Capital, Cooperation and Creating Performance: Blood Water Theatre Develops Ownership in Collaborative Theatre Practice

Ronan, Joanna Josephine (2018) Capital, Cooperation and Creating Performance: Blood Water Theatre Develops Ownership in Collaborative Theatre Practice. Doctoral thesis, The Royal Central School of Speech and Drama.


This thesis is developed from an experiment undertaken between 2011 and 2014. It interrogates Marx’s theory of capital, with a particular focus on cooperation. The purpose of the experiment was to develop a model for non-hierarchical collaborative theatre premised on collective ownership. My personal experience of collaborations and the literature in this field pointed to an erosion of the political roots of the theatre collectives formed in the 1950s and 1960s. Since then collaboration has come to reflect capitalist modes of production, characterised by hierarchy and utility, distancing it from its earlier intentions to promote equality in the making of theatre. By interrogating Marx’s theory of capital through practice, I suggest possibilities for reclaiming shared ownership in collaborative theatre-making. While the argument for ownership originates from capital and cooperation, it is developed through a theoretical and practical engagement with Engels’ three laws of the dialectic. I identify capital and cooperation to be the primary dialectic of capitalist economy and transpose this to the product/process dialectic in theatre-making. By applying the laws of the dialectic to the process/product dialectic, I discover a theoretical route to developing ownership in collaborative theatre. I test and refine this in practice with BloodWater Theatre, a collective of artists I formed for the purpose. I name my theory and our practice Dialectical Collaborative Theatre.
The findings of this research materialise from BloodWater Theatre’s practice of Dialectical Collaborative Theatre over the three years when we created Whose Story Is It Anyway? and Leave Your Shoes at the Door, performed at the Tron Theatre and the Centre for Contemporary Arts in Glasgow, respectively. Through observations, video diary reflections, focus group/audience feedback and dialectical analysis, I suggest how we came to own the processes and products of our labour. It is not my intention to replace capitalist modes of theatre production. These have their place. Dialectical Collaborative Theatre works within the capitalist cultural economy but it challenges its systems of production and proposes an alternative way of making theatre, working with and against normative cultural production. I hope this practice as research thesis opens up conversations and new practice which interrupt prevalent hegemonic utility-led collaborative theatre practice.


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