Miasmatic Performance: Carceral Atmospherics in the Theatre of Clean Break
AuthorMcPhee, Molly Amanda
AffiliationVictorian College of the Arts
Document TypePhD thesis
Access StatusOpen Access
© 2020 Molly Amanda McPhee
In this practice-informed doctoral thesis, I investigate the aesthetics that allow Clean Break Theatre Company, who work with women in prison and women at risk in the United Kingdom, to plunge audiences into atmospheres of imprisonment, resilience and subversion at the theatre. Through an exploration of six plays made while I was a company member (2009-2015), I propose that concepts of prison and criminality in Clean Break’s theatre become porous, atmospheric events – miasmas, as I argue here – which both elicit, and simultaneously confound, a collective desire to attribute a clear function to prison in society. Instead of treating prison as a setting through which storylines of incarceration move, in these productions ‘prison’ becomes a carceral logic, organising the dramaturgical semantics, temporalities and atmospheres of the play, to signify the conditions of carceral society at large. I call this ‘miasmatic performance.’ Miasmatic performance, I suggest, conjures juridical atmospheres, policing atmospheres and contagious atmospheres within audiences at venues such as the Royal Court, Soho Theatre, or Almeida Theatre, the majority of whom do not have lived experience of the criminal justice system. Section One, ‘Miasmatic Aesthetics’, develops decomposition and secretion as two key aesthetics of miasmatic performance. Section Two, ‘Miasmatic Contagions’, theorises the capacity of the miasmatic performance register to simulate and critique concepts of ‘contagious crime’ and social contagion. Section Three, ‘Miasmatic Investigations’, explores activations of the carceral imaginary through casework at the theatre. A miasmatic register in these Clean Break productions becomes both hopeful, and encourages collective responsibility, as it provokes an affective experience of carceral power within audiences who are often only latently aware of their own participation in carceral society.
Keywordstheatre; applied theatre; feminism; prison; prison theatre; anti-racism; audience; contagion; miasma; atmosphere; criminal justice; social justice; anti-prison; Clean Break; affect; carceral society; carcerality; British theatre; community theatre
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