For the next issue of ‘About Performance’, we invite submissions dealing with aesthetic and social performance practices in contexts where the fields of arts and health collide or coalesce.

Artists and healers have long had an interest in each other’s affairs — the connections run as wide as the figure of the shaman across so many of the world’s cultures and at least as far back as Aristotle when he cites the medicinal effect of certain melodies as an analogue to the cathartic effect of tragedy.

Today, increasingly, we see health professionals turning towards performance-makers and other creative artists for support with a myriad of tasks: improving the amenity of hospitals and other health workplaces; enhancing our understanding of, and respect for, the patient experience; promoting better health and wellbeing in the wider community; helping to train health professionals in the supposedly ‘softer’ skills of their craft (ethical practice, teamwork, inter professionalism, ‘sympathetic presence’ and empathy).

Broadly speaking, the agenda here is one of ‘re-humanising’ the practice of healthcare, of re-evaluating skills and recommitting to values that seem under threat in many health systems. At the same time, many artists, including artist-patients, as well as scholars in health humanities and related disciplines, would want to extend this agenda to include a more rigorous critique of the underlying factors that place at risk a society’s capacity to care: the barriers of prejudice, discrimination, poverty and other social determinants of health; the rise of managerialism with its constant demands for ‘efficiency dividends’; the increasing specialisation within health professions; the hierarchical culture of health workplaces and the attendant bullying and harassment experienced by many workers; the particular challenges of caring for an ageing population, and so on.

The arts in health are important therefore not just as an aesthetic supplement to the core business of healthcare or even as a model of the ‘care-full’ social performances we would hope to see more regularly and successfully enacted between health professionals, patients, their families and communities. Aesthetic performance practices might also offer the necessary distance for health professionals and health consumers to become critically reflexive—to see more clearly what values and identities are (re)produced by the performativity of health systems—and to intervene in processes of systemic change.

Authors are invited to propose an article for this issue of ‘About Performance’ which may wish to consider, but need not be restricted to, questions such as the following:

Innovation and risk in arts-in-health practice

Arguably, the early development of health humanities bought into the notion that lessons in empathy could be learned from exposure to a canon of ‘great’ artworks, as if by osmosis, without bothering to critique the assumptions underpinning this canon. How have these assumptions been challenged in contemporary arts-in-health practice? How are artists engaging with the interests and experience of people whose lives were never well represented in the canon: people of colour, women, LGBTQI people, differently-abled people, people living lives marked by deprivation and precarity? What new genres of arts-in-health practice are emerging? Where are the influences coming from? What are the ‘affordances’ of different genres? The default assumption seems to be that the arts are a safe way of dealing with difficult issues but the arts in health can also be very invasive— what is at stake and what is there to gain in these interdisciplinary dialogues?

Art or instrument?

Despite the openness of health professionals towards arts-in-health practices, the blunt realities of health funding require that they be able to prove the arts provide good ‘bang for buck’. What claims to efficacy are being made on behalf of ‘applied theatre’ or other arts-in health practices? How are such claims evaluated and how robust are the findings? What matters of substance fall below the radar when discussion of arts-in-health practice must be shaped to match the distinctive disciplinary norms of arts/humanities and health
scholarship, respectively? What do the encounters between arts practitioners and health professionals reveal about the logics of practice in these fields?

Affect, Embodiment and Agency

If, as James Thompson and others have argued, the affective dimensions of performance are every bit as important as any instrumental efficacy, what do we know about the ways in which these affective relations between performers and audiences work? What would a Geertzian ‘thick description’ of the processes by which an arts-in-health project unfolds look like? How do modes of embodied, inter-corporeal engagement between participants in an arts-in-health project compare to the everyday social performances within health settings? What sort of agency is involved when health consumers, including artist-patients, are using the arts to interrogate their experiences within health systems, reappropriating, for instance, the technologies of medicine and recycling its products in artistic projects that don’t always have neat and predictable objectives?

Questions of culture

How do patients, family members, nurses, doctors and allied health workers learn to play their respective roles within health settings? How are their interactions potentially influenced by representations of health practices in art and popular culture? Where and how does performance explicitly come into the training of health professionals? How is the potential of arts-in-health practice constrained or enabled in different ways in particular cultural contexts? How well do the assumptions underpinning various arts-in-health practices travel between different cultures?


Submission Details and Information about the Journal

In the first instance please send proposals/abstracts (200-300 words)  (for SSSHARC Retreat Participants) to the Issue Editors of ‘About Performance ‘#18 to:

Dr Paul Dwyer (
Mr James Dalton (
Department of Theatre and Performance Studies
Woolley Building (A20), Manning Road
The University of Sydney, NSW, 2006

Please include a brief outline of your institutional affiliation, recent publications or creative work, your postal and email addresses. We will notify you within a month as to whether proposal has been accepted.

The deadline for completed articles (normally between 6000 to 8000 words in length) is 30 September 2019 (for SSSHARC Retreat Participants). Articles are then submitted to a peer review process and any suggested revisions are to be completed by 31 January 2020.

This issue of the journal will be published in June 2020.

‘About Performance’ is published by Sydney University Press and the Department of Theatre and Performance Studies at the University of Sydney. The journal is available in print and online. Articles are peer reviewed in accordance with guidelines of the federal Department of Education and Training and the Australian Research Council.

For more information, including the contents of previous issues, please go to:

Photo by Wendy Wei from Pexels
Posted by Dr Paul Dwyer, Senior Lecturer, Department of Theatre and Performance Studies, Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences, University of Sydney