~ A Guest Post by Theatre Studies M.A. student Katrina Dunn:

Conferences are ‘showtime’ for academics. Here discourse, original thought, scholarly discipline and mastery of language are suddenly translated into a performance event with its own set of aesthetic rules, modes of hierarchical positioning, and systems of feedback and judgement. It’s a site of community networking, reevaluation, and celebration that helps to move academic conversation forward in a more tangible, embodied way.

In early February, fellow MA Candidate Sandra Chamberlain-Snider and myself set out to check out our first academic conference. We had no responsibilities there, we just wanted to watch and get a lay of the land for future reference. We chose F.O.O.T. 2012 as our destination from a fairly uninformed process, but in hindsight it was the perfect first stop on the conference journey. F.O.O.T stands for ‘Festival Of Original Theatre’ and it has been produced by the University of Toronto’s Drama Centre uninterrupted for 20 years. The U of T Department has recently been renamed the mouthful ‘Centre for Drama, Theatre and Performance Studies‘, a shift which belies significant evolutions in the field of study that I won’t attempt to discuss in this context. Stumbling over the new name was a source of much hilarity at the event – jokes come easy at academic conferences!

F.O.O.T is produced entirely by graduate students in the department (including UBC’s own Kirsty Johnston in the mid-90’s). Producing it is a huge undertaking done for no credit, led by a single or collection of artistic directors – this year by PhD candidates Art Babayants and Heather Fitzsimmons-Frey (who was there with her 1 month-old baby in tow!!! Sandra and I – both moms – were gobsmacked). The twentieth anniversary was a cause for celebration and a testament to the vigor of the program and its students.

The focus of this year’s F.O.O.T was ‘Theatre and Learning’. Encompassing so many fields of study, the topic drew a wide variety of presenters and participants. Papers presented touched on Applied Theatre, Theatre and Development, Drama in Education, Theatre of the Oppressed and Theatre for Young Audiences. Keynote speakers included U of T’s Kathleen Gallagher, the UK’s Helen Nicholson from Royal Halloway in London, and Suzanne Osten, a leader in the field of Children’s Theatre in Sweden. The Panels and Roundtables were populated by a broad cross section of thinkers – everyone from published and widely recognized scholars and teachers to working practitioners and graduate students from the U of T Department.

It’s impossible to summarize or evaluate my experience in the context of this blog post, so I’ll just hand you a few highlights:

1) U Vic’s Monica Prendergast and Juliana Saxton defining the difference between Applied Drama and Applied Theatre – yay! thanks for that.

2) Helen Nicholson concretizing her ideas on ‘Performing Social Space’ by holding up her cell phone (it contains Coltan – mined under brutal conditions in the Congo, which she had just visited as part of a Theatre and Development project).

3) The powerful and largely universal denunciation of the word ‘transformation’ as a way to describe theatre’s impact, at a Roundtable facilitated by U of T’s Barry Freeman.

4) Mia Perry’s exploration of the value of ‘failure’ in cultural practices, and the ensuing discussion around why we refuse failure so fiercely.

5) Sallie Lyons and Gina Lori Riley’s recounting of their journeys from contemporary dance artists to theatre movement trainers, and their analysis of why North American theatre rejected movement in the 50s, 60’s and 70’s, while European theatre remained more embodied (it has to do with how we interpreted Stanislavsky).

6) Showing up for a Performance called “Performing Peace” by Helene Vosters and finding out that it was in fact an “unsewing circle” – we all sat in chairs and pulled apart a Canadian military uniform thread by thread. A powerful metaphor and nice to do something with our hands after so much brain work.

These are only small tastes – there was so much more in this feast. Sandra and I had done a presentation for Kirsty’s Theatre 500 class where we had discussed the work of many of the featured scholars, so experiencing them in person was fun and illuminating. We both came away brimming with energy, rethinking our theses, and jamming on ideas for some kind of similar event at UBC. The Big F.O.O.T definitely left its mark on us.

Katrina Dunn, MA Candidate

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