Theatre and Performance vs the “Crisis in the Humanities”


Theatre and Performance vs the “Crisis in the Humanities”:

Creative Pedagogies, Neoliberal Realities

Edited by Kim Solga

Research in Drama Education (RiDE) 24.3 (August 2019)


This special issue of Research in Drama Education seeks to collect, disseminate, and generate dialogues about how theatre and performance may best be deployed as a “mobile critical paradigm” (Gallagher and Freeman 9) in the neoliberal university.

“The discourse of crisis in the humanities persists,” as Kathleen Gallagher and Barry Freeman write in their new collection, In Defence of Theatre (5); scholars, artists, and educators in theatre and performance across (and beyond) the Anglosphere feel this pressure especially acutely as a result of the expendability with which fine arts programs are often regarded as part of the logic of austerity (Levin 161). The emergent challenge is then twofold: to face “the steamroller” of (government-mandated) “big data” on our own terms (Finn), and in the process to redefine the terms by which that data – and the university administrators and government officials it serves – recognize us, and our continued worth.

The process of meeting this challenge is already underway, and this issue seeks to document it. Whether it’s the interdisciplinary collaboration among theatre and science or social science scholars using Boalian methodologies to generate student-centred learning in grammar school classrooms (McKinnon); the creation of performance studies curricula designed to draw a range of students from across disciplinary lines under the umbrella of new media literacy or citizenship literacy (Levin); the (in)formal restructuring of relations among theatre departments, the fine arts “silos” in which they are often housed, and other departments and schools at any given higher education institution (Gallagher); or effective lobbying at the administrative level to change the lens through which senior university officials understand theatre and performance functionally within their institutions, a wide range of options exist for reimagining the way our artistic labour, within the university and within university-measurement structures like the REF and the TEF, is made visible and made valuable.

There is also an essential flip-side to this coin. Michael McKinnie and Jen Harvie have both separately argued that theatre and performance occupy what we might call an enviably precarious position vis-à-vis institutionality: they are both imbricated within institutional paradigms (from grammar school through to university curricula, to national theatre spaces and government-granting agencies), and yet work against those paradigms as essential forms of social critique. While this issue takes seriously the blunt reality of higher education driven by neoliberal practices in “globalized” economies, it wishes equally to share initiatives that ride this precarious institutional line, operating as neoliberal critique in the belly of the beast. Can theatre and performance find ways to be instrumental to the neoliberal university, without fully becoming instrumentalized by it? How can we embed – how are we embedding? – essential systemic critique into the work we do on behalf of our individual education systems?

This issue builds on the recent “social turn” in theatre and performance scholarship (Jackson), but focuses deliberately on its framing within university contexts. Thus, the issue does not seek to catalogue a broad range of theatre-for-change or public art initiatives, unless those initiatives have specific roots in higher education contexts.

The primary goal of the issue is to assemble a variety of “best practices” that, taken individually as models, can assist readers in making local change at their own institutions, while taken collectively can represent qualitative evidence of our successful, ongoing adaptation to existing institutional realities in higher education around the world.

Research questions

Contributions may take up any topic within the rubric outlined in the discussion above; the issue’s specific research questions, however, are as follows:

  • What initiatives are already underway to ready schools and departments of theatre and performance for survival within the neoliberal university?
  • How are these initiatives received by stakeholders (students, teachers, artists, administrators, community partners) both inside and outside of institutional contexts?
  • How essential is interdisciplinary collaboration to the survival of theatre and performance labour in the neoliberal university? What models exist for such (successful) collaboration?
  • How essential is community collaboration to the survival of theatre and performance labour in the neoliberal university? What models exist for such (successful) collaboration?
  • Within the initiatives and collaborations thus detailed, what room exists for creative, performance-driven critique of neoliberal structures? How is that room made? When and how does making such space fall short of goals?

Logistical details

The issue will blend scholarly articles of approximately 6000 words with evidentiary documents of 1500-2000 words (brief case studies; module/course outlines; measurements gathered on behalf of initiatives; field reports from EITHER the labour/student side OR the administrative side) and online materials. The latter may include recorded interviews, classroom or other performance clips, or creative data dissemination. The issue aims for a rich mix of scholarly discussion about the issues at hand, and practical, re-usable models and materials.

Contributions are welcomed from artists, teachers, and researchers, but also from administrators, students, community partners, Teaching and Learning Centre staffers, or more. If you feel members of your team, or other officials at your university, might like to contribute independently or alongside you, please circulate this CFP to them!

Diverse and contrarian perspectives are particularly welcome.

Collaboratively-authored works are particularly welcome.

Time frame

Please send proposals and/or descriptions of 300 words (for any of the above categories of contribution), along with a 150-word biography, to by 1 OCTOBER 2017.

All queries should be sent to, with a copy to Colette Conroy, RiDE co-editor in chief, at

Works Cited

Finn, Patrick. “The Steamroller.” Canadian Theatre Review 161 (2015): 88-90.

Gallagher, Kathleen, and Barry Freeman, eds. In Defence of Theatre: Aesthetic Practices and Social Interventions. Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 2016.

Harvie. Fair Play: Art, Performance and Neoliberalism. London: Palgrave, 2013.

Jackson, Shannon. Social Works: Performing Art, Supporting Publics. New York: Routledge, 2011.

Levin, Laura. “It’s Time to Profess Performance: Thinking Beyond the Specialness and Discreteness of Theatre.” In Gallagher and Freeman 161-77.

McKinnie, Michael. “Institutional Frameworks: Theatre, State, and Market in Modern Urban Performance.” A Cultural History of Theatre in the Modern Age. Ed. Kim Solga. London: Bloomsbury, 2017. 17-34.

McKinnon, James. “Are We There Yet? Using Theatre to Promote Positive Interdisciplinary Intercourse.” In Gallagher and Freeman 213-29