Edinburgh Festival Fringe 2017 Total Theatre Awards Assessor

My name is Gordon Douglas and I’m a curator and organiser based in Glasgow currently working in the fields of performance art and event. I am also the recipient of Puppet Animation Scotland’s bursary place as an Assessor with Total Theatre Awards 2016.

As a curator who primarily deals in the performative nature of research from a visual arts background, I came into the TTA process keenly interested in expanding my knowledge around live performance across different platforms of expression. I was also eager to understand the ways in which visual theatre practitioners deal with the performance of ‘backstage labour dynamics’, and how they might choose to recognise and share these processes.

Over the course of the Fringe Festival, my eyes were widened to an expansive scope of theatre practices, uncannily similar to the visual arts world in issues explored but with a very distinct set of reference points. Both visual arts and visual theatre practitioners are dealing with how to act in the face of uncertain futures, the increasing systemic demands on labours, and an increasingly precarious and complicated set of circumstances. What I found was that even in this age of ingrained psyche of austerity, visual theatre was daring to be very ambitious. Generally speaking, the practitioners’ talents in imagining beyond their means was emotionally candid, in ways that visual arts sometimes shies away from. I did find that sometimes through this directness, that the naivety of gestures would expose themselves, and that maybe the research behind theatre was less thorough. This is of course, speaking in a general way, and their were many through the diverse range of performances I saw that bucked this trend, specifically projects which dramatically altered the relationship between audience and performer – where the performance was an act of research in itself.

As a forum, the TTA process as a cumulative method of debate, was successful and unique in embracing the idea of subjectivities within group decision-making. The way in which a single voice was expanded upon, questioned and debated as we edged closer to the shortlist, was really generative in producing lively and impassioned arguments around what constituted good theatre practice. Sometimes I felt the aims of TTA held back this discussion, but I understand the position the organisation holds in giving real support and promotion to artist-led practice. It was incredibly warming thing to behold a group of people, all practitioners themselves, hold this purpose in such high regard.

The Fringe festival was the ideal opportunity to see such a broad range of activity, and to really feel invested in a global idea of what visual theatre can and aspires to be. As someone who is committed to the performing arts, I feel very privileged to have been able to see a large chunk of it. I am in no doubt that the experience has helped inform opinions and directions since, and am looking forward to how this growing knowledge-base will affect my working dialogues with collaborators in the future. I am very grateful to Puppet Animation Scotland for gifting me the opportunity to be part of such a rigorous and critical peer-group. With it, I was able to engage in the discourse that goes around live work outside of the visual arts; into the languages, references, and methods of evaluation when producing world class theatre.

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