ISTR Conference 2020 – Call for Papers

Hard Graft: Performance, Labour and Value

Queen’s University Belfast

May 29thand 30th, 2020

The annual conference of the Irish Society for Theatre Research invites papers and performance presentations that consider the intersection of performance, labour and value. How is labour valued in theatre and performance scholarship and practice? Whose labour gets recognised, and whose labour remains invisible? The conference considers these questions along two interrelated tracks: the external, societal/institutional values placed on performance practices, texts, artists and research; and the value systems in operation within theatre and performance practice and scholarship.

Deadline14th February 2020


Outside In

In the ongoing context of diminishing support for the arts and humanities internationally, pressure continues to be placed on those working in theatre scholarship and practice to defend the importance and value of their labour. Simultaneously, the “creative industries” continue to be viewed as an area of exciting potential, and as Jen Harvie highlights, in the contemporary global, neoliberal world order, ‘artists, arts and culture are currently being instrumentalized as economically important’ (Fair Play: Art, Performance and Neoliberalism, (2013), p.64). This importance rarely translates into increased economic support for arts workers, who are often viewed as perfect examples of “model” entrepreneurs and autonomous, precarious labourers (Rosalind Gill and Andy Pratt, 2008). In the editorial of a 2013 special issue of Performance Research“On Value”, Joslin McKinney and Mick Wallis frame their discussion of the cultural value of performance within the context of funding cuts to the arts and the problematic necessity for artworks to provide “value for money” (McKinney and Wallis, 2013). Alongside other contributors to the debate, they also highlight the gulf between how arts practices are valued externally by funding bodies and institutions, and the difficulty of tackling the messy excess and immeasurability of “intrinsic” values, such as the social, community-building, and inter-relational aspects (Ibid). Little can be seen to have changed in the prevailing socio-economic context of subsequent years, and the question remains as to how research in the performing arts might provide productive ways to think differently about how labour in the arts is measured and valued?

Inside Out

In an article on ‘Stealth Pedagogies’, Bryony Trezise questions how scholarly labour can keep the “radical disciplinary intentions” and the “shudder of thought” (Sarah Ahmed, 2017) of performance alive within institutional hierarchies that ‘value certain (dis)embodiments of thought over others’ (Trezise, 2019). What advantages or disadvantages does the harnessing of creative energies, modes of thought, and affective labour in the arts for other fields of research have on how performing arts disciplines perceive their own labour? How is immaterial labour valued in the fields of theatre and performance scholarship? Grass roots feminist movements such as Waking The Feminists have brought awareness to the gender imbalances in the Irish theatre industry in the realm of the visible, charting the representation in funded institutions of male versus female playwrights, directors and designers, for example. This important work raises the question of what invisible labour is supporting current institutional and industry hierarchies? What falls outside of current methods of evaluation and record keeping? As Susan Leigh Foster highlights in her study of value in dance, ‘[v]alue accrues through individual choices that people make and is often established through the practices and institutions that assign significance to various kinds of objects and events’ (Valuing Dance, 2019, p.1). How might theatre and performance scholarship and practice harness this agency for action through the labour of individual choice, and how might this affect the accrual of value?

Proposals for paper and performance presentations are invited to address the following questions, or any other related aspect of the conference theme:

–      How is time valued in theatre and performance practice and research?

–      What is the relationship between authenticity and value in theatre?

–      What “invisible” labour exists in performance practice and research? And who performs it?

–      What performance texts, practices or corporealities remain unacknowledged and/or undervalued within theatre research?

–      How do institutions bestow value on theatre and performance texts/events/authors/performers/researchers?

–      What happens when performances and/or performance texts reference the labour that has gone into producing them?

–      How does a knowledge of the labour that has produced a performance element alter its perceived value?

–      What alternative models of value can be found in operation in theatre and performance practices and/or research?

–      Are there associations that de-value performance texts/authors/performers?

–      How is the value of liveness in performance transforming in an age of social media?

–      How does theatre performance and scholarship allow for a valuing of unproductivity, of failure, or of a lack of resilience?

–      What are the advantages and/or dangers of considering invisible labour outside of economic terms?

Dr Aoife Monks (Queen Mary University of London) is a confirmed keynote speaker, and the conference will close with a plenary roundtable bringing together invited speakers from industry and research. Further details will be announced on the ISTR website as they are confirmed.

Proposals are very welcome from researchers at every career stage and from researchers working in any discipline related to theatre and performance studies. We invite proposals for papers, panel discussions, artist talks, workshops, and short performance demonstrations. Proposals that engage with the conference theme in both an Irish and/or an international context are welcome. Proposals outside of the conference theme, but that are related to theatre and performance on the island of Ireland will also be considered.

The conference welcomes all corporealities and the conference facilities are fully accessible. All accompanying children are very welcome but must be supervised by a parent or guardian at all times. There will be a dedicated breastfeeding room that parents with babies or toddlers can use as a quiet space.

Format for submissions:

 Papers, artist talks, and practice demonstrations should be of maximum 20 minutes duration. Proposals for workshops and performances must specify activity length (a maximum of 1hour duration is recommended). Proposals for other, non-standard presentation formats are also encouraged.

Please include the following in your proposal:

·     Names of presenter/s and organisational/institutional affiliation/s (if any);

·     Title and type of submission (e.g. paper, artist talk, panel, performance);

·     Technical, spatial and duration requirements;

·     Biography of each presenter (max 150 words);

·     300-word abstract/description.

Submission and Deadline:

Proposals should be submitted to:

On or before 14th February 2020

Decisions will be communicated by March 2020.

Conference Fees:

Full Fee (including ISTR Membership): £100
Student/Unwaged Fee (including ISTR Membership): £40


A limited number of small bursaries will be available to support postgraduate students who wish to present at the conference. If you wish to be considered for a postgraduate bursary, please indicate this in your proposal. Bursaries will be awarded competitively, based on the quality of proposals received. These bursaries are sponsored by the School of Arts, English and Languages, Queen’s University Belfast, last year’s host institution, Mary Immaculate College, Limerick, and ISTR.

Further information:

Please contact the conference convenor, Dr Aoife McGrath, with any queries: