Performance and Interculturalism Now: New Directions? A Symposium at NUI Galway, April 10-11, 2015.

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Performance and Interculturalism Now: New Directions? A Symposium

NUI Galway, April 10-11, 2015.

Interculturalism has long been one of the most vigorously debated theoretical keywords in the field of theatre and performance studies. Intercultural performance depends on the hybrid mixture of performance forms from different cultures (typically East and West), but in whose interest, to whose ends and on what terms?  Is intercultural performance a utopic ideal or coercive construct as it has most stereotypically been associated with ‘Western’ appropriations of ‘Eastern’ forms? Is it irreparably weighted down by histories of colonialism, cultural imperialism, and structural inequality that have often set its production conditions? Or can conscious and politically engaged work by artists/activists exceed and/or transform this history without negating the power of its living memory by manipulating the ideals and flows of intercultural performance in new ways?

“Performance and Interculturalism Now: New Directions?” brings together international leaders in the field to respond to a recent resurgence of critical activity around this term that has multiplied rather than limited its contemporary resonances. This symposium will explore historical approaches to intercultural performance, Asian and other oppositional models of interculturalism that challenge (and/or reify) Western hegemonies, the use of interculturalism within migrant performance cultures, and interculturalism as aesthetic practice and social policy in the European Union and Canada among other themes.  Why return to interculturalism and what can it mean for how we study performance now?


Staging Intercultural Ireland: New Plays and Practitioner Perspectives (Charlotte McIvor and Matthew Spangler eds.)

staging intercultural ireland

Transformation of Irish Theatre by Migrants Explored in New Book

The transformative impact of inward migration on Irish Theatre is documented in a newly published book Staging Intercultural Ireland: New Plays and Practitioner Perspectives.

The collection contains essays on eight plays, and six interviews with migrant and Irish-born theatre artists who are producing work at the intersection of interculturalism and inward-migration in Ireland during the first decades of the 21st Century. The book is edited by Charlotte McIvor, a Lecturer in Drama at NUI Galway, and Matthew Spangler, an Associate Professor of Performance Studies at San José State University in California and published by UCC Press.

When inward migration numbers began to climb in the early and mid-1990s, Irish-born and immigrant theatre artists started producing theatrical work that addressed these profound cultural and demographic shifts. Their performances have been produced at venues ranging from the Abbey Theatre to mid-sized theatre companies to community centres and even refugee accommodation centres.

The plays collected in the new book have been selected due to their critical impact within the field of Irish theatre and the various forms of cultural, political, and social conflict and accommodation they register. The plays in question include Donal O’Kelly’s The Cambria (2005), which dramatises African–American abolitionist Frederick Douglass’ journey to seek refuge in Ireland in 1845; Rosaleen McDonagh’s Rings (2012), a play about the widespread discrimination experienced by people with disabilities and members of the Traveller community in Ireland; Charlie O’Neill’s Hurl (2003), which depicts immigrants excelling in Ireland’s most iconic sport while grappling with their broader lack of acceptance; Nicole McCartney’s Cave Dwellers (2002), a play that draws on Beckett in its portrayal of refugees waiting for someone to guide them; Ursula Rani Sarma’s Orpheus Road (2003), which explores the challenges of growing up during the Troubles in Northern Ireland through the metaphor of cross-cultural romance; Bisi Adigun’s Once Upon a Time & Not So Long Ago (2006), which dramatizes the intercultural encounters of west Africans in Ireland; and Paul Meade’s Mushroom (2007), a play that is based on the experiences of undocumented migrants working in highly exploitative conditions.

According to Charlotte McIvor, “Ireland is unique in that it is one of a small group of nations to have such a close and powerfully charged relationship between the theatre and debates of national and cultural identity. The theatre in Ireland offers something of a looking-glass through which changing culture might be viewed, though as we have argued, the plays collected here do more than simply reflect an extra-theatrical reality; they are also themselves active agents of cultural change”.

The book offers a contribution to transnational migration studies, as well as intercultural theatre research in a global context.  It is especially fitting that it has been written by faculty in NUI Galway, which is at the heart of the nation’s most diverse city.  Not only is Charlotte McIvor the author of Staging Intercultural Ireland, she has also been awarded a major Irish Research Council grant to study “Interculturalism, Migration, and Performance in Contemporary Ireland”.   Dr. Jason King has also come to the Moore Institute on a postdoctoral fellowship to work with her in developing this project.  They will be bringing the most distinguished scholars in the field to NUI Galway for a ground-breaking conference on “Interculturalism and Performance Now: New Directions?” (April 10-11, 2015), hosting the GUIDE (Galway University Integration through Drama and Education) Symposium for educators and theatre practitioners who work with migrant students (January 31, 2015), holding theatre workshops for migrant students in local schools, developing an outreach program with community partners, and publishing more cutting edge research to follow Staging Intercultural Ireland.

GUIDE (Galway University Integration through Drama and Education) Symposium

GUIDE (Galway University Integration through Drama and Education) Symposium

January 31, 2015


The Galway University Integration through Drama and Education (GUIDE) symposium will bring together leading academics and theatre practitioners who work with migrant students in Ireland to explore best practice in using theatre techniques as tools for transition to and within higher education.  It will be hosted by Dr. Charlotte McIvor (NUI Galway, Drama and Theatre Studies) who is principal investigator on an IRC funded Irish Migration, Interculturalism and Performance project, as well as Dr. Jason King, who is the project’s postdoctoral researcher.

The Guide symposium is designed in response to recent NUIG/Integration Centre research, based on focus group interviews with migrant students, which found that they had difficulty making the transition to and within higher education because they lacked the support systems and more personalized attention they received beforehand.  These migrant students also suggested that they did not have positive role models to help them adjust to higher education, but that role playing activities and theatre games they participated in helped prepare them for third level.

Funding has been received from the National Forum to bring four leading academic and theatre practitioners to speak at the symposium and collaborate with NUIG theatre and education faculty.  More specifically, Dr. Piaras Mac Éinri (NUI Cork), who is co-author with Jason King of “Where is Home? An Educational Resource on Refugees in International and Irish Perspective”, Christine Poulter (TCD), Fiona Quinn (Friars’ Gate Theatre, Limerick), who leads the European Integration Fund “Side by Side: Integration Through the Arts” project, and Jenny MacDonald, who runs the Upside Down youth theatre group in Tallaght, will be invited to speak at the symposium.

The GUIDE symposium is scheduled for Saturday, January 31st 2015.  Its format will be comprised of morning lectures from the invited speakers about their experiences of working with migrant students in academic and theatre workshop settings (10-1pm), followed by short response papers from NUIG faculty (2-3pm), and workshops which will bring together the invited speakers and NUIG faculty to explore best practice in using drama as a tool for migrant students to transition to and within higher education (3:30-5:30pm).  During these workshops, theatre and educational activities and pedagogical material developed by the symposium participants for migrant students will be compared to facilitate further collaboration and the creation of online resources.   In addition to the hosts Charlotte McIvor and Jason King, NUIG faculty from the Department of Education, including Dr. Elaine Keane, who leads the IRC funded Diversity in Initial Teacher Education (DITE) in Ireland research project, will also participate in the symposium.


Interculturalism, Performance, and Migration in Contemporary Ireland

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Interculturalism, Migration and Performance in Contemporary Ireland

This project analyses the role of interculturalism in Irish theatre and performance from 1994-2013, hypothesising that Irish interculturalism is unique internationally. Between 1996 and 2011, the non-Irish born population of Ireland grew from less than 5% to 17%. This project assesses Irish strategies of interculturalism as a response to rapid inward-migration.

This project aims to make a major intervention in the field of theatre and performance studies by investigating Irish interculturalism as a social process as well as a technique of aesthetic innovation. It is the first research project to consider the intersection of aesthetic and social theories of interculturalism in both an Irish and European context.

This project will consider the consequences that arise when the arts are used to further state-sponsored intercultural goals. It will examine the work of Irish theatre artists, public festivals and community arts or social organisations that focus on intercultural themes.

This project assesses the limits and possibilities of Irish interculturalism by considering the relationship between its social and aesthetic goals. It will facilitate greater understanding of the relationship between the state, migration, national identities and the arts. This case study poses urgent international consequences amid continuing debates about migration, diversity and social cohesion in the European Union and other national contexts.