Natalie Lazaroo and Izzaty Ishak: The tyranny of (emotional) distance?: Emotional labour and safe space in applied theatre work

This paper considers how ‘tyranny of distance’ may be re-imagined as the ways in which the applied theatre facilitator effectively manages the emotional distance (or closeness) that arises when working with participants from different backgrounds, some of whom experience exclusion.

This paper takes as its theoretical starting points two ideas:(1) Sheila Preston’s (2013) discussion of emotional labour; and (2) ‘safe space’ as explored by Mary Ann Hunter (2008). It considers how ‘tyranny of distance’ may be re-imagined as the ways in which the applied theatre facilitator effectively manages the emotional distance (or closeness) that arises when working with participants from different backgrounds, some of whom experience exclusion. What are the specific ‘feeling rules’ that govern the shared space? What effect does emotional labour have on both the facilitator and participants? By bringing emotional labour into conversation with safe space, we consider the conditions necessary for the creation of a safe space to effectively engage in emotional work for those involved. This collaborative paper between researcher and applied theatre facilitator (themselves working across a ‘tyranny of distance’) draws on interviews and reflective journals as informing data.

Natalie Lazaroo has a PhD from Griffith University (Brisbane), where she is currently lecturing. Her doctoral research was an ethnographic study of the community performance work of Vulcana Women’s Circus. Natalie’s research interests include applied and community performance, feminist theatre, physical theatre, disability studies and research methodologies.

Izzaty Ishak is an applied theatre practitioner and community worker in Beyond Social Services. She leads The Community Theatre performance where she brings youths from various income class to devise and perform social issues in low-income communities. As a practitioner, she has worked in various communities such as people with dementia, prisoners, vulnerable youths and families at risk.

Natalie and Izzaty are collaboratively exploring the possibilities of research and practice through friendship as method and narrative inquiry

Chris Blois-Brooke (Founder & Director)
An Applied Theatre Practitioner with experience in international Drama Education, Community Theatre and Theatre for Development, Chris’ ongoing research interests centre around the documentation of Community Performance practice for the purposes of monitoring & evaluation, advocacy and training. Recent projects include facilitating participatory documentation of Community Circus, Dance, Theatre and Storytelling practice in Ethiopia, South Africa and Zambia, documenting large conferences around the world, as well as conducting Impact Assessment studies for organisations in the UK and USA. His other work includes Arts-based Curriculum Development consultancy, as well as authoring other Evaluative Research projects.