drama Today?’, Performance as Research in Early English Theatre Studies: The Three Ladies of London in Context, http://threeladiesoflondon.mcmaster.ca/par/ChristianMBilling.htm.

Rob Conkie

'Fain would I dwell on form': Performance / Publication / Pedagogy 

Abstract: This argument focuses on intersections between performance as research, publication, and pedagogy. It argues for innovative approaches to form in order to represent and articulate the complexities of such intersections. Further, it argues for a mode of practice that seeks actively to exploit such intersections and interactions. Finally, the address considers each of the points of this triangle as potential and (potent) origin points for creative and critical enquiry and practice.

Citation: Conkie, Rob, ‘'Fain would I dwell on form': Performance / Publication / Pedagogy’, Performance as Research in Early English Theatre Studies: The Three Ladies of London in Context, http://threeladiesoflondon.mcmaster.ca/par/RobConkie.htm.

Jacqueline Jenkins

Practice-based Research and Early Period Theatre Histories: A Performance Methodology

Abstract: This paper examines Practice-based Research (PbR) as a tool for early period theatre history, arguing for a distinction between PbR and its near relation, Practice as Research (PAR) in terms of the relationship of practice to knowledge-dissemination. In the first part of the paper, I consider the role PbR has played in my own work, and present a preliminary methodology for the application of performance workshops in the study of medieval performance literature. In the second half of the paper, I describe the outcomes of a recent workshop focused on the Northampton Abraham and Isaac and demonstrate the value of PbR for early performance history.

Citation: Jenkins, Jacqueline, ‘Practice-based Research and Early Period Theatre Histories: A Performance Methodology’, Performance as Research in Early English Theatre Studies: The Three Ladies of London in Context, http://threeladiesoflondon.mcmaster.ca/par/JacquelineJenkins.htm.

Bio: Jenkins, Jacqueline • University of Calgary (jenkinsj@ucalgary.ca) is associate professor and head of the department of English at the University of Calgary. She is an accomplished scholar in Performance as Research and an experienced play editor, combining that work when possible with women's voices in early theatre. Her recent publications include ‘The Circulation and Compilation of Devotional Books: Assessing the Material Evidence of Women’s Reading’, R. Demaria, Jr., H. Chang and S. Zacher (eds), The Blackwell Companion to British Literature, Volume 1: Medieval Literature, 700-1450 (Malden MA, 2014), 337-54; with J. Sanders (eds), Editing, Performance, Texts: New Practices in Medieval and Early Modern English Drama (New York, 2014); and with M. Polito (eds), The Humorous Magistrate (Osborne): University of Calgary, Osborne MsC 132.27 (The Malone Society Publications, 2011).

Andy Kesson

Acting out of Character: a Performance-as-Research Approach to The Three Ladies of London

Abstract: This essay considers The Three Ladies of London from a Performance or Practice as Research point of view. It introduces the concept of Practice-as-Research, highlighting its use as a mode of discovery of productive textual problems that are not usually spotted in the course of a more traditional close reading. It then considers some of the textual problems in The Three Ladies of London, especially its characters' relationships with their own identities, with the play's plot and with its audience. It also considers the play's lack of the kind of deictic language usually endemic to the early modern script-writing process and its status as a comedy in which somebody dies, reminding us that the 1580s lacked the kind of genre practice we now associate with the period because of the influential demarcations made on the title page of Shakespeare's 1623 play collection. Using these considerations, the essay charts the scope for actorly choice written into the heart of this play script.

Citation: Kesson, Andy, ‘Acting out of Character: a Performance-as-Research Approach to The Three Ladies of London’, Performance as Research in Early English Theatre Studies: The Three Ladies of London in Context, http://threeladiesoflondon.mcmaster.ca/par/AndyKesson.htm.

Bio: Kesson, Andy • University of Roehampton (andy.kesson@roehampton.ac.uk) is senior lecturer in Renaissance Literature in the department of English and Creative Writing at the University of Roehampton. He is currently involved in a project on the theatre of the 1580s, with a focus on boy companies (for whom John Lyly wrote many plays) and the influence of boy actors on the playing of adult roles in other companies. His recent publications include John Lyly and Early Modern Authorship (Manchester, 2014); and with Emma Smith (eds), The Elizabethan Top Ten: Defining Print Popularity in Early Modern England (Farnham, 2013). He is founder of Before Shakespeare | The Beginnings of London Commercial Theatre, 1565-1595.

Kevin A. Quarmby

Enactment and Exegesis: Recontextualizing Wilson’s The Three Ladies of London through Performance as Research

Abstract: McMaster University’s The Three Ladies of London production engages with Wilson’s early modern dramatic text through Performance as Research (PAR). The archival recordings that make up this PAR moment reside in, and are accessed from, their digital home on the Queen’s Men Editions website (QME). Within the wider academic community, however, PAR has yet to achieve its full potential or acceptance. This essay considers the reason for this lessening of PAR’s scholarly status, associated, as it seems, with the hierarchical superiority of more traditional print-based exegesis, which is invariably prioritized and valorized as the sole means to validate PAR’s academic potential. Such valorization denies the collaborative model PAR offers as a laboratory for innovative scholarly inquiry. In addition, this essay questions the prevailing hegemony, and inherent presentism, of recent reconstructional 'original practice' scholarship, while offering an argument for recontextualizing, reviving, and re-enlivening the dramatic text through the embodied skill of the PAR actor.

Citation: Quarmby, Kevin, ‘Enactment and Exegesis: Recontextualizing Wilson’s The Three Ladies of London through Performance as Research’, Performance as Research in Early English Theatre Studies: The Three Ladies of London in Context, http://threeladiesoflondon.mcmaster.ca/par/KevinQuarmby.htm.

Bio: Quarmby, Kevin • Oxford College of Emory University (kevin.quarmby@emory.edu) is assistant professor of English at Oxford College of Emory University. He is editor of 1 Henry VI for Internet Shakespeare Editions, and Editor of ISE's performance review Chronicle (ISEC). His first book, The Disguised Ruler in Shakespeare and His Contemporaries (Farnham, 2012), was shortlisted for the 2014 Globe Theatre Book Award. His recent work includes ‘“Would they not wish the feast might ever last?”: Strong Spice, Oral History and the Genesis of Globe to Globe’, Multicultural Shakespeare 6 (forthcoming 2015) and, with G.E. Minton, ‘The Wrathful Dragon versus the Foolish, Fond Old Man: Duality of Performance in the 2013 Oregon Shakespeare Festival’s King Lear’, Cahiers Élisabéthains 86 (2014). Additional publications include ‘Lady Macbeth, First Ladies and the Arab Spring: The Performance of Power on the Twenty-First Century Stage’, A. Thompson (ed.), Macbeth: Arden Critical Currents (London, 2014), 107-33; and ‘Sexing Up Goneril: Feminism and Fetishization in Contemporary King Lear Performance’, G. McMullan, L.C. Orlin, and V.M. Vaughan (eds), Women Making Shakespeare (London, 2013), 321-33.