New analytical tool brings normative structures out of the shadows
Choosing the path of least resistance is inherent to human nature. Ingrained norms and stereotypes have a tendency to take over in art, the working world and interpersonal relationships. A new tool brings these preconceptions out into the open.
The Power of Friction project introduces Teatercentrum’s analytical tool to promote diversity in the performing arts. The model is constructed to reflect the choices we make and their impact on both form and content. Following four productions at the 2018 Performing Arts Biennial for Children and Youth (bibu), Teatercentrum will use the tool to a conduct a dialogue with the audience.
“Normative analysis is a theoretical exercise,” Teatercentrum Chair Jenny Forslund says. “Normative creativity applies the analysis to the real world. The tool consists of both quantitative and qualitative questions about a number of categories in which performers make choices.”
“This isn’t some kind checklist or cheat sheet for judging right and wrong,” National Director Lena Gustafsson says. “The ultimate purpose is to encourage introspection and reflection. Answering the questions brings our observations and experiences during performances into relief. What we are really trying to do is help everyone become more aware of the various parts that make up the whole. Both theatres and publicists can use to tool to spur normative creativity.”
Teatercentrum members adopted a diversity policy in 2015. “That might sound like a cliché,” Jenny Forslund says, “but we felt that an openhearted discussion was way overdue. It didn’t take us long to realise that a lot more needed to be done. The Power of Friction project focuses on skills for ensuring the greatest possible diversity in the performing arts. The Swedish Postcode Foundation finances the various activities.”
The tool will be available to the public, both as a folder and as a downloadable file on the Teatercentrum website. So what is the difference between the tool and a checklist anyway? The answer is that each quantitative question has an open-ended follow-up. Whose narrative is it? Do the characters have potential for development? What version of reality is presented? The goal is to provide scope for the kind of complexity that has too often been missing.
“A theatre can use the tool for evaluation purposes,” Lena Gustafsson says. “Did the production turn out the way we had planned? Stereotypes and normative structures typically remain hidden until you step back and see the big picture. The tool offers a platform for an earnest discussion.”
“The Power of Friction is an evocative name,” Jenny Forslund says. “If you don’t want art to become stiff and lifeless, you need to identify points of resistance and find your way past them. Our job is to open the door to normative creativity, not wait until we have all the answers in black and white.”
“Anything is possible,” Lena Gustafsson says and quickly corrects herself, “What we actually need to do is expand our horizons. We miss concrete opportunities for change by remaining oblivious to limitations and reductionist impulses. We can’t be afraid to explore the decisions we make about the stories we tell and our methods for conveying them. We have got into the habit of avoiding confrontation. Now is the time to employ the power of friction to catch ourselves before oversimplification gains the upper hand. The next question is, ‘Can we find more useful and dynamic means of expression?’”
“Being reminded of the shortcuts you choose in your life and work is a bracing experience,” Jenny Forslund says. “These questions represent a sterling opportunity to stop for a minute instead of turning our heads when inconvenient truths come our way. We’re looking forward to a playful and engaging dialogue with the audience at bibu. The idea is not to restrict freedom of choice, but to raise consciousness and hopefully become even better at what we do.”
The Teatercentrum performances at bibu were assigned by lot among the various theatres that indicated their interest: