Purpose of the award
This award is designed to recognise research excellence in English-language articles/book chapters anywhere in the world in the broad field of drama, theatre and performance studies.
Judges for the award in 2020 are Megan Evans (VUW), Gillian Arrighi (University of Newcastle), and Diana Looser (Standford University).
Nominations are invited by authors, journal editors and interested scholars, specifying full reference for the work nominated and accompanied by a photocopy of the article or chapter.
Deadline: 1 September 2020. Please send an electronic/scanned copy of the article or chapter, plus full reference for the work to:
Megan Evans firstname.lastname@example.org
Dr Marie Louise Matilde (Marlis) Thiersch (1916-1992) was, with Philip Parsons, one of the co-founders in 1977 of the Australasian Drama Studies Association. She was born in Dusseldorf and lived in China before coming to Australia in 1939 to settle in Adelaide, where she gained her BA and MA, teaching in German Language and Literature at the University of New South Wales.
From 1974 until her retirement she taught in the Australian Theatre Studies Programme in the School of Drama, University of New South Wales, and was a committed promoter of Australian playwriting. From 1979 she was Director of the Australian branch of the international Theatre Institute where she worked selflessly to promote Australian theatre’s international contacts. From 1972 she became a foundation member of the Australian Playwrights Conference and organised nine annual conferences. Her tireless energy and her enthusiasm for promoting Australian theatre and communicating between the academy and the profession is commemorated in this research award by the region’s leading tertiary Theatre Studies association.
Winner - Diana Looser for "Theatrical Crossings, Pacific Visions: Gaugin, Meryon, and the Staging of Oceanian Modernities", published in Recherche Littéraire/Literary Research, 34 (Été 2018/Summer 2018). pp. 7-42.
Diana Looser’s article, “Theatrical Crossings, Pacific Visions: Gauguin, Meryon, and the Staging of Oceanian Modernities", stands out for the scope of the research, the quality of the writing, the significance of the research question and the contribution to the field of theatre studies. Looser provides an expert and incisive close reading of Les Parfums du Silence by Jean-Marc Tera'ituatini Pambrun (Tahiti Ma’ohi) and Pasifika by Stuart Hoar (Aotearoa New Zealand) in order to unfold a larger argument about what she calls Oceanian modernity and the interweaving cultural currents that constitute it. The choice of plays--one by an indigenous writer, the other by a non-indigenous writer; one Francophone, one Anglophone; one censored, one receiving international festival staging; both addressing important modernist European visual artists (Gauguin and Meryon) while privileging indigenous epistemologies--allows her to contrast multiple perspectives on the constitution of contemporary identity in the Oceanic context. Looser convincingly argues for the cultural and intellectual significance of what theatrical analysis has to add to such conversations, particularly highlighting theatre’s ability to encompass complexity, contradiction and concurrency.
Margaret Hamilton for "Genet's 'Rituals of the Oppressed' and the Main Stage: Benedict Andrews' The Maids at Sydney Theatre Company", published in Contemporary Theatre Review, 28:4, pp. 445-460
Margaret Hamilton’s article provides an exemplary close-reading of a significant theatrical production of Genet’s dramatic text. Hamilton applies a critical lens to the celebrity status of the two lead actors in the production to examine how the casting and production both complicate and at times undermine the politics of the play. Hamilton provides nuanced layers of argumentative complexity as she unfolds her analysis.
As the article draws to a close, the author moves from a specific focus on the Sydney Theatre Company production of The Maids to consider the broader questions of the political and social function of theatre in the contemporary era that it raises.
Past recipients of the award
2018 Gillian Arrighi (University of Newcastle) "The Controversial "Case of the Opera Children in the East": Political Conflict between Popular Demand for Child Actors and Modernizing Cultural Policy on the Child?," published in Theatre Journal, 69: 2, 2017, pp. 153-173.
A compelling and meticulous work of scholarship, Arrighi skilfully intertwines theatrical and social history, and tells us a great story in the process. The article examines the ‘case of the Opera Children in the East’ a political and moral panic about the mistreatment of Australian child actors abroad, which resulted in significant legislative change. Arrighi provides accreting layers of analysis that demonstrate the ‘dramatic’ conflict between the ways of thinking and behaving that facilitated the economies of child labour at the time (as well as informing the reception of these performances by audiences), and new modernizing concepts of the ‘child’, ‘childhood’ and ‘parenting.’ The article renders this comparison of old and new ways of thinking by vividly evoking the spectacle of full casts of children performing of adult roles in musical comedies and explains how and why these practices came to an end. The research is the first study to address how companies of child actors contributed to the global popularity of touring musical, and a significant contribution to transnational theatre history. Arrighi’s essay is both fascinating in its own right, and demonstrates how effective the analysis of theatrical histories can be in expanding our understanding of social and political history.
Nien Yuan Cheng, “Globalisation, Transgression, and the Call to Performance Studies,” published in About Performance, 14-15, 2017, pp. 261-84.
Cheng’s essay provides an arresting and thought-provoking account of the state of the field of performance studies by providing a unique cross-cultural global perspective. This is a highly impressive response to the political state of the field by an emerging scholar, and Cheng’s challenges her readers to critically locate their scholarly practices, using her own research process as exemplar. Cheng is rigorous in her extraction of essential phrases, strongly shaping the forward progress of her argument while always giving precise attention to counter-arguments. The result is a beautiful piece of reflexivity in action with the brave, commendable, and well executed purpose of challenging the hegemony and heirarchy of a field which, as Cheng argues, stakes itself on is commitment to liminality, marginality, and radicality.
Glen McGillivray, “Rant, Cant and Tone: The Voice of the Eighteenth-Century Actor and Sarah Siddons,” published in Theatre Notebook, 71: 1, 2017, pp. 2-20.
“Rant, Cant and Tone,” is a rigorous piece of scholarship that is remarkably evocative of its subject: the actor’s voice. With great care, McGillivray challenges historical assumptions about acting styles in order to tell a more nuanced story about what constituted ‘good’ performance in the 18th century. The article is especially striking for the level of detail it offers in its analysis of a particularly difficult theatre history subject: what the actor sounded liked, and what affective responses his or her voice produced in their audience. Through carefully building an account of Sarah Siddons voice and performance style, McGillivray is able to effectively deliver on proposition made at the outset, which is that historical performance styles need to be understood on their own terms, rather than in relation to later prevailing paradigms: that is, as he argues, actors haven’t gotten better over time, they have just become different. The article has great scope for helping scholars understand how audiences appreciate acting both in the particular case of Siddons and her contemporaries, but by extension throughout history and today
Denise Varney, “‘Not Now, Not Ever’: Julia Gillard and the Performative Power of Affect,” published in Performance, Feminism and Affect in Neoliberal Times, ed. E Diamond et al, 2017, Palgrave Macmillan, pp. 25-38.
Varney delivers a vibrant and engaging analysis of Julia Gillard’s notable speech, which was a key moment in recent Australian politics. By analyzing not only the speech itself, but also the political performances of the opposition forces that precipitated it, Varney provides a dynamic reading of the Australian political landscape that focuses on and exposes its affective undercurrents. Conceptually coherent and eloquently expressed, the notion that Varney forwards of the performative power of affect will be of value to other scholars, and especially useful in contemporary feminist performance studies. Furthermore, the chapter demonstrates what performance studies analysis has to offer to broader political discourse and scholarship.
2017 Alexandra Kolb (Queen Mary University, London) "Wigman's Witches: Reformism, Orientalism, Nazism" in Dance Research Journal 48(2), August 2016: 26-43
The task that Alexandra Kolb has set for herself in this wonderfully insightful piece of research might best be summarised as an attempt to understand the Hexentanz, or “Witch Dance”, of Mary Wigman, through the lens of what the anthropologist, Clifford Geertz (following Lee Baxandall) calls ‘a period eye’. In other words, while Wigman’s performances have acquired legendary status as a landmark in the development of expressionist/modernist dance (and scholars regularly trace the line from Laban, though Wigman and Kurt Jooss, to more contemporary dance theatre artists such as Pina Bausch), there is surprisingly little commentary on how Wigman’s work made sense to the audience of its day—or, rather, how it appealed in different ways to the competing sensibilities of quite diverse audiences and how this range of possible meanings shifted as German society itself was shifting.
The canonical status of the work has tended to erase its complex production history. As Kolb reminds us, Wigman first conceived Hexentanz “in 1914 under a constitutional monarchy”; a revised version was produced “in 1926 against the backdrop of a liberal democracy” (this being the version for which the famous, fragmentary film documentation still exists, now so easily accessible on YouTube); and a third—group—version “was fashioned in 1934 under the Fascist dictatorship of the Third Reich”.
The hostility of the Nazi regime towards so much experimental, modernist art is, of course, well known. This, together with the dominant trend in dance scholarship that celebrates Wigman’s defiantly feminist gestural language, has overshadowed a more complex, troubling story about the reception of the work. Through careful historical and archival research, including translations of previously unpublished diary excerpts, Kolb demonstrates convincingly that “in constructing her dances, Wigman partook in a widely disseminated … early twentieth-century German discourse on witchcraft and witch persecutions, which included interpretations ranging from anti-clerical and feminist to racist and anti-Semitic”.
The ‘inconvenient truth’ revealed by Kolb is that we can count a figure such as Heinrich Himmler among those who would most likely have applauded the work. This is not to suggest that Wigman was deliberately targeting such an audience—indeed, her modernist leanings and her teaching activities in the 1930s did come under close, occasionally hostile scrutiny from the Nazi regime—but it is to acknowledge, to an uncomfortable degree, how Wigman’s embodiment of myths and archetypes involved dancing on ideological ground that leading Nazis also found fertile.
Suzanne Little (University of Otago) "Dramaturgies of the Left Behind: Mobility and Stickiness in The Disappearances Project" in TRI 41(3): 245-257.
A very sensitively developed piece of performance analysis, leading into an argument that reaches beyond the specifics of the chosen case study, namely version 1.0’s documentary theatre production, The Disappearances Project, based upon the testimonies of people whose lives have been marked by the unexplained disappearance of a person (typically a family member) to whom they were close. The paper argues persuasively that The Disappearance Project creates an “aesthetics of indeterminacy” that troubles and extends current understandings of how affect and engagement work in theatre. In so doing, Little demonstrates effectively how certain ideas that have been circulating within the ‘new mobilities’ paradigm in the humanities and social sciences may be also brought to bear on the analysis of a piece like The Disappearances Project. Throughout the article, there are many effective, elegant descriptions of practice which ground the performance analysis. The “sign-posting” of the argument is also clear and exemplary.
Bree Hadley (Queensland University of Technology) “Mobilising the Mobilities Paradigm in Drama, Theatre and Performance Studies: Potentials, Politics and Pitfalls.” Australasian Drama Studies 69 (October): 7-28.
This article provides a wonderfully useful ‘primer’ on key concerns within the ‘mobilities’ turn in the humanities/social sciences and some very suggestive comments on how it could be taken up further in performance practice and performance theory. Hadley tests these ideas by surveying of a range of relevant practices, including “walking performances”, site-based works that involve some element of place re-activation, ‘dark tourism’ performances, and various events that engage with the politics of the surveillance society. The great strength of the essay is that it doesn't simply show how such practices ‘tick the boxes’ in terms of the theoretical agenda of mobility scholars—Hadley is also very much concerned with challenging the perceived inclusiveness of mobility as a guiding concept and she does this through (again) suggestive references to the work of disabled performance artists. This generous and incisive paper will serve as an excellent stimulus for many other researchers in our field.
2016 Nicola Hyland (Victoria University of Wellington) “Beyoncé’s Response (eh?): Feeling in Ihi of Spontaneous Haka Performance in Aotearoa/New Zealand” in TDR: The Drama Review 59(1), 2015: 67 – 82.
Hyland is an exceptional guide for both insiders and cultural outsiders, offering a range of ‘feelingful’ readings of haka performances that contest and complicate previous scholarship: in proposing that “the criterion for critique is not in the form but in the feeling” (80), Hyland offers a nuanced and insightful way forward. The judges are certain that this article will have a long-lasting impact on both scholars and students. It is a superlative example of cultural performance analysis; that is, Hyland brings a wholly Maori perspective to the research process, right down to the footnotes, which acknowledge the genealogy of those whose work she cites. (The judges were especially pleased that this was an ADSA-driven piece of work, expanded from a presentation at the 2014 Conference!). Hyland’s erudite and clear prose, combined with her eye for a great story and a beautiful image, set this work apart and made it a clear, unanimous winner of the 2016 Marlis Thiersch Prize.
2015 Helen Gilbert (Royal Holloway University of London) ”Let the Games Begin’: Pageants, Protests, Indigeneity (1968-2010)’. In The Politics of Interweaving Performance Cultures, edited by Erika Fischer-Lichte, Torsten Jost, Saskya Iris Jain (London: Routledge, 2014) 156-175.
What a story! This elegant essay looks at the complex, often contradictory way indigenous peoples have engaged with the mega-spectacles performed as part Olympics opening ceremonies. Gilbert wants readers to recognise that indigenous performances – in the stadium and in the streets outside – contain embodied enactments of agency. The essay is an extended, richly researched and passionately argued demonstration of the need for ‘new and nuanced ways of reconceptualising the grounds of aesthetic exchange’. Beyond the relatively recent academic vogue for the idea of ‘interweaving cultures’, she wants us to think again about the ‘particular threads and knots in a meshwork of performances that have brought indigeneity and Olympism into dialogue, however agonistically.’ Gilbert’s presentation and analyses of the processes and politics both of production and of protest are thoroughgoing, compelling and challenging. Her theoretical resources are very well-deployed and made tangible in relation to her case studies in ways that offer significant insights into the current state of postcolonial performance scholarship as well.
Short List Diana Looser‘The Fiery Pacific: Volcanic Eruptions and Settler-State Theatricality in Oceania, 1780-1900’. In Theatre Survey 55:3 (September 2014) 362-392. This essay is meticulously researched, rigorously analysed and carefully positioned at the intersection between performance and postcolonial studies. Looser uses the specifics of her material to show us what study of ‘selected portrayals of the Pacific volcano on European, American, and Australasian stages from the 1780s to 1900’ can tell us about the shifting politics of exploration and settlement. She presents an engaging, compelling narrative, through which we progressively encounter vivid descriptions of the performances – aesthetically and theatrically – in their historical and social contexts. We learn much about the history of such popular theatrical productions – that is, about how such spectacles were produced – and also are challenged to think differently about the ‘transnational and cross-cultural dynamics of colonial theatricality in Oceania’. Looser’s ability to tack back and forth between close readings of playscripts, historical reconstruction of performance events, commentary on political happenings and larger cultural discourses is tremendous. To get from Pompeii to Lord of the Rings in thirty pages is quite a ride!
2014 Caroline Wake, (University of New South Wales) ‘Between Repetition and Oblivion: Performance, Testimony, and Ontology in the Refugee Determination Process’. In Text and Performance Quarterly 33.4 (July 2013) 326-343
The committee agreed that this elegantly written work of scholarship really nails the criterion of ‘lasting merit’. It manages to be meticulous and insightful, theoretically dense and provocative, without sacrificing purpose and clarity. Wake takes a very particular case study – of the refugee asylum-seeking interview – and analyses the performances therein with precision and depth. She calls on an impressive array of sources, and she makes effective use of theory to construct and give political force to her critical analysis. In so doing, she challenges conventional wisdom about the virtues of testimonial performance (‘bearing witness’) and forces a re-think of how performance studies – ‘for its interest in bodies, encounters, processes, and politics’ she says – might work to human experience in extremis.
Short List Jonathan W. Marshall, ‘The World of the Neurology Ward: Hauntology and Euopean Modernism mal tourné in Butoh’. TDR 57.4 (T220, Winter 2013) 60-85.
Maryrose Casey, ‘Conditions of Recognition: Social Aesthetics and Aboriginal Australian Performance’. In Aesthetics 23.1 (June 2013) 92-109.
2013 Bryoni Trezise, (University of New South Wales)“Spectatorship that Hurts: Socìetas Raffaello Sanzio as Meta-affective Theatre of Memory,” Theatre Research International 37.3 (2012): 205-220.
This is an astonishingly, vividly intimate documentation of a striking performance experience that is also rigorously academic. Trezise implicates and renders us as readers in the reading, much as 'BR.#04 Brussels' seems to have worked on the spectators. This is exciting research that offers fresh insights into the relation between affect and spectatorship, and its connection with a broader politics of cultural memory. In particular, Trezise’s focus on affective listening offers compelling ways of rethinking embodied reception. Trezise argues that the works of Soc`?etas Raffaello Sanzio generate a particular affective dimension that remediates the function of affect as it works to empathically bind spectator subjectivities through relations of power to images of suffering others. This generates a form of spectatorship that hurts: morally, emotionally and physically. The essay is very well written, and every now and then produces a beautifully-turned and astonishing phrase/sentence such as on p.206, where she notes that her ‘cellular stitching might have just come undone’ in response to the staged act she has witnessed.
Short List Murray Edmonds (University of Auckland), “One Night in Motley Cow: Grotowski and Nietzsche,” Performance Research 17.1 (2012): 113-125.
William Peterson (Monash University) “La Ville Sensuelle: Seeking a ‘Better City, Better Life’ in the French Pavilion,” Access 31.2 (2012): 39-51, special issue on Theatre and Performance in the Asia-Pacific.
Diana Looser (University of Queensland) “Moving Islands: Mapping the Samoan Diaspora in Contemporary Transnational Theatre from the South Pacific,” Contemporary Theatre Review 22.4 (2012): 451-466.
2012 Joanne Tompkins (University of Queensland) "Site-Specific Theatre and Political Engagement across Space and Time: The Psychogeographic Mapping of British Petroleum in Platform's And While London Burns", Theatre Journal, 2011, 63.2, pp. 225-243
This outstanding entry offered a cogent, focussed account of an innovative performance that is expertly located within the larger socio-political context of climate change, ethics and environmental science. Strong mastery of the discourse, and balance of attention to performance with context and intellectual milieu. The concept of ‘psychogeography’ — an affective means of spatial engagement offers a new theoretical framework — advances the claims of cultural and emotional geographies that have circulated for the last 5 years. In her conclusion, Tompkins notes there is a time limit on the ways in which environmental theatre can intervene in climate change. As she warns ‘there is a time limit on the potentiality one can derive from this production that is well beyond the restrictions or diversions that traffic and building modification may provoke: once the inundation of the Thames affects London and the Great Flood happens, And While London Burns may become a historical record documenting warnings ignored’.
Short List Bree Hadley (Queensland University of Technology) "(Dia)logics of Difference: Disability, Performance and Spectatorship in Liz Crow's Resistance on the Plinth", Performance Research, 2011, 16.2, pp. 124-131.
Suzanne Little (University of Otago) "In and Out of Tune with Reality: Opposed Strategies of Documentary Theatre", Double Dialogues, 2011, 14.
2011 Helena Grehan (Murdoch University) "Aalst: Acts of Evil, Ambivalence and Responsibility" in Theatre Research International No. 35.1 (2010): 4-1
This year’s Award goes to a very deserving scholar and long serving member of this Association, Helena Grehan, for her journal article Aalst: Acts of Evil, Ambivalence and Responsibility’. Dr Grehan’s submission stood out for its elegance of form, the clarity of its writing and the depth of its scholarship. This is an article deeply engaged with critical theory, cogently focusing the work of Agamben and Levinas to illuminate analysis of a work of contemporary performance about a deeply confronting judicial case, of parents on trial for the murder of their two children. The author’s voice drives the commentary. She engages the reader at all stages of the argument, taking them with her into a deep consideration of the relationship between the original event and its layers of representation in performance. This article comes out of Grehan’s long term engagement with the ethics of representation and spectatorship. It offers a tightly focused but nuanced analysis, balancing the rigorous application of theory and a playful, meditative and clearly performative engagement with the topic, to discuss issues raised for the spectator by this particular work in a series of productions in different cultural locations, in Belgium, Scotland and Australia.
Honourable Mention Will Peterson (Monash University) "Performing Indigenity in the Cordillera: Dance, Identity and Politics in the Highlands of Luzon" in Asian Theatre Journal No. 27.2 (2010): 246-268
Short List Suzanne Little (University of Otago) "Re-Presenting the Traumatic Real: Douglas Wright's Black Milk" in Dance and Politics ed. Alexandra Kolb, Bern: Peter Lang, 2010: 233-254.
Glen McGillivray (University of Sydney) "Pleasure Out of Suffering: Negotiating Material Reality through Fetishism and Disavowal in Food Court" in About Performance No. 10 (2010): 93-106.
2010 Paul Dwyer and Liza-Mare Syron (University of Sydney) "Protocols of Engagement: 'Community Cultural Development' Encounters an Urban Aboriginal Experience" in About Performance No. 9: 169-191.
2009 Gay McAuley (University of Sydney) "Not magic but work: Rehearsal and the Production of Meaning" in Theatre Research International, 33: 276-288.
2008 Ian Maxwell (University of Sydney) "The Ritualization of Performance (Studies)" in Graeme St John (ed) Victor Turner and Cultural Performance, New York: Berghan Books, 2008.
2007 Veronica Kelly (UQ) "An Australian Idol of Modernist Consumerism: Minnie Tittel Brune and the Gallery Girls", Theatre Research International, vol. 31, no. 1, 2006, pp. 17-36.
2006 Jonathan Bollen (UNE / Flinders) "Remembering masculinities in the theatre of war", Australasian Drama Studies, no. 46, April 2005, pp.3-19.
2005 Rachel Fensham (Monash University) "Mrs Patrick Campbell as 'hell cat': Reading the Surface Histories of a Female Body" inNineteenth Century Theatre and Film, vol. 30, no. 2, Winter 2003.
2004 Helen Gilbert (University of Queensland) "Black and White and Re(a)d All Over Again: Indigenous Minstrelsy in Contemporary Canadian and Australian Theatre" published in Theatre Journal, "Theatre and Activism", vol. 55, no. 4, December 2003. 679-698.
2003 Ed Scheer (University of NSW) "What does an avatar want: Stelarc's e-motions" published in The Cyborg Experiments, Joanna Zylinska (ed.) (London and New York: Continuum Press, 2002) pp.81-100.
2002 Peta Tait, (Theatre Studies, La Trobe) "Fleshed, Muscular Phenomenologies: across sexed and queer circus bodies" in Body Show/s, ed. Peta Tait, Amsterdam: Rodopi, 2000, pp. 60-78.
2001 Jacquline Lo (Centre for Cross-Cultural Research, ANU) "Beyond Happy Hybridity: Performing Asian-Australian Identities" inalter/asians: Asian-Australian identities in art, media and popular culture, ed. Ien Ang, Sharon Chalmers, Lisa Law and Mandy Thomas, Annandale: Pluto Press, 2000, pp.152-68.
1999 Veronica Kelly (Department of English, University of Queensland) '"Who's the Bigger Dill?": The Madhouse in Recent Australian Drama' in The Body in the Library, ed. Leigh Dale and Simon Ryan (Amsterdam: Rodopi, 1998). Series: Cross/Cultures - Readings in the Post/Colonial Literatures in English.
1998 Jane Goodall (University of Western Sydney) 'Transferred Agencies: Performance and the Fear of Automatism'. The text can be accessed at Theatre Journal.
1997 Robert Jordan (University of New South Wales) 'Visualising the Sydney Theatre, 1796