Adam Alston

Staff details

Position Senior Lecturer
Email a.alston (@gold.ac.uk)
Adam Alston

My research is fundamentally concerned with the material contexts that inform and shape the production and reception of theatre and performance. This is what drew me to study immersive theatre and audience participation a decade or so ago, and it still informs my thinking today (you can find a list of relevant books and articles below). More recently, I’ve been looking at how contemporary theatre makers have been reacting to hyperconsumerism and the intensification and valorisation of productivity by over-identifying with an accelerating pace of life, stretching it to points of messy, trashy excess – to points of decadence. This led to a more general interest in how ideas of decadence have been deployed across multiple disciplines and fields, including literature and literary criticism, Marxist discourse, and political rhetoric.

Academic qualifications

  • PhD Drama and Theatre, Royal Holloway 2013
  • MA International Performance Research, Universities of Warwick and Amsterdam 2010
  • BA Theatre and Performance Studies, University of Warwick 2008

Teaching and Supervision

Research interests

My research cuts across three core areas: immersive theatre, performances that take place in complete darkness, and decadence and acceleration in contemporary theatre and live art.

I was initially motivated to explore immersive theatre around the time of the 2008 financial crash. I wanted to know why those specialising in immersive practices were able to thrive when so many other styles and forms of theatre were struggling, particularly in the wake of substantive cuts to public arts funding. This resulted in my first book (Beyond Immersive Theatre: Aesthetics, Politics and Productive Participation, Palgrave Macmillan: 2016) and a number of articles exploring immersive theatre's relationships to the public and private sectors in the UK, the demands that are made of its audiences, and what those demands mean for the 'freedoms' that these performances are often said to promote. Between 2014 and 2017, I was also working collaboratively with Dr Martin Welton on a related project exploring complete darkness and obscured vision in theatre and performance, which led to an edited collection (Theatre in the Dark: Shadow, Gloom and Blackout in Contemporary Theatre, Bloomsbury: 2017).

More recently, I've been focusing on decadence and accelerationism in contemporary theatre and live art. I want to take seriously the claim that theatre, particularly in times of austerity, is 'decadent'. However, rather than using this to dismiss the value of theatre in a competitive funding climate, I'm interested in (re)turning to an understanding of decadence that can shed light on the critical potency of diverse forms of theatre and performance that seek to 'ruin what ruins', exploring how trash, waste and excess might be turned against the intensification of productivity and the acceleration of growth in capitalist economies. I'm planning a monograph at the moment that explores these ideas, titled Frenetic Standstill: Decadence and Acceleration in Contemporary Theatre.

Publications

Article

Alston, Adam. 2020. ‘Burn the witch’: Decadence and the occult in contemporary feminist performance. Theatre Research International, ISSN 0307-8833

Alston, Adam. 2019. Immersive theatre in austerity Britain: Les Enfants Terribles’ riot in the Saatchi Gallery and the liquidation of differencEngine. Contemporary Theatre Review, 29(3), pp. 238-255. ISSN 1048-6801

Alston, Adam. 2017. Immersive theatre and the aesthetics of decadence: on the ruined worlds of Punchdrunk, SHUNT and Hammer Film Productions. Theatre and Performance Design, 3(4), pp. 199-217.

Alston, Adam. 2016. Making Mistakes in Immersive Theatre: Spectatorship and Errant Immersion. Journal of Contemporary Drama in English, 4(1), pp. 61-73.

Alston, Adam. 2015. Performing labour in Look Left Look Right's Above and Beyond. Research in Drama Education: The Journal of Applied Theatre and Performance, 20(1), pp. 50-61. ISSN 1356-9783

Alston, Adam. 2013. Audience Participation and Neoliberal Value: Risk, agency and responsibility in immersive theatre. Performance Research, 18(2), pp. 128-138. ISSN 1352-8165

Alston, Adam. 2012. Reflections on Intimacy and Narcissism in Ontroerend Goed's Personal Trilogy. Performing Ethos: International Journal of Ethics in Theatre & Performance, 3(2), pp. 107-119. ISSN 1757-1979

Alston, Adam. 2012. Damocles and the Plucked: Audience Participation and Risk in Half Cut. Contemporary Theatre Review, 22(3), pp. 344-354. ISSN 1048-6801

Alston, Adam and Daker, Rebecca. 2012. Contemporary Theatre "Philanthropy" and the Purchase of Participatory Privilege. Contemporary Theatre Review, 22(3), pp. 433-437. ISSN 1048-6801

Alston, Adam. 2012. Funding, Product Placement and Drunkenness in Punchdrunk's The Black Diamond. Studies in Theatre and Performance, 32(2), pp. 193-208.

Book

Alston, Adam. 2016. Beyond Immersive Theatre: Aesthetics, Politics and Productive Participation. London: Palgrave Macmillan. ISBN 978-1-137-48044-6

Book Section

Alston, Adam. 2019. Holstein’s hair: The Politics of Decadence in The Famous Lauren Barri Holstein’s Splat! In: Peter Eckersall and Helena Grehan, eds. The Routledge Companion to Theatre and Politics. Routledge. ISBN 9781138303485

Alston, Adam. 2016. 'Tell no-one': Secret Cinema and the Paradox of Secrecy. In: Anna Harpin and Helen Nicholson, eds. Performance and Participation: Practices, Audiences, Politics. Red Globe Press (Macmillan International). ISBN 9781137393173

Alston, Adam. 2016. The Promise of Experience: Immersive Theatre in the Experience Economy. In: James Frieze, ed. Reframing Immersive Theatre: The Politics and Pragmatics of Participatory Performance. Palgrave Macmillan. ISBN 978-1-137-36603-0

Alston, Adam. 2013. Politics in the Dark: Risk Perception, Affect and Emotion in Lundahl and Seitl’s Rotating in a Room of Images. In: Nicola Shaughnessy, ed. Affective Performance and Cognitive Science Body, Brain and Being. Bloomsbury (Methuen Drama). ISBN 9781408193150

Edited Book

Alston, Adam and Welton, Martin, eds. 2017. Theatre in the Dark: Shadow, Gloom and Blackout in Contemporary Theatre. London: Bloomsbury. ISBN 9781474251181

Further profile content

Professional projects

I am a Creative Associate with the devised, science-led theatre company Curious Directive. Curious is now a National Portfolio Organisation, and all of our projects grow out of close collaborations with a range of specialists including health workers and advisers, neuroscientists and even myrmecologists (those who study ants). You can find out more about the company here: https://www.curiousdirective.com/

I am also a trustee of the 'recovering theatre company' Fast Familiar (formerly fanSHEN). Fast Familiar's work is experience-led, and usually incorporates participatory or interactive forms of audience engagement using innovative technologies and experimental dramaturgies. All of their work is committed to social justice. You can find out more about them here: https://fastfamiliar.com/

Goldsmiths Research Centres/Groups/Projects

Shorter publications

‘Safety, Risk and Speculation in the Immersive Industry’, ‘Interventions’, Contemporary Theatre Review, July 2019. Available at: https://www.contemporarytheatrereview.org/2019/safety-risk-and-speculation-in-the-immersive-industry/
‘Holstein's hair: The Politics of Decadence in The Famous Lauren Barri Holstein's Splat!’, in The Routledge Companion to Theatre and Politics, ed. Peter Eckersall and Helena Grehan, London and New York: Routledge, 2019.
‘Audience Participation and the Politics of Compromise’ PARtake: The Journal of Performance as Research, 1.2 (2017): 35.
‘Contemporary Theatre “Philanthropy” and the Purchase of Participatory Privilege’, with Rebecca Daker. Backpages. Contemporary Theatre Review 22.3 (2012): 433-39.
‘Exhibit B: A Conversation’. With Diana Damian et al. Exeunt, 7 Oct. 2014.
Rev. of Spellbound: Magic, Ritual and Witchcraft, Ashmolean Museum, Oxford, 31 August 2018 – 6 January 2019’, Volupté: Interdisciplinary Journal of Decadence Studies, 1 (2) (2018), 155-60.
Rev. of Authenticity in Contemporary Theatre and Performance: Make it Real. By Daniel Schulze. New Theatre Quarterly 34 (1): 91.
Rev. of Artificial Hells: Participatory Art and the Politics of Spectatorship. By Claire Bishop. Theatre Survey 54.3 (Sept. 2013): 466-68.
Rev. of Audience Participation in Theatre: Aesthetics of the Invitation. By Gareth White. Contemporary Theatre Review 24.1 (2014): 115-16.
Rev. of Fair Play: Art, Performance and Neoliberalism. By Jen Harvie. Theatre Research International. (2014).
Rev of Immersive Theatres: Intimacy and Immediacy in Contemporary Performance. By Josephine Machon. Theatre Research International (2014).
Rev. of The Art of Light on Stage. By Yaron Abulafia. Theatre and Performance Design, 2.3/4 (2016): 341-42.
Rev. of Performance in the Blockades of Neoliberalism: Thinking the Political Anew. By Maurya Wickstrom. Performance Research 19.5 (2014).