CFP: Performance Paradigm 16: Performance and Radical Kindness

Type of post: Association news item
Status: Current
Date Posted: Thu, 19 Mar 2020
Edited by Emma Willis (University of Auckland) and Alys Longley (University of Auckland)

Kindness as a radical act is not just ‘being nice’ to one another; it is the core of articulating, recognising, and valuing the complexity and beauty of the human condition, and putting this into practice in order to dismantle harmful systems of oppression and subjugation. Radical kindness is the creation of space for vulnerability. (Burton and Turbine 2019)


In an era where political and civil discourses are marred by populist politics of division and exclusion, kindness may seem to be in short supply. When it does appear, it is perceived as soft, uncritical and feminized. Alternatively, it is critiqued as inherently biased and/or dependent on differences in subject position and power (Clegg and Rowland 2020). Yet kindness has its champions. In performance, the fields of applied theatre as well as socially engaged and relationally oriented modes of performance often express an ethos of kindness through their aim towards, justice, social coherence, and transformation. In the scholarly and popular psychology, researchers have heralded the benefit of kindness to personal happiness and wellbeing. At a political level, current New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern has attracted global attention for her politics and practices of kindness. However, ‘Kindness in the contemporary moment continues to be an under-researched emotion even in the midst of a surge of work in emotion and affect theory’ (Magnet at al 2014). This issue of Performance Paradigm (https://www.performanceparadigm.net/index.php/journal) seeks to respond to this gap in the literature, focusing on performance-based instantiations of kindness, and performance-led analyses of political and civil discourses that extend our understanding of its radical potential. Through discussion of a broad range of performance examples, we are seeking to redefine the performative potential of kindness, reinvesting it with the political power needed to counter prevailing political dispositions.

In considering the relationship between performance and kindness, we encourage a broad range of approaches. Kindness may be framed as a politically aspirational ethic that underlies or motivates performance – Petra Kuppers’ and Neil Marcus’s practice of ‘Helping Dances,’ for example, of which Kuppers writes: ‘All of us acknowledge living inter dependent lives, intersected and enabled by many, carried on the backs of infrastructural laborers of all kinds and touched by the kindnesses of strangers’ (Kuppers 2014). Kindness may also constitute an act of political and aesthetic refusal. Reflecting on a series of feminist performance works in Australia, Jana Perkovic remarks that the artists ‘found their strength not in attacking the enemy, but in standing their own ground. They were friendly works, non-combative – but through them, the artists claimed the right to exist for a universe full of dress-ups, kindness, self-reflection, freedom, and femininity’ (2014). Writing of Back to Back Theatre’s work, Super Discount, Helena Grehan and Peter Eckersall remark that ‘The juxtaposition between dark and light, vulnerability and superpower, and acting and performance remind us that it is not the epic encounter that is of significance. Instead, as the artifice of acting is banished from this work, we are left with moments of human kindness and a series of questions about where we go from here’ (2013).

Kindness may also feature as a subject of thematic consideration. Lydia Adetunji’s 2019 play Calculating Kindness, for example, explores the life of George Price, best known for formulating an equation explaining altruism. Kindness may also inform the creative process. Sandra Reeve, for example, writes of what she calls ‘regenerative choreography’ which incorporates ‘loving kindness’ into its methodology (2018, 78). Performance strategies discussed may involve creating enabling disruptions or, as anthropologists Alison Phipps and Lesley Saunders describe, ‘poetry for the sake of gentling the space where violence is writ large and ugly’ (2009). Finally, a performance-based analysis might be applied to the discourse of kindness in political rhetoric. For example, in the same way that Denise Varney applies a performance studies framework to scrutinise the ‘affective power of misogyny’ (2017) in attacks on Australian Prime Minister Julia Gillard, such an approach might be used to assess the rhetoric of kindness in the discourse of leaders such as Ardern.

Through considering performances that variously enact, contemplate or promote kindness, we invite authors to challenge some of the prevailing beliefs and assumptions about what constitutes kindness. We therefore invite authors to consider not only performances that enhance our understanding of both the radical potential of kindness but also those that draw attention to its misuses.

Topics may include but are not limited to:
  • What is the role of kindness in creative pedagogies and creative practices? What is the relationship between discipline, disciplinarity and kindness in classrooms and rehearsal rooms?
  • How might the poetics of kindness inflect creative research methodologies, such as studio practices of performance writing?
  • How is kindness both performed and understood differently in distinct cultural contexts? How do these culturally specific articulations of kindness expand our understanding of kindness as praxis?
  • How does kindness figure in performances concerned with the politics of race and gender?
  • How, as Burton and Turbine explain, do various social and political biases undermine the legitimacy afforded to kindness? How has kindness, as they suggest, been ‘weaponized,’ and how can performance effectively challenge such bias?
  • How might performance-based analysis be applied to the discourse of kindness in political rhetoric?
  • How might kindness be applied beyond the human? For example, how might the radical potential of kindness be conceived of in relation to ecological crisis?
  • How do performances of kindness emphasize notions of interdependence and reciprocity?
  • How might kindness be conceived of as radical action? In what sense might it, as Magnet et al. write, function in performance as a ‘technology of social transformation’ and a ‘microtechnique for both resisting and shaping power relations’ (2014)?
  • How might kindness be framed as a principle for convening community in both performance contexts and civil society, building what Hall and Smith call networks of ‘flexible resilience’ (2015)?
  • How might we critique the capture by capital markets of kindness as an affective currency? What does this ‘mainstreaming’ of kindness tell us about its instrumentality?

Please send proposals of approximately 300 words to Dr Emma Willis (emma.willis@auckland.ac.nz) and Dr Alys Longley (a.longley@auckland.ac.nz) by 8 May 2020. Full articles will be due on 1 November 2020 for publication in Performance Paradigm, July 2021.

Please feel free to contact the issue editors with any questions. For more information about them, see here:
  • Dr Emma Willis, Senior Lecturer in Drama:
http://www.arts.auckland.ac.nz/people/ewil077
  • Dr Alys Longley, Associate Professor in Dance:
https://unidirectory.auckland.ac.nz/profile/a-longley



Works Cited

Burton, Sarah and Vikki Turbine (2019) “‘We’re Not Asking for the Moon on a Stick’: Kindness and Generosity in the Academy.” Discoversociety July 03,
https://discoversociety.org/2019/07/03/were-not-asking-for-the-moon-on-a-stick-kindness-and-generosity-in-the-academy/.
Clegg, Sue and Stephen Rowland (2010) “Kindness in pedagogical practice and academic life”, British Journal of Sociology of Education, 31:6, 719-735.
Grehan, Helena and Peter Eckersall (2013) “Review: Super Discount by Back to Back Theatre”, The Theatre Times, 20 November,
https://thetheatretimes.com/review-super-discount-back-back-theatre/
Habibis, Daphne, Nicholas Hookway and Anthea Vreugdenhil (2016) “Kindness in Australia: An Empirical Critique of Moral Decline Sociology.” The British Journal of Sociology, 67(3), 395-413.
Hall, Tom and Robin James Smith (2015) “Care and Repair and the Politics of Urban Kindness.” Sociology 49(1) 3–18.
Hazou, Rand (2018) “Performing Manaaki and New Zealand Refugee Theatre.” Research in Drama Education: The Journal of Applied Theatre and Performance, 23(2), 228-241.
Kuppers, Petra (2014) “Crip Time.” Tikkun, 29 (4), 29-30.
Magnet, Shoshana, Corinne Lysandra Mason and Kathryn Trevenen (2014) “Feminism, Pedagogy, and the Politics of Kindness.” Feminist Teacher 25 (4), 1-22.
Perkovic, Jana (2014) “Performance: Dying on stage: Feminism 4.0.” The Lifted Brow, 23, 34.
Phipps, Alison and Lesley Saunders (2009) “The Sound of Violets: the Ethnographic Potency of Poetry?” Ethnography and Education 4 (3), 357-387.
Reeve, Sandra (2018) “On the Way to Regenerative Choreography.” Choreographic Practices 9 (1), 75-80.
Shklar, Judith N. (1989) “The Liberalism of Fear.” Pp. 21–37 in Liberalism and the Moral Life, edited by Nancy L. Rosenblum. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.
Varney, Denise (2017) “‘Not Now, Not Ever’: Julia Gillard and the Performative Power of Affect” in E. Diamond et al. (eds.), Performance, Feminism and Affect in Neoliberal Times, Palgrave Macmillan, 25-38.