Performance Research Forum is delighted to host Dr Adam Alston for this final talk of the Spring 2020 programme. Talk followed by discussion and drinks.
Frenetic standstill: acceleration, decadence and contemporary theatre
This paper – and the book in development that underpins it – is inspired by theatre performances that reflect and challenge the intensification of productivity and accelerating paces of life in capitalist economies. These two phenomena – ‘productivism’ and ‘acceleration’ – are giving rise to a profound set of issues experienced by workers and consumers in the contemporary marketplace, including burn-out and depression. Simultaneously, national levels of growth and productivity in ‘advanced’ capitalist economies around the world are stagnating, and yet governments and supranational authorities have remained steadfastly committed to productivist values. What results is ‘frenetic standstill’: racing to keep up with an accelerating pace of life, while slipping deeper into the rigidification and homogeneity of intensified productivity. I’ll be looking at how contemporary theatre makers are reacting to this state of affairs by over-identifying with productivism and acceleration, stretching their effects to points of messy, anarchic excess – to points of decadence. Rather than consigning this term to a historical period – one most readily associated with the European fin de siècle – I’ll be developing a capacious and dialectical reading of decadence that considers its mobilisation in multiple fields of competing interests and prejudices, ranging from literary scholarship and Marxist discourse, to political rhetoric and narratives of civic and national decline. What emerges is an opportunity to consider decadence as a stage upon which cultural values are forged, appropriated, contested or undermined: a stage that has as much to say about arts economies and ‘sustainable’ funding as it does about the normative valorisation of productivity and what it takes to be an appropriately productive subject in the contemporary moment.
Dr Adam Alston is Senior Lecturer at Goldsmiths. His research explores, variously, immersive theatres, experiential events for completely dark spaces, cultures of decadence and transgression, and accelerationism – although all of these areas are rooted in considerations of intensified productivity, and the material and immaterial effects of intensified productivity. He is the author of Beyond Immersive Theatre: Aesthetics, Politics and Productive Participation (Palgrave Macmillan 2017), and co-editor with Dr. Martin Welton (QMUL) of Theatre in the Dark: Shadow, Gloom and Blackout in Contemporary Theatre (Bloomsbury 2017). He is currently working on a new monograph from which this paper takes its title, Frenetic Standstill: Acceleration, Decadence and Contemporary Theatre, alongside an anthology of decadent plays co-edited with Professor Jane Desmarais (Goldsmiths).
[Image credit: Toco Nikaido, Miss Revolutionary Idol Berserker (2016), courtesy of LIFT.]
Dates & times
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