Artist Research

Redefining theatre practice, scholarship and pedagogy to address contemporary challenges


Grounded in my professional practice as an artist-researcher, my scholarly work is broad in scope and application, and yet it is unified by a common concern: the redefinition of theatre practice, scholarship and pedagogy to address contemporary challenges. My research is governed by a belief that knowledge can only ever be fully shared and meaningfully developed through practice, and that an integration of performance practice and academic discourse are essential to both a vital academy and art form.

In 1994 I was awarded a Commonwealth Scholarship to pursue a Ph.D. at the University of Kent at Canterbury, England. Before that I completed an MA thesis on the dramaturgy of Howard Barker; this study of Barker inspired a concern about theatre in our contemporary world: its lack of relevance generally, but specifically I wanted to question theatrical-representation and the problem of why the forms of conventional theatrical creation have begun to tell us more about the forms themselves and less about the world they are meant to represent. This core concern has been the impulse behind much of my research and practice.

When I returned to Canada from the UK in 1997, I was keen to experiment with how I might ‘mobilise’ my knowledge of postmodern dramaturgy to a Canadian context – after four years of a heavily theoretical working environment. I took the position of Artistic Director of a Drama Program in a regional college because a significant aspect of the job involved both artistic and educational outreach, and because I wanted to see whether or not the theoretical dimension of my research would take root in this community specifically, and in a Canadian context generally. While at Lakeland College (Alberta), I animated community issues that are rarely, if ever, addressed by theatre in this region.

It was during this period that I developed a process of formal innovation in my research where sites and environments could be experienced as crucial to decoding experience for performer and spectator alike; the animation of a landscape was groundbreaking work in Canada, and the Canadian Theatre Review requested an article for an issue dedicated to new forms of performance.

In 2002 The Weyburn Project was the first project undertaken as a faculty member at the University of Waterloo, and it marks the height of this particular period of site-specific performance in my career; its scale, both in terms of the size of the site and the number of multidisciplinary artists, community members and audience members, involved was unprecedented in Canada. The project animated an abandoned wing of the Saskatchewan Mental Hospital by representing stories of former staff, residents, and their families, revealing nostalgia and nightmare, as well as community and isolation. The Weyburn Project has offered several opportunities for the cross-disciplinary mobilisation of knowledge – within academia, the professional domains of the Canadian Theatre Review, the field of theatre production and technology (CITT), as a chapter in a book on public art, a documentary film (purchased by SCN Network and the Discovery Channel), and in numerous professional and scholarly presentations, both in Canada and abroad.

At the University of Waterloo my approach to site-specific performance has expanded in two significant ways that are obvious strengths of the university and the region: first, my research has incorporated a detailed and sophisticated use of digital realms of representation, in particular through the creation of soundscapes; second, my research is more focused on issues of multiculturalism. The beginnings of this expanded approach to site-specific performance can be seen in the website for Mimetic Flesh, a large-scale site-specific production in the former Lang Tannery building. The approach of using fully accessible digital media as tools in the creation and delivery of a performance distinguishes this project from a production created from a play script, behind the closed doors of a rehearsal space.

The Canadian Centre for Art and Technology (CCAT) has been a significant venue for the expansion of digital representation in my work; in particular, the incorporation of a state-of-the-art, mobile, ambisonic soundscaping lab. With the support of a $250,476 CFI/OIT New Opportunities infrastructure grant, as well as an ancillary $29,525 operating grant, I have been able to establish a lab entitled The Sensorium Suite – a facility designed for the multi-media mapping of controversial sites. The Sensorium Suite has allowed my research to flourish in many significant projects, including Crossfiring / Mama Wetotan (2006), Legion of Memory (2006 and 2007), Edna’s Archive (2009), DISSOCIA (2011), Here Be Dragons (2011), and Voicemale (2013) among others.

The process of disseminating the research from the above projects is ongoing, and occurring in a variety of forms, from websites to peer-reviewed publication. I often choose to publish in professional/academic journals because I am adamant that my research has the greatest possible impact on the professional creation of theatre in Canada. Between 2002 and 2009 I was the Views & Reviews Editor for the Canadian Theatre Review; I put a great deal of time and energy into the selection of material and writing my editorials because of my commitment to instilling theory in the minds of those who shape our country’s theatre. I have co-edited two issues of this journal that both demand the re-consideration of the way theatre serves certain communities, certain ways of being in the world, and the forms and spaces that engender its creation. In both issues, I chose to co-edit with a professional practitioner from outside academia to broaden the scope and range of the issues. Both resulting publications provide significant insight to and documentation of seminal practices of non-traditional theatre forms in Canada.