Theatre Machines



I have just completed my practiced-based PhD called Theatre Machines. The thesis was presented as an instruction manual for my practice as an account of a body of object-orientated theatre  undertaken between 2008-2013. It investigated how material objects are performed with and how they might be said to be performing themselves. The thesis considers how the material stage apparatus animates and generates theatrical affect and focuses specifically on the role that the object has as actor (or ‘actant’) within it, asking the question: how do objects function in the stage apparatus and what is the affect of their inter-animation?

The term ‘theatre machine’ refers to the appearance of various affects through the materiality of these the stage apparatuses. The machines I draw out are therefore conceptual: a memory machine; an anthropological machine; a humility machine; a spectator machine and a ghost machine. The reason for evoking these conceptual machines is to illuminate the role that the stage apparatus has in constructing and maintaining them and the function that material, nonhuman objects have in this process. My concern is predominantly with the set-up, the dispositif that makes the actions of the machines possible. In this respect, theatre is conceived as an affect-generating machination that is realised through technical means, the immaterial actions of thought made manifest through material making. The theatre machine is a thinking machine where the space of imagination and speculation is made possible between the maker, object and audience.

There is limited critical work on theorising the practice of performing with objects and what follows is positioned in that gap from the perspective and development of a theatre practice.

The methodology is practice-based and presented through reflective documentation. The practice consists of five investigations, one summative performance called Garage Band, and the setting of another machine into action. The documentation and reflection focuses on process, in particular strategies of selection, composition and operation (ways of doing). It is practice-based at every stage, drawing upon contexts and examples that reveal themselves through the unfolding questions of practice, rather then offering an exhaustive study of objects in theatre, mechanic conceptions of theatre, or the broad range of cross-disciplinary approaches that have found their way into the process.

It consists of three parts: Object, Animation and Affect. The parts represent the three stages of activating the machine and are colour coded for the purpose of reader orientation. Each part contains two chapters: a chapter of reflective documentation and a contextual chapter on an exemplary practitioner of object-orientated theatre. The chapters of reflective documentation are Encountering Objects (Chapter 1), Performing Objects (Chapter 3) and Garage Band (Chapter 5). The chapters on an exemplary practitioner of object-orientated theatre are Tadeusz Kantor’s Anthropological Machine (Chapter 2), Philippe Quesne’s Humility Machine (Chapter 4), and Eva Meyer-Keller’s Spectator Machine (Chapter 6). These practitioners have been chosen as makers who have a dramaturgy of the object at the centre of their practice and the relation they have to the context of my thesis and the discoveries made through practice.

You can access the first two parts via issuu here: Part 1: Object and Part 2:  Animation. The final part is being adapted for future publication and I hope to make that available soon.

Published versions of the chapters have appeared in various journals. Please see my publications list for further details.