The network addresses the interrelationship between psychiatric care and performance practice. In its attention to different forms of knowledge, with respect to arts and mental health, the network supports the highlight’s concern to investigate interactions between sciences and humanities. This network is a timely and urgent investigation into the practice of theatre in controlled psychiatric environments. The network will investigate how and why theatre was used in mental health settings in the twentieth and twenty first centuries. It will explore the changes and developments in theatre practice within mental health care settings as care moved from asylums to community based contexts. By placing historical asylum experiences alongside the more contemporary political movement towards community spaces, the network will explore how notions of space, care, ideology, and medicine have interacted with the forms of theatre and performance work taking place at these sites. In short, this network is concerned to document the history of theatre in asylums and hospitals and to thereby rethink contemporary performance practice in this field.
This project aims to begin to delineate the history and practice of performance in asylums and hospitals. In so doing it fosters research at the intersection between medicine and the arts, between science and culture. This network seeks to excavate this relationship between psychiatric environments and performance in order to gain a better understanding of the relationship between theatre and health. The network examines how different forms of knowledge (scientific and artistic) mutually illuminate one another in the context of broader issues of mental health, well-being, and illness. In this regard the network will not only consider work taking place within psychiatric settings but also investigate mainstream theatre work about psychiatric incarceration and mental illness. The network, therefore, not only synthesises dialogue across disciplines and periods, but also both within and beyond the locked doors of psychiatric care.
It is important that this research take place at this time as the old asylums are now closed. A way of life is soon to be forgotten and demolished. It is vital, therefore, that this network bears witness to the theatre work that took place at these sites before this history disappears from living and architectural memory. The network is also pressing owing to social discrimination and misconceptions regarding mental ill health. If stigma is one of the primary issues for mental health service users, it is imperative that research such as this seeks to promote better understanding of mental health, illness, and detention.
There is a great deal of valuable work that has been undertaken in the field of literature and madness. Numerous scholarly works by authors including Elaine Showalter (1987), Paul Crawford (2010), Allen Thiher (2005), Roy Porter (1993; 1996; 2002), David Krasner (2006), Lillian Feder (1983), Shoshana Felman (2003), Charley Baker (2010) and Kay Redfield Jamison (1994; 1996) have advanced this field. Existing scholarship frequently explores ‘madness’ as a literary trope or narrative. Theatre is, however, underrepresented in this work. Moreover, from a methodological point of view, where literature is concerned with representation, performance work has a distinct capacity for intervention. Notable work in mental health and performance includes Ellen Kaplan and Sarah J. Rudolph (2005), James Redmond (1993), Carina Bartleet (2003), Murray Cox (1992), Derek Russell Davis (2007), Anna Harpin (forthcoming) and Bridget Escolme (forthcoming). Nonetheless, theatre and performance, and specifically theatre and performance in psychiatric contexts, are yet to be fully investigated. While valuable work has also begun in the field of applied theatre, this network will explore plural forms of theatre work in psychiatric settings. The theatre history of performance in asylums and hospitals is as yet unwritten. Building on the existing work in literary studies of insanity, psychological case studies of arts projects, and social histories of madness, Isolated Acts attempts to draw together new research across the arts and sciences. The network will, in this way, begin to uncover this hidden history, examine its current practices, and interrogate its ethics and aesthetics, past and present. This network will explore the history, significance, and aesthetics of embodied practice at sites of psychiatric treatment and, therefore, build on existing research in new ways.