Theatres Seed Fund: Report by Dr Peter Hommel

Dr Peter Hommel successfully applied for the Theatres Seed Fund 2018/2019. Here, he reports back on his collaborative project with the Oxford Playhouse.

In July 2019, with the help of a TORCH Theatres Seed Fund grant, Dr Peter Bray and I worked to develop a new connection between the School of Archaeology and the Oxford Playhouse around the theme of materials, technologies and society. In particular, we hoped to investigate a possible convergence of interest in the performative aspects of traditional craft production.

This idea emerged from a connected series of public engagement activities and events designed as a supplement to the ERC-funded FLAME project (flame.arch.ox.ac.uk), which is carrying out an extensive programme of research into prehistoric metals across Eurasia. 

As a result, we initially focussed our discussions on the acts of transformation, production and reproduction which are inherent to the creation of metal objects. We brought members of the Playhouse theatre into the field and introduced them to the sensory experience of primary metallurgy.

Around the furnace, we discussed how skills from the performing arts and technical theatre might contribute to the way we conduct our engagement activities, we began to consider how this dramatic process of transformation could be translated safely into the theatre environment  and, most importantly, we began to shape the narratives in which such a performance would make sense.As a result of these discussions, we broadened our focus in a number of directions.

Together with members of the Theatre, the School of Archaeology and key external partners we outlined two basic concepts around which to seek creative input from other theatre makers and performers (as well as and practical professional advice on funding opportunities from expert fundraisers within the theatre). 

Productive Society—From deeply embedded in society to almost entirely divorced from our experience, our relationships to the act of material production have changed dramatically over the last 50,000 years. Our relationships with the productive process has a lot to do with the way we value our material culture—disposability, interaction, social division, material value could be explored as well as the way in which skilled practice in any field (whether craft, music, art, theatre) changes the way we perceive and value ourselves, our society and the world around us. 

(Heart)h—somewhat connected to the ideas above, we would aim to use fire to connect the present and the past (both physically as a central focus of both the physical stage, and conceptually as a focus around which to explore how fire both connects and divide us from each other. Notions of cyclicity were considered (e.g. opening scene of craft production revisited as archaeologists excavate and discuss the interpretation of the same structures etc.). Potential to explore major changes in social engagement, social exclusion, digital hearths/social networks, continuity and transformation.

Although these ideas are still in their first iteration, we hope that we will be able to develop them actively over the coming year.

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