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Studio Blog – Stephen Redman

February 27th, 2014

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When I started planning this blog, I started with questions. Too many questions. First the obvious – what is a researcher? Who is a researcher? What is research? Then the not so obvious – Is research the best term? Research is a term that can mean either process and findings. It’s sometimes used ambiguously such as in sentences like ‘As a result of this research we were able to … ‘ does this sentence refer to the process or the findings?

It changes.

Then questions more specific to our process, to our Performing Research research. What do we call the artistic work which we create from research? How do we refer to it? Is it inspired by or based upon research? Are we making documentary? If not … why not? What is the relationship of the researcher to the research or the researcher to their findings? Does a researcher have creative input to their process … are their findings the result of creativity, investigation or both?

What is their relationship to the art we produce?

Can we draw an analogy between a researcher and an auteur/writer/author/playwright?

And still more questions … Are we creating art from the research process or are we creating from findings? Does it matter? Which has worth? Does everything have equal worth or should we focus our attentions in one place?

And even more … is the name of a researcher important does it have an impact on findings? If not, at what point does a trait become important? Hair Colour? Height? Weight? Gender? Age? If not those … how about character traits? Stubbornness? Greed? Ambition? Capacity for love?

And finally … Why are we doing this?

Answers!

I don’t have any

I’m not a researcher myself

Don’t expect any

OK … maybe a suggestion?

I make theatre, or I used to and hope to again. I make theatre and because of this I notice moments. Instances of human interaction that speak to wider truths. I have a theory that by looking at a moment it is possible to generate a hypothesis about the world that can be tested. This test can either be theoretical, carried out in the brain, or it can be tested practically by experimenting on stage. So I make theatre – to test these hypotheses.

Let me share a moment with you… and some of the thinking it generated.

Clare conducted conducted a Q&A with the group and it stood out to me because it was a moment of focus. So rare in large groups. A moment when the whole group shares something beyond a general intention to work together towards ‘something’, a moment of specific purpose during which they set about attaining a short term goal and worked together in unison.

The group were about to improvise a piece of theatre based on her research. So for this Q&A Clare was – at that moment and in that room – the expert in her field. As I watched the moment unfold I wondered how often researchers are placed in the position of expert and how often they actually feel their research is given the respect it deserves.

Do they even consider themselves experts?

To me a researcher is either already an expert in, or on the way to becoming an expert in, a subject area that’s probably quite important to the world and to our future. A small sample from our group shows this: people researching lung transplantation, Polish migration and discourse analysis of the news. These people are all brilliant in their way. Even if you take the least flattering definition of expert someone who knows how much they still have to learn before they will consider themselves an expert. Then in comparison to the rest of us, spending our lives watching box sets and making ill advised and uniformed comments on the internet – every researcher is pre-eminent in their field.

Crowds

People milling

The internet

White noise

A little background please?

In the main people in crowds are unfocused, milling around, the opposite of ants, but sometimes their intention changes, they find a focal point and orientate differently. Consider a busy shopping street at Christmas: all elbows, self interest and confusion. Now think of that same busy street at the height of summer: It’s hot, yes. A lot of people and chaotic, yes. But this time a section of crowd are being dazzled by a street performer, a juggler perhaps? Or an escape artist? Their skill attracting and corralling a section of the promenade, making sense out of the crowd, focusing the attention of 80 plus people – they do find shared purpose – forcing all the other shoppers to go around!

In that jugglers space – magic is happening. Meaning has been dragged from confusion, self-interest has been re-wrought into shared purpose and for those people in the crowd there is no doubt the juggler is an expert because he has knowledge they don’t. They trust him implicitly. They trust the juggler to catch the chainsaws, manage the spinning fire and keep all of the balls in the air … all of the time.

Our shared intellectual space, has become noisy, crowded – all elbows, self-interest and confusion. I think against this background we need researchers to get out of their labs and occupy the role of jugglers and escape artists: to corral a section of the crowd and make sense of it through their knowledge and expertise. To focus people’s (and by people I mean those outside the academic bubble) attention and give them a chance to find an immediate, specific and shared purpose.

It seems to me that this Performing Research project is could the beginning of a process that opens up the academic bubble aiding the spread of knowledge and understanding.

What do you think?

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