‘Tell it to the Bees’, Louise Ann Wilson, Exeter 2022. Photo: Lizzie Coombes. Commissioned by Outside the Box.

Introducing the project.

Outdoor Cultures brings together the joint research of Evelyn O’Malley and Cathy Turner, and reaches out to wider networks concerned with the outdoor cultures of the South West peninsula and beyond. Our concern is with the cultural identity of the region, the environmental connections forged between people and place through performances of various kinds, and the challenges and benefits of outdoor activities. We bring to this research our previous investigations into audiences, weathering, porous dramaturgies, site-specific performance, walking and more.

The first collaborative project was Outside the Box, an AHRC funded response to the Covid-19 pandemic. The project team was headed by Dr. Evelyn O’Malley (Drama), working with Prof Cathy Turner (Drama) and Prof Tim Coles (Business School). We worked 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 commissioned and programmed live performances in lower risk, environmentally-sensitive open air settings, modelling approaches that moved 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 consulted 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 made these innovative models more visible and contributed to the revival of live performance cultures in the region, as exemplars of sustainable cultural practice. This regional approach took into account the vulnerability of an economy dependent on tourism, applicable in other parts of the UK. While open-air performance forms were to be the first permitted in a staggered cultural re-opening, merely replicating indoor models outdoors could not resolve key safety and management issues. However, innovative modes of engaging audiences out of doors were evident in impromptu lockdown performances (e.g. in dispersed or durational work). These models had significant potential to contribute to cultural and environmental wellbeing. With Coles as lead author, our analysis of findings from Giselle Garcia’s research into the experiences of events officers, was published in Frontiers in 2022, and can be found here.

You can read more about Outside the Box and its commissions in our blog and via the links at the top of the page.

Following that project, we are now working with Prof Tom Trevor to lead the Creative Peninsula network, again funded by UKRI. The network has been established to explore collaborative approaches to place-making and culture-led regeneration in Devon and Cornwall, with a focus on increasing access and exchange between urban and rural communities, celebrating the region’s distinctive landscape and Atlantic coastline, and exploring its complex histories, through socially engaged arts programming. It builds on the work of Outside the Box, which asked how open-air performance might reconnect people with environment following the peak of the Covid pandemic. We are commissioning two performances for this project, one in Exmouth and one in Penryn. Through these commissions we aim to connect live performance with other outdoor leisure activities, using the conceptual and imaginative power of the performance event to hold and explore some of the tensions of place, community and changing environments, while celebrating a spirit of shared enjoyment.

We are also leading ‘Green Stages‘, a project funded by the University of Exeter and comprising a series of talks, workshops and symposia, and the development of an outdoor theatre on Streatham Campus.

In 2021, O-P-E-N, the Open air Performance and Environment Network was established by us and our colleagues across the University of Exeter, including associated artist-researchers, to support wider dialogues around outdoor cultures, with a strong, but not exclusive focus on theatre and live art.

Green Stages Symposium

The Open-air Performance and Environment Network (O-P-E-N) and the University of Exeter Drama Department invite you to a symposium on ‘Green Stages’, March 9th, 6-8.30 (GMT).

Our findings

A summary of our key findings and recommendations based on survey and interview data, and our experience of commissioning a season of in-person outdoor work.

Exhibition and Opening

Mon, 06 Dec, 2021, Maketank. Exeter. EXHIBITION Opening up: Threads and Beelines. The Outside the Box: Open-Air Performance as a Pandemic Response project team is delighted to invite you to an exhibition.

Site-visit with Onestep

Report on a site-visit with Florrie Taylor and Sarah Sharp of Onestep Theatre, on the River Exe flood plain and Belle Isle Park.

Getting Buzzy

Outside the Box was on the outskirts of Exeter in Shillingford Abbot last weekend, learning about bees and beekeeping with artist Louise Ann Wilson.

Call for artists

Call for four artists (or artistic teams) to produce original outdoor theatre/ performance/ live art works, to be open to members of the public in Exeter in July/ August 2021.

Post advertised

We are seeking a Postdoctoral Research Associate. This AHRC funded post is available immediately on a full time basis for eight months in the Department of Drama.