ISTR Conference 2021 – Call for Papers

Hard Graft: Performance, Labour and Value

Queen’s University Belfast

May 28th and 29th, 2021 

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.

Deadline: 22nd February 2021


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’, Bryoni 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? And how is immaterial labour valued (or not) 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 and Northern Irish theatre industries within the realm of the visible, charting the representation in funded institutions of male versus female playwrights, directors and designers, for example. More recently, the Black Lives Matter movement has brought renewed attention to the lack of representation of black and global majority scholars and scholarship in higher education institutions and how ‘race privilege is being produced and reproduced’ (Louwanda Evans and Wendy Leo Moore, 2015). This important work of counting and accountability also raises the question as to what invisible and immaterial labour is upholding or challenging current institutional and industry hierarchies. And 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?

Confirmed Keynote Speakers:

  • Dr Aoife Monks (Queen Mary University of London)
  • Professor Brian Singleton (Trinity College Dublin)
  • Dr Royona Mitra (Brunel University)
  • Dr Broderick Chow (Central School of Speech and Drama)

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

  • What “invisible” labour exists in performance practice and research?
  • How is time valued in theatre and performance practice and research?
  • What is the relationship between authenticity and value in theatre?
  • 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 performance 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 and/or in the context of the global pandemic?
  • 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?

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, screenings, 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.

Participation Note: We realise that some of you may be in a caring role working from home, and that babies and children, or other people being cared for, may need to be in the frame for this conference. All caring “extras” are very welcome! Breastfeeding and bottle feeding are very welcome, and please feel free to turn your camera off for feeding, or any other caring duties, if you prefer – whatever is most comfortable for you.

Format for submissions: Papers, artist talks, and practice demonstrations should be of maximum 15 minutes duration. Proposals for workshops, screenings, and performances must specify activity length (a maximum of 50 minutes duration is recommended). Conference organisers will be in touch to discuss any changes needed due to the specifities of an online platform. Proposals for other, non-standard online 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 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 22nd February 2021

Decisions will be communicated by March 2021.

Conference Fees:

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

Bursaries: A limited number of small bursaries will be available to support postgraduate students who will incur costs to present at the conference (e.g. registration fees and childcare costs). 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, the previous host institution, Mary Immaculate College, Limerick, and ISTR.

Further information:

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