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Liminality – and self-performance deferred

Photo: Dr Kara McKechnie

Part of the Invisible Diaries series:

Week 7 / Day 4


Another 5.00 am start. Today, I am at the threshold of beginning a new dramaturgical project. Here, I turn from the micro-dramaturgy of entrances, and by extension, exits, to the macro of institutional dramaturgies. Some years ago, when I first started considering the dramaturgy of streaming live-captured performances in cinemas, I became taken with James Steichen’s observation, apropos the Metropolitan Opera and live-streaming, that “institutional dramaturgy consists of the practices through which an arts institution structures its patrons’ experiences in the service of advancing its goals or articulating its identity”. Covid-19 offers a new opportunity to examine this proposition. Deprived of their core business, what are the practices used by theatre companies to articulate their identity?

There is an urgency behind this question, and I have decided that today is the day to start the deep-dive into it. I have a plan. The borders of my examination coalesce. Demarcations form. In a loop back to Day One of these diaries, the multiple, international cultural frameworks that shape my dramaturgical competencies are rendered both distinct and necessary. The notion of having an entire day to grapple with the idea of institutional self-performance is alluring. I am excited; I need to create boundaries to give myself time and space to examine the proposition. To create this time and space, I decide to deal with the quotidian first. I open my email.

Several hours and four Zoom meetings later, I return to questions of institutional dramaturgies. I reassess my goals for the day. Long stringy thinking is not going to happen. To revisit yesterday, “I hesitate, I hesitate”. The clock ticks. I loop back to notions of micro-dramaturgy. Para-production texts are of interest. I turn to a local theatre institution, Queensland Theatre [Company]. (The necessity of putting square brackets around the word company is a hot-button topic among the Queensland theatre community, but that would be another post for another time.) As part of the “Quality Time with Queensland Theatre” project that shifts some of the company’s activities to the digital sphere, they have curated a series of images that people can use as Zoom backgrounds. I loop back to the interruptions to, and loss of, my long stringy day. There is, after all, an inverse symmetry between disruption and focus.

My current Zoom background is a photograph I took at the Chihuly exhibition at Kew Gardens last year. At the level of the personal, do I replace this image that is meaningful in my life with an image that is a curated instance if institutional self-fashioning? I can’t decide. More importantly, I need to think through the choices made by the creative teams at Queensland Theatre:

  • My Name is Jimi based on a story by Dimple Bani, Jimi Bani, and co-created by Jason Klarwein. Design by Simona Cosentini and Simone Tesorieri.

  • Boston Marriage by David Mamet. Design by Stephen Curtis.

  • Jasper Jones based on the novel by Craig Silvey, adapted by Kate Mulvaney. Design by Anna Cordingley.

  • Oedipus Doesn’t Live Here Anymore by Dan Evans. Design by Jessica Ross.

  • Ladies in Black. Book by Carolyn Burns, music and lyrics by Tim Finn. Design by Gabriela Tylesova.

The choice of plays. The inclusion of the authors’ names. The quite right acknowledgement of the designer. Each of these elements combines to indicate how the company is performing itself in the time of Covid-19. The decision to highlight the work of the set designers is an act of dramaturgical self-fashioning. The decision to embrace an opportunity provided by Covid-19 is an act of dramaturgical self-fashioning.

For the moment, I am staying with the Chihuly photograph. I haven’t thought through the implications of this particular instance of self-fashioning. I haven’t decided if I want to endorse this specific dramaturgical structuring of my theatrical experience.

Photo: A sculpture by Dale Chihuly


Endgame. By Samuel Beckett. Dir. Andrew Upton. Sydney Theatre Company. Roslyn Packer Theatre, Sydney, 31 March 2015. Performance.

Steichen, James. “The Metropolitan Opera Goes Public: Peter Gelb and the Institutional Dramaturgy of the Met: Live in HD.(Essay).” Music and the Moving Image, vol. 2, no. 2, 2009, pp. Music and the Moving Image, Summer, 2009, Vol.2(2).

“Zoom Backgrounds.” Queensland Theatre.


Bernadette Cochrane is dramaturg and theatre academic at the University of Queensland. She focuses on institutional dramaturgies and cultural production. Bernadette writes extensively on the dramaturgies of the screening and streaming of live performances.

She is a board member of Migrant Dramaturgies Network, developed in partnership with New Tides Platform (UK) and the Centre for Theatre Research at the University of Lisbon, Portugal.


Headshot photograph by Chris Osbourne.

Other photography courtesy of the author.


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