PANEL 2: Embarrassing Bodies

Thursday 18th January 2018 – 14:30-16:30PM – Embassy Theatre


  • Embarrassing Utopias: Locating Hope in Homophobia. Joe Parslow

What does it mean to be committed to hope in an age of increasing homophobia? What do understandings and images (or imaginings) of utopia really have to offer in light of the quotidian lived experience of being unsafe on the streets for queer bodies?

My research commits itself, however embarrassingly, to utopia as a viable project and a valid form of social critique. José Muñoz, in his compelling exploration of queer utopias, notes that “social theory that invokes the concept of utopia has always been vulnerable to charges of naïveté, impracticality, or lack of rigour” (Muñoz, 2009: 10). However, drawing from writers such as Fiona Buckland, Elizabeth Freeman, J. Halberstam, and Muñoz himself, this paper makes the case for utopia not only as an imagining of another world, but as an active critique of the present.

Starting from a critical understanding that reports of homophobic and transphobic crime is on the rise in the UK, this paper argues that, more than ever, utopia is an essential form of survival for queer bodies. Focussing on a drag performance which imagines utopia (and demands we imagine utopia), I argue that these imaginings offer not just an alternative worldview in the face of homophobia, but an active critique of the increasingly phobic straight present. Furthermore, in imagining utopia, these performances offer hope (critical hope) as a starting point, a place from which we can stand up straight (or queer) in the face of violence, and demand a better world.
Joe Parslow is a PhD Candidate at the Royal Central School of Speech and Drama and a lecturer teaching across the fields of drama, theatre and performance. Their research focuses around drag performance, and the potential ways in which queer communities can and do emerge in contemporary London, particularly around performance. Alongside their research, Joe is the co-Director of queer bar, performance and cabaret space Her Upstairs and queer club space Them Downstairs in Camden, London, which house performance events from across the drag, queer and cabaret scene in London and beyond.

  • Playing ‘Yindao’ in China. Chengyu Tan

Yindao’, in Chinese means vagina, an unsaybale word, which has also suggested an unspeakble gendered experience of women in China. On the other side of the world, The Vagina Monologues(1996), written and initially performed by American playwright Eve Ensler has quickly expanded to a global campaign and performed internationally. Activists in China are also inspired by this play. Journey of The Vagina Monologues in China sets off from a small stage in Guangdong Museum of Arts in 2003. From then on, the play has been brought to differrent cities in China and has been adapted into several versions both by official theatres and non-governmental organizations. The most recent performance is a bilingual version staged in February 2017 in Shanghai. Looking closely at the production history of The Vagina Monologues in mainland China over the past fifteen years, I will focus on how the production history has formed as an important part of history of feminist movement in China, how it interrogated the progress that feminists and non-governmental women’s group has made in opposing gender-based violence, raising awareness of female body and sexual autonomy, and how feminist movement in China is opening up other area to enhance human rights overall. And most importantly, invetigating who and what has been challenged by this women enlightenment.
Chengyu Tan is a PhD student at Royal Central School of Speech and Drama. Her research interests lie in the area of queer theory, performance and Chinese studies.Part time research student at Central.

  • From the Pretty Orifice of a Morphing Creature: pleasure and pain in Hoax Theatre’s absurdist eco comedy Stuck.
    Jillian Wallis


This paper critically analyses the creative process and performance of Stuck, devised by physical theatre feminists Hoax. It will frame the work as absurdism for our times and draw upon rehearsal documentation and interviews with Hoax actors and guest director Lucy Hopkins, recent thinking on moral decline by activist Naomi Klein (2017), and Martin Heidegger’s notion of the Call of Conscience (1927; 2010).

I will discuss the intrinsic value of shock to tickle an audience member’s own conscience by playing with bodily titillation, revulsion and compassion. How do playful artists whose work is rooted in a Philippe Gaulier ‘pleasure of the performer’ approach, arrive at and then utilize images, text or action that reverberates viscerally within performance? In Stuck, all three characters enjoy physical restrictions – enormous red lifebuoy shaped plastic breasts, unnecessary hiker’s walking sticks, a circular rubber inner tube instead of arms. These adornments have been chosen or unwittingly absorbed, implying a current feeling of obligation to take on and into our bodies. In the performance, a painfully believable, wet shining turd is strained from the anus of a fussy woman; another pretends she is a dog humping her mistress’ leg to a climax. The baseness, the barrenness of being human is here: all we have, and all we are.

I will argue that Stuck is concerned with similar themes of the crisis of self, the relationship between humanity and nature, anxiety and authenticity, as the early male absurdist playwrites such as Beckett and Ionesco but it’s knowingly gendered imagery and use of satire offers a particular kind of shock tactic. A feminist existential drama is here redrawing the lines and boundaries of what is permissible, let alone applaudable, on stage: a place where codes of practice are still mostly authored under a male gaze. As witness to Stuck’s efforts to find form, I will discuss how the Hoax process combined Gaulier’s pleasure of ‘le jeu’, with the pain of yearning for political change.

Jillian Wallis is theatre maker and director, based at the University of Greenwich where she is a Senior Lecturer in Drama. Her research interests focus on physical theatre practices and collaborative forms. Recent projects include The Pub Under the Stairs, featuring live performance and film investigating how we can create a contemporaneous ‘real’ and digital world that feels intact (ACE funded, 2016). Directed and toured Reverie, a mime production with a live musical score. So Pleased To Meet You was a performance she co created around fantasy and virtual interconnectivity (DRHA conference, 2014). Jillian has published articles in the journals Body, Space and Technology, and Scene.

  • Bodies as Sites of Struggle: Embodying Shock and Chaos in the Caring Teaching Practice. Christina Vasileiou


This paper will demonstrate and explore the “dark” aspect of support and care in educational settings, an aspect that is very often censored. By employing a performance perspective, I will focus on bodies and on how these may perform care in schools.

Education is traditionally and conventionally concerned with support, communication, and fulfillment, ideally for both sides of educators and students, operating within discourses that express optimistic and bright visions of development and overall thrive.

In this presentation, however, I will present a different but equally existing, and not delightful aspect of the teaching practice. By drawing on my personal experiences, testimonies and self reflections on my work as a teaching assistant and researcher in SEND (Special Educational Needs and Disabilities) and PRU (Pupil Referral Unit) settings, I will explore the operation of the teacher’s body in ways that involve pain, anger, and dealing with distress and physical violence. I will, therefore, unfold stories of frustration, humiliation and occasionally, chaos, shock, and panic.

I will go into areas of physical contact of pain and violence, and contact with human products like saliva, urine, and feces, in order to show how images, sounds, and sensations may sometimes linger and push the physical and mental states of teachers to the verge of despair. I will eventually, juxtapose these dark states of performing care with educational visions of light and happiness, and critically examine how these binaries may operate together, when big parts of these practices are self-censored and/or omitted from public discussions. I will finally, use these reflections in order to ponder on the truth and meaning of educational practice and myself as a teacher and practitioner, and also to consider how performance theory and practice may enhance teachers’ relationship to their caring role.

Christina Vasileiou is a PhD student in Drama at Guildhall School of Music and Drama. Her research is looking into the performance of care in educational settings and explores care as an embodied part of the teaching practice. Christina holds an MA in Applied Theatre with Distinction (2014) from Royal Central School of Speech and Drama. She shares her time between doing research, teaching in primary education, both in mainstream and SEND sectors, and making theatre with children and communities. She has founded and runs an arts collective for London based mothers from Greece.