Co-operative Make-Believe as Practice in Children’s Interactive Dance Theatre

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In Essex’s work, led by the instructions from performers, audiences are able to enter into a co-operatively constructed make-believe world. This is through a combination of “user freedom and system design” (Ryan, 1997 pp. 677-707).  These co-constructed physical movements and actions are contained by a pre-prescribed narrative arc. In other words, the closed narrative structure contains an open dramatic form. This offers audiences a satisfying story whereby the narrative arc is coherent to both interactors and non-interactors, giving rise to two distinct experiences—an active, make believe experience for interactors and a more passive, spectator experience for non-interactors.

This paper examines how this dual narrative is achieved in practice through an examination of Essex’s performance work, what autonomy and what limitations exist for interactors and non-interactors in contemporary children’s theatre practice. This paper examines methods developed through practice to situate children’s input at the centre of creative work and how collaborative practice can be extended to include co-operation between children and professional artist-makers in research and performance. It adapts concepts from Flom & Bahrick’s research on intersensory redundancy, Nagel & Hovik’s work on interactive dramaturgies and Fuller’s ideas of the “architect clown” to propose and test new collaborative methodologies for creating interactive and inclusive theatre for and with children. 

Published by ARTSPRAXIS (ed. Jonathan Jones, New York University).   Original methodologies developed through Essex’s interactive theatre practice and articulated within this paper have been discussed by her at All Young Stories: Access and inclusion in children’s research and art at Keele University, and she has been invited to speak at the International Theatre for Young Audiences Research Network at the 20th ASSITEJ World Congress and Festival (Tokyo), influencing practice national and internationally.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)111-119
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 14 Jun 2019


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