Next, McCaffrey takes Paris
CPIT theatre tutor Tony MCCaffrey has been discovered by a global community of like-minded thinkers, philosophers and practitioners.
His work into intellectual disability performance is now taking him to Paris where he will present a paper at the Theater, Performance, Philosophy (TPP) Conference (Transfers in Anglo-American Thought) at the University of Paris-Sorbonne at the end of the month.
McCaffrey is in good company. The conference programme is a ‘Who’s Who’ of the growing new field of Performance Philosophy, with renowned American philosopher Judith Butler amongst the 100 scholars and performers from 23 countries at the event. McCaffrey is the only participant from New Zealand.
His presentation, ‘How are we supposed to respond?: The presence of performers perceived to have intellectual disabilities interrogating ethics and spectatorship in contemporary performance’, results from PhD research at the University of Canterbury investigating The Politics and Aesthetics of Disability Performance.
“There’s a new area called Performance Philosophy which asks in what way performance is a kind of philosophy, or how does performance relate to philosophy? You look at the fact that when someone sees a compelling or beautiful movement on stage there are mirror neurons that operate in the body that feel that movement in some way. This becomes quite interesting when you put people with intellectual disabilities into the mix because their presence does something else: it does something different and interesting to how people without disabilities think and feel about themselves.
CPIT Creative Industries tutor Tony McCaffrey working with A Different Light theatre performers. (Photo credit: Stuart Lloyd-Harris).
“Lots of scholars have said that whenever there is someone with a disability around there is always a social performance. If a person is in a wheelchair, for example, and I am not, do I try to get down to their level? Do I continue to stand up? Do I try to be overly matey? Do I do my best to ignore their disability? There is an ethical nicety around disability which raises interesting questions about how we relate to each other much more fundamentally than in the casual encounter.”
McCaffrey’s interest in disability performance grew with his work with A Different Light theatre company, for which he directed and devised challenging works with performers who have intellectual disabilities. The company has also collaborated with Free Theatre in Christchurch on post-earthquake productions including An Earthquake in Chile and Canterbury Tales.
A Different Light performed in Leeds for Ludus Festival, McCaffrey attended conferences in California and Santiago, Chile, and at each event he made connections with other companies and researchers around the world.
Following Paris, McCaffrey visits the Performance Studies International Conference - Avant-garde, Tradition, Community in Shanghai.
Internationally, Christchurch is now recognised to be at the forefront of this research. Leading international disability culture activist and scholar Dr Petra Kuppers (Performance and disability studies, University of Michigan) visited Christchurch this year and included extracts from A Different Light production, Still, Lives in her book Disability and Contemporary Performance: Bodies on Edge.
A Different Light has also featured in the Australasian Drama Studies journal, Bree Hadley’s (Queensland University of Technology, Senior Lecturer in Performance Studies in the Creative Industries Faculty) book Disability, Public Space Performance and Spectatorship, and Rebellious Mirrors by long time theatre maker and author New Zealander Dr Paul Maunder.McCaffrey acknowledged the support from CPIT which has made his work and his research possible.