Dr Bryan Brown
I joined the staff at Exeter from Los Angeles where I was deeply engaged with the contemporary performance scene. With Olya Petrakova, I created ARTEL (American Russian Theatre Ensemble Laboratory), a company committed to the creation of our own training and devising processes, and a performance incubation house called Schkapf, a name we created from Russian words meaning essentially a ‘cabinet of curious performances’. We continue this work in Exeter with the creation of the cultural laboratory, Maketank, which supports and mentors interdisciplinary artist and community-initiatives with the aim of developing cultural citizenship.
Russia, with its rich artistic, intellectual and cultural history, has been the catalyst for much of my research. It has informed my understanding of performer training, ensemble creation, adaptation, the role of the director, as well as the histories of laboratory theatre and laboratory discourse itself. Another influential mileu in my artistic pratice and research has been the experimental theatre scene of New York City. I am part of the international conversation on the dynamic exchange between The (Six) Viewpoints and physcial approaches to acting inspired by the Polish Laboratory Theatre.
Alongside these areas, my current research is developing around plant performance, ecological imaginaries and what Timothy Morton calls 'the ecological thought'.
I received my PhD from the University of Leeds. My thesis, and its reiteration in the monograph A History of the Theatre Laboratory has been called “the first honest effort in clearly defining the phenomenon of the laboratory, creating the history of the theatre laboratory, and relating it to other arts, and to science”.
I have been a collaborator with the Laboratory Theatre Network organised by the Centre for Performance Research, and funded by the Leverhulme Trust. I have also worked as dramaturge and organisational consultant for the international physical theatre laboratory Studio Matejka and on the production of O Réjane with UNESCO-recognized Awake Projects.
The main areas of my research today include:
- Performer Training with a particular emphasis on psychophysical coordination of body, image, and self
- Pedagogy of Performer Training
- Ensemble Creation
- Devising Processes
- Laboratory Studies
- Russian theatre
- Magic, Esotericism and Performance
- Magic, Esotericism and Ecognosis
- Plant Performance
- Ecological Imaginaries and the Ecological Thought
- Clown and the Fool as instigators of wonder
I am always keen to supervise new research projects in my areas of specialty (see research interests), and particularly invite proposals for practice research that expands understandings of training for performance and/or ensemble/collective creation processes, contributes to conceptions of ecological imaginaries or the ecological thought, or engages with magic and/or esotericism, imagination and perforrmance. I would also welcome historical projects on pedagogies for performance training or projects focused on training places, such as Dartington, the Eugene O'Neill Theater Center, Hellarau, Institute of Applied Theatre Studies Geissen, Lecoq, Black Mountain College, etc. Interested applicants might wish to send me a 500-1000 word outline and CV as a starting point for discussion.
I currently supervise:
Howard Gayton's practice research "The Esoteric Art of the Fool: mapping Antoine Faivre's core principles of the esoteric onto the modern theatrical Fool"
Sarah Scaife's practice research "Medicines of uncertainty: How might polyvocal, practice-based performance methods develop new ways of thinking and speaking about spells of illness in a more-than-human world?"
Francesco Bentivegna's "The human-cyborg dialogue: an experiential perspective on theatre and synthetic voice" (second supervisor)
Ian Trafford's "Exploring the effectiveness and relevance of vocational training for actors in an over-crowded and evolving marketplace" (second supervisor)
Research through practice
Through my company ARTEL, I have a substantial practice-research base in the histories and creation of performer training and performance processes. Most recently I have been lead researcher on The Black Hen Society.
The Black Hen Society was a collaborative adaptation by UK and North American visual theatre companies, ARTEL and Animal Cracker Conspiracy of Antony Pogorelsky’s influential nineteenth century Russian children’s story. A central aspect of the project led by myself was the elaboration of artistic collaboration towards what Timothy Morton has coined ‘the ecological thought’.
In so doing, The Black Hen Society examined how a production, through its structural and aesthetic processes, might not simply perform considerations and aspects of environmentalism, but actually do ecology. How, in other words, might the makers themselves tackle the complexity of climate change through reconsidering individual, group and local factors that inform the shared systems of being and knowing in our lived environments? Can collaboration itself become an ecological epistemology?
Mixing an object-oriented ontology with the fantastic imagination, the project examined a new conception of magical thinking that inverses the alchemical society motto “As Above, So Below” to “As Without, So Within”. Decoding the central themes of the original fairytale the project reoriented the gift of the story (a hemp seed that gave the protagonist magical powers of knowledge) into the contemporary problems of smartphone/nanotechnology, the moss tree that produced the central gift into the multiple lessons moss can teach humans about ways to navigate the current climate emergency, and how a betrayal of magical thinking can become the catalyst for ecognosis (a term Morton posits as a more complex way of knowing and being in co-existence with the more-than-human world).
The project took place between 2015-2019 and was funded and supported by a Network of Ensemble Theaters’ NET/TEN grant, the National Puppetry Conference at the O’Neill, Henson Workshop and Production grants, and the University of Exeter. Performances took place at the O’Neill, The Bike Shed Theatre (Exeter) and the University of Exeter.
Another strand of my practice research exmaines the organizational and collaborative structures of laboratories and other innovative creative companies. My article on the development and ambition of Maketank - 'Laboratories of Culture' - argues for the expansion of the theatre laboratory into the cultural laboratory, and posits such a laboratory has its own rich history.
External impact and engagement
Building upon my years of work in Los Angeles, I serve on the board of directors of a new cultural laboratory and interdisciplinary making space in Exeter called Maketank: https://www.maketank.org.uk
From my practice research, I have been working with the Eugene O'Neill Theater Center since 2017 to develop stronger international collaborations between our institutions. In so doing, I organised a public panel at RAMM entitled "Investing in the Arts & Culture" which provided the space for five very different panelists to offer short provocations on the current funding structures in UK and USA and how artists and communities value cultural work. I am also in the process of assisting the O'Neill in preserving and cataloguing their archive with a future view towards animating it through performative interventions.
Contribution to discipline
The Theatre Laboratory, ExeTalk (2020)
Devising a Playground: ARTEL’s Strategies for Embodying Research and Text (2016) is part of larger article I am developing on the training and devising practices of ARTEL.
Enter into a Larger System: The Actor-Creator Pedagogy of Nikolai Demidov (2016) is a reflective review of a masterclass and seminar by Andrei Malaev-Babel on recovering the legacy and practice of Nikolai Demidov. This was held at Exeter University.
Practical Guide for Emergent Exchange (2015) as part of the Network of Ensemble Theatre's growing Shareback Library was the beginning of "The Black Hen Society" and a new research project on collaboration.
I co-wrote a review of the Laboratory Theatre Network's concluding conference (2015) for the Los Angeles online arts & culture space Stage Raw: One Hundred Years Of Fortitude: A long-view case for laboratory theater in L.A.
My teaching is informed by my own research into the histories of wonder and curiosity as much as it is by my own educational experience. I believe in creating the conditions that allow an individual to identify and pursue their own line of investigation, whether this be experiential studio based work or seminar-style conversation. I hope I challenge students to perceive their own habits and how those habits limit their perceptiive and critical abilities. I hope I inspire students to actively seek new ways of perceiving, sensing and being in the world. I approach all taught and research supervision as a collaboration in learning, an adventuring together towards more understanding of our relations with the world. I am indebted to my own teachers, Joe Foster, Arnold Amoroso, Henry Shapiro, Catherine Coray, Stephen Wangh, and Raina von Waldenburg to name a few.
I have been nominated for Teaching Awards at undergraduate level multple times since beginning at Exeter in 2015.
I was short-listed for Outstanding Research Support (thank you postgraduate researchers!) in 2021.