The Dynamic Tensions Physical Culture Show: A Counter-Genealogy of Built Masculinities (REF 2021 Practice Research Submission)

Chow, Broderick D.V. (2020) The Dynamic Tensions Physical Culture Show: A Counter-Genealogy of Built Masculinities (REF 2021 Practice Research Submission). The Royal Central School of Speech and Drama, University of London. ISBN 978-1-8383967-4-9


This multi-component output consists of one collaboratively devised theatre piece, which I led as director, writer, historian, and performer; one scholarly peer-reviewed essay; and two public engagement web articles. The different methodologies (practice research, history, reflective and autoethnographic writing) locate the origins of the Anglo-American physical fitness movement in the physical culture shows and performances of the late nineteenth- and early twentieth-century vaudeville theatres and Music Halls, in order to argue for a different relationship between the muscular male body and orthodox masculinity.

Dynamic Tensions is motivated by urgent questions about men, masculinities, and fitness and health in the present day: (1) how do men negotiate their relationship to the ideal of the strong, athletic, and muscular male body? (2) how can fitness be seen as an expressive practice? and (3) how do men use fitness as a way of relating to self and others? It considers these questions in the historical archive and uses performance practice as a method to propose that the muscular, athletic male body ideal is a cultural script produced through embodied acts of everyday performance. Considering these acts as performance reveals the “dynamic tensions” (borrowing the term from Charles Atlas’s mail-order programme of muscle-building) between the institutions, industries, and social structures of physical fitness and the participant’s individual bodily experience. The research began in 2014 and was supported by an AHRC Leadership Fellows grant from 2016–18. It has been shared through performance practice, workshops, post-show discussions, publications, and performance documentation.


Published Version - PDF (REF 2021 Practice Research Submission)

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