Environments for Encounter

Award Holder

Dr Alice O'Grady


Higher Education Institute

University of Leeds


Partner Organisation

Rebekka Kill, Leeds Metropolitan University


Our proposal explores the phenomenon of relational performance within contemporary music festivals as an emergent genre of creative communication. Whilst bands booked for festivals such as Glastonbury, Big Chill and Bestival often grab the headlines and attract large audiences, the presence of unscripted, un-programmed and unpredictable performances circulating around these sites provide opportunities for interaction that are rarely recorded, notated or analysed.

These performances are highly visual, overtly playful and prioritise conversation between performer and participant. Being inherently dialogic, the 'text' of these encounters is improvised, co-authored and malleable. These types of performances can be understood as operating in the responsive mode. To be effective they must respond intimately to their audience, to physical location and to cultural context. Our proposal aims to explore the impact of contextual changes on performance practice and brings into focus how performance 'texts' might be created, shared and transmitted across festival communities.

Our project uses practice as its core methodology. The practices under investigation can be articulated as: 1. Devising and making interactive performance for a festival site 2. Performing interactive work within a festival site 3. Audience-performer interaction within a festival site How these practices develop, change and adapt according to environment will be the main focus of our research. To this end, we will be asking a series of questions that address both process and performance. These questions correlate to three key terms - making, performing, responding: - What are the implications for making relational or interactive performance for a festival environment where site, audience and context are inherently unstable and unpredictable? - In what way do changes in the festival environment impact upon the manner in which work is performed and how are the interactions that ensue negotiated differently according to changes in context? - In what ways do festival-goers respond to performative encounters within the festival site and how does this differ across a range of environments?

Academic researchers will be working in partnership with Urban Angels Circus who will be commissioned to make a piece of interactive performance that will be toured to three different contemporary music festivals. Each festival will be chosen to provide a different 'environment for encounter' so that a comparative analysis can be made and our research questions addressed. We intend to situate the work in two UK festivals that have distinctly different cultural contexts. The third context will be a European festival. In addition we will be engaging with festival promoters in order to assess the impact this type of performance practice may have in terms of developing festival culture. This project builds on the success of the existing Beyond Text Research Network: "Festival Performance as a State of Encounter".

Arts & Humanities Research Council: Each year the AHRC provides approximately £100 million from the Government to support research and postgraduate study in the arts and humanities, from archaeology and English literature to design and dance. In any one year, the AHRC makes approximately 700 research awards and around 1,000 postgraduate awards. Awards are made after a rigorous peer review process, to ensure that only applications of the highest quality are funded. Arts and humanities researchers constitute nearly a quarter of all research-active staff in the higher education sector. The quality and range of research supported by this investment of public funds not only provides social and cultural benefits but also contributes to the economic success of the UK. See Arts & Humanities Research Council website.