The impact of Indigenous / First Nations performance events in London

Origins Festival

Credit: John Cobb.

Supervisory team: Professor Graham Harvey (Open University) and Professor Michael Walling (Border Crossings Theatre).

The project examines the results of cultural performances (theatre, music, visual arts etc) by Indigenous (First Nations or “Native”) people to audiences in London and beyond. It seeks to understand the impact of Indigenous cultural ideas and practices on audience members. It will contribute to scholarly debate in areas noted below as well as to the planning and production of further performance events and educational opportunities. It will result in a thesis discussing what makes Indigenous performances impactful and in the curation of a festival in 2021.

At the biennial ORIGINS Festival of First Nations, hosted in London, Indigenous people share matters of cultural and religious significance with diverse audiences. They engage both with other Indigenous performers and with local or host communities and/or audiences seeking to share and educate about contemporary Indigenous concerns and/or about knowledges and practices that might inspire or promote increases in knowledge, social and/or environmental justice and other potential impacts. They can be perceived as entertainers, as representatives of endangered cultures or as holders of ecological or “spiritual” wisdom. However, the underlying cultural knowledges, protocols and experiences of Indigenous cultures are commonly the performers’ intended focus of impact, learning or sharing as they present to (post)colonial audiences. 

The project is situated in a rapidly growing multi- and inter-disciplinary field of Indigenous Studies, and particularly in international debates about “Indigenous religions”. In this context, diverse uses of the term “spirituality” are indicative of the potential for inter-cultural discussion and (mis)understanding. I.e. in “Western” contexts “spirituality” is often to encourage self-discovery and personal development by individuals. In many Indigenous discourses “spirituality” indicates implicit assumptions and explicit protocols of more thoroughly relational identities or interactions, e.g. the encouragement of respected engagement with other persons (human or otherwise). In contrast with the “spirituality” of individuation, Indigenous “spirituality” is often concerned with the encouragement of locally appropriate relations. Indigenous cultural performances convey shared themes and invite consideration of alternative (to “Modernity”) ways of acting in the larger-than-human world. Entertainment embraces education.

The candidate will develop a project that engages with the impact of Indigenous performance to other-than-Indigenous audiences. Critical literature concerned with Indigenous performance cultures and practices will be examined. Qualitative research by fieldwork and semi-structured interviews may seek to understand what Indigenous performers intend to convey as well as the processes of planning, delivery and reflection involved. Similarly, the researcher will engage with selected members of audiences during and after events to understand the reception and impact of what Indigenous performers have presented. The project will advance ongoing academic debates in relevant areas (e.g. those concerned with Indigeneity, TransIndigeneity, diasporas and migration, intercultural encounters, and/or the nature and performance of personhood). They will also contribute to the organization of the 2021 Festival.  The researcher will have access to ORIGINS Festival organisers, performers and audiences, guided by the supervisors who have expertise in Indigenous Studies, Religious Studies and Theatre Studies.