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Keynote address by Paul Allain

PAUL ALLAIN is Professor of Theatre and Performance and the Dean of the Graduate School at the University of Kent, Canterbury.He is a world-leading expert on Polish theatre and Jerzy Grotowski. After collaborating with Gardzienice Theatre Association, on whom he wrote the first book in English which came out of his PhD at the University of London, he worked extensively in the UK as Movement Director, most notably with Katie Mitchell on nine productions. He has published several books, DVDs and articles on theatre and actor training as both author and editor.


Space Invaders or Alien Friends? Close Encounters of a Theatrical Kind

Late twentieth century theatre history was notable for the movement of certain key experimental theatre directors and groups from cities into the countryside, across Europe and in Asia too. The list is long, but Polish company Gardzienice and Japanese director Tadashi Suzuki stand out. Their quest came out of a desire for radical change, shared by many others. They were, though, not the first: Konstantin Stanislavski and Jacques Copeau both relocated to the countryside, albeit temporarily, and other much older models, from Noh to ancient Greek theatre, also paved the way.
This talk will briefly trace key aspects of this theatre history, asking what made these pioneers move, what they sought, and what lessons we might learn from them for theatre-making today. How did other spaces and ‘new natural environments’ change training and acting, group dynamics, understanding of and encounters with an audience? Are such Romantic models still desirable and do artists still have such a choice? Or has choice now become urgent need in this age of mass migration?


  • JOHN FOX (Dead Good Guides, UK)
    John Fox was the Artistic Director of Welfare State International (WSI, 1968-2006) which he founded with Sue Gill in 1968. The company, which was based in Ulverston, Cumbria, has received numerous awards and was described in the Guardian Guide (November 2001) as "Britain's foremost alternative performance and installation collective." In 1991 and 1998 John Fox was given prestigious Northern Electric Awards for his "outstanding, vital and innovative contribution to the cultural identity of the North." Resident in Barrow-in-Furness from 1983 to 1990, WSI inspired its ongoing strategy for the arts. From 1990 to 2006 it instigated the cultural regeneration of Ulverston through numerous festivals and rebuilding its headquarters, Lanternhouse, a £2.2 million international centre, which has received accolades from both the Civic Trust and the Royal Institute of British Architects. WSI's work is documented in "Engineers of the Imagination" published by Methuen, which has been reprinted five times since 1983. In 2002 John wrote an autobiographical book for Methuen (July 2002). Called "Eyes on Stalks", a rollercoaster stomp through WSI's adventurous history. It covers many of the prototypes – fire festivals, lantern parades, rites of passage, community carnivals and site-specific theatre, which have had a world-wide influence on the celebratory arts movement. John Fox creates woodcuts and paintings, is a published poet and an occasional musician. He lectures regularly on themes of art and creativity at universities and conferences at home and abroad. In 2006 he received an Arts Council England (ACE) Life Time’s Achievement Award: “An immense influence on three generations of artists, teachers and administrators, both in this country and throughout the world.” In 2012 he was awarded an MBE: “Unstinting contribution as an inventor of forms of creative participation and celebration. As a leading exponent of celebratory arts in the UK you have inspired and trained hundreds of community leaders across the UK.” Currently editing “You Never Know” – a collection of his poetry and creating “Wildernest” – a devotional sculpture garden on the shore of Morecambe Bay in Cumbria (NW England). Also directing Dead Good Guides (from 2006) with Sue Gill. For more information on John's ongoing work see
  • SUE GILL (Dead Good Guides, UK)
    Sue Gill is co-founder of Welfare State International and has worked in celebratory theatre in diverse communities for almost forty years. Lecturer, author, broadcaster, performer, celebrant, singer, [retired] truck driver, cook and workshop leader. Sue has long experience in finding new ways of marking milestones in our lives with special events for weddings, namings, retirements, memorial gatherings and many other important occasions and transitions. With her colleague Gilly Adams she runs an annual programme of Rites of Passage workshops for secular celebrants. From 1980 to 2006 she co-ordinated Welfare State International's education and training programme, leading summer schools' workshops in the UK, Denmark, Portugal, Australia, Canada and the USA. She frequently lectures within fields of arts and health, celebratory arts, and rites of passage and was the main celebrant for a Service of Remembrance at Great Ormond Street Hospital (in connection with reconciling the retained organs issue with bereaved families). Sue is a speaker on Dead Good Funerals and Green Burials at conferences. Co-author with John Fox of The Dead Good Guides to Funerals and Namings and Baby Welcoming Ceremonies. These publications link with workshops for those who want to learn how to create significant ceremonies for themselves or for other people. Sue’s recent publicaton, “In all My Born Days” (2021, ISBN: 978-0-9568583-7-5) is a beautiful, inspiring, funny and important book. It has structure and enormous heart and speaks to an exceptional life lived, attending to the ordinary and the everyday with wonder. Ancestral memories, traveller’s tales, fieldwork, family life, feasting and ceremony. Taken together they create a portrait of a woman who values the extraordinary in the everyday. Sue continues to work with John Fox as part of Dead Good Guides.
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