<Book Review>
Research Methods in Theatre and Performance
Baz Kershaw and Helen Nicholson
[Edinburgh: Edinburgh UP, 2011. (256 pp., 16 illus.) ]

What are methods for conducting research in theatre and performance, realms in which “liveness” is nearly always imperative? Is the area of theatre and performance studies a “semi-discipline”, “quasi-discipline”, or, even, an “anti-discipline” (3 - 5)? These questions and more are discussed in Research Methods in Theatre and Performance, edited by Baz Kershaw and Helen Nicholson as the lines between the “practical” and the “academic” become blurred. This insightful book originally debuted in 2011 and was reprinted in 2012. A timely publication, it thoroughly discusses new, original, and re-thought practices in theatre and performance studies exploration, focusing largely within the United Kingdom, though it is far from a “how-to” book in research practices. Begun between members of the Theatre and Performance Research Association (TaPRA), the book encompasses a wide variety of ways in research has been conducted in vastly different areas of performance, from innovation in the archive and historiography through research in different forms of the “body” and performance itself, both live and digital. As the introduction mentions,

Debates here turn on how research ‘methods’ and ‘methodologies’ might be reconceptualised for theatre and performance studies by thinking philosophically, procedurally, and practically about working processes that resist unhelpful dichotomies and fixed binaries which separate embodiment and intuition from intellectual practices, emotional experiences and ways of knowing (2).
The book is divided into nine chapters, most of which are written collaboratively, allowing for further creativity in research methods and a wider range of case studies and performance examples. It begins with an introduction by Baz Kershaw and Helen Nicholson titled “Introduction: Doing Methods Creatively”, explaining the purpose and origins of the book as well as delving into the book’s chapters. Case studies are used to illustrate innovation in theatre and performance research throughout the different sections of the book.

Chapters one through three discuss creativity in research methods and methodologies in areas of the performing arts that initially appear more “standard”. Chapter One, by Maggie B. Gale and Ann Featherstone, is titled “The Imperative of the Archive: Creative Archive Research” and is among the most useful chapters of this book, particularly for those who must engage in archive research. Gale and Featherstone mention that their focus in this chapter is to “interrogate the archive in both conceptual and material terms, through exploring theories of the archive and its different forms, concrete and virtual, and by using case examples to unpick its complexity as a research tool” (17). Chapter Two, by Steve Dixon, is titled “Researching Digital Performance: Virtual Practices.” In this chapter, Dixon focuses on “digital performance”, in which computers and the various technologies connected to them enhance incidents in theatre and performance. Chapter Three, written by Baz Kershaw with Lee Miller, Joanne “Bob” Whalley and Rosemary Lee, and Niki Pollard, is titled “Practice as Research: Transdisciplinary Innovation in Action” and includes a discussion on the “postmodern movement” and its corresponding “scholar-practitioner” (63).

Chapters four through six discuss ways to be creative and challenging when researching practical areas of theatre production, including theatre history, scenic design, and the ways in which performers are trained. Chapter Four, written by Jim Davis, Katie Normington, and Gilli Bush-Bailey with Jacky Bratton, is titled “Researching Theatre History and Historiography.” This chapter specifically utilizes two case studies to illustrate and break down different methods of research in the areas of, as the title states, theatre history and historiography. Chapter Five, written by Joslin McKinney and Helen Iball, is titled “Researching Scenography” with a discussion of scenic design as a mode of performance, citing the example of Josef Svoboda, a Czech designer, as well as discussing ways to research and catalogue scenography beyond the standard “visual records” (132). Chapter Six, written by Jonathan Pitches, Simon Murray, Helen Poynor, Libby Worth, David Richmond, and Jules Dorey Richmond, is titled “Performer Training: Researching Practice in the Theatre Laboratory” and asks, among other questions, “How does one balance a stage of engagement in ‘hands on’ practices with a state of separation from those very same practices, the second being more appropriate for reflective thinking and expression?” (138)

Chapters seven and eight include discussions on researching “time-based” methods dealing with new forms of media as well as applied theatre in which “especially high levels of unpredictability in practice” are found (11). Chapter Seven, written by Adam J. Ledger with Simon K. Ellis and Fiona Wright, is titled “The Question of Documentation: Creative Strategies in Performance Research” and discusses how different areas of the arts can include documentation in a world that virtually requires it to legitimate different disciplines. Chapter Eight, written by Jenny Hughes with Jenny Kidd and Catherine McNamara, is titled “The Usefulness of Mess: Artistry, Improvisation and Decomposition in the Practice of Research in Applied Theatre.” This chapter mentions what exactly the term “applied theatre” means and, among other topics, that “participants of projects are integrated into the research in applied theatre” (186).

Last but certainly not least, Chapter Nine, written by Jennifer Parker-Starbuck and Roberta Mock, is titled “Researching the Body in/as Performance” and proves to be one of the most insightful chapters. Here, Parker-Starbuck and Mock do not merely confine the term “bodies” to literal animal or human-bound entities; rather, in addition to its conventional usage, for them, the term also encompasses “bodies within archives, historical bodies, absent or overlooked bodies” (212). This chapter asks the questions, “Who and whose body/bodies am I researching? How am I locating this/these particular body/bodies in or as a site of performance research?” (214) Parker-Starbuck and Mock’s discussion is one of the most useful chapters of the already novel discussions within this well-detailed book.

Chapters of Kershaw and Nicholson’s book would be suitable for use in graduate-level courses in theatre, performance studies, and performance art as well as for scholars within this particular arena. Due to its origins in the United Kingdom, the text provides a pertinent counterpart to research methods in performance studies in the United States and, as such, illustrates resourceful methods for researching this discipline in an increasingly mediatized world. Its verboseness may make it a difficult read for most undergraduate students and probably not one simple night’s read for others, though for others exploring these areas, it, as mentioned above, functions as an interesting, thoughtful textbook.

     — Reviewed by Natalie McCabe, University of Missouri

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