Introducing the project.

Outside the Box is an AHRC funded response to the Covid-19 pandemic, led by researchers from the University of Exeter. The project team is headed by Dr. Evelyn O’Malley (Drama), working with Prof Cathy Turner (Drama) and Prof Tim Coles (Business School). We will be working with civic partners in Exeter to identify public and privately-owned public spaces that might safely be used for open air performance, aligned with the environmental aspiration to Build Back Better in the Covid-19 cultural recovery. Following a period of scoping and interview research, we will be commissioning and programming live performances in lower risk, environmentally-sensitive open air settings, modelling approaches that move beyond the conventional audience configuration while allowing for live assembly and in-person encounters with performance and place.

Drawing on emerging and existing models of site-specific, dispersed, threshold and ecological performances, alongside practice-as-research with artists who have long-term experience and expertise in these genres, the project will consult with partners to identify the implications of the work for cultural strategy, environmental wellbeing and city centre management. A season of commissioned work in 2021 will make these innovative models more visible and contribute to the revival of live performance cultures in the region, as exemplars of sustainable cultural practice. This regional approach takes into account the vulnerability of an economy dependent on tourism, applicable in other parts of the UK. While open-air performance forms are to be the first permitted in a staggered cultural re-opening, merely replicating indoor models outdoors does not resolve key safety and management issues. However, innovative modes of engaging audiences out of doors have been evident in impromptu lockdown performances (e.g. in dispersed or durational work). These models have significant potential to contribute to cultural and environmental wellbeing.