Thinking with Theatre
The Sympoiesis of Theatre for Early Years
Making theatre for young children is an art of interdisciplinarity. Music and sound, dancing and movement, scenery and visuals, drama, text or poetry will mix together and affect all the senses of a child. This crossing and mixing might be an art in itself, and requires some tools of understanding. Not at least because our world has become so complex and difficult to sort out, and the need for deep thoughts and thorough thinking about what we are doing and making is urgent. The human footprints are soon covering up the whole field, and our sounds are drowning birdsong and whispering trees. How can theatre contribute to understanding this, to be quiet and listen to nonhuman beings?
In my theatre work for Early Years, I have been asking for concepts and searching for methods that can help us to be better capable of being present, to listen and to play (Hovik, 2019). Through acting and making presence together with each other and with the young children audience we hope to make new poetic experiences. In the times of writing this text, the concept of sympoiesis have been helpful, and I will explain how I have tried to use the term in relation to my artistic research.
My latest artistic research project Neither Fish nor Fowl, consists of two performances Beginnings (3-5 years) and Baby Becomings (0-2 years). Together with my company Teater Fot I have been investigating the significance of affect as philosophical, emotional, and material inspiration in Theatre for Early Years (Teater Fot, 2018) The affects of this performance work was initially inspired by Deleuze & Guattaris Thousand Plateaus (1984), and the research methods were theatre making, film making, and writing.
By reading and writing through the process I discovered the philosophies of Donna Haraway and her conception of sympoiesis (Haraway, 2016). Haraway proposes new ways of thinking with other species in an ongoing process of what she terms ‘sympoietic becoming’. Humans are not exceptional beings, but equal to every other species on our planet, in an ongoing rearrangement of cells, organisms, microbes and earthly compost. We eat and are eaten, we infect and become infected, we affect and become affected by one another in a process of ongoing creation or sympoiesis (sym - meaning ‘with/together with’, and ποίησις /poiesis (Aristotle) meaning ‘creation, production’). Haraways conception of sym-poietic becoming is in dialogue with auto-poiesis which (in biology and environmental studies) refers to a system capable of reproducing and maintaining itself. Autopoietic units tend to be centrally controlled, homeostatic and predictable. Sympoietic systems are on the contrary collectively producing systems that do not have self defined spatial or temporal boundaries. Information and control are distributed among components. The sympoietic systems are evolutionary and have the potential for surprising change. Haraway argues that we can no longer think in terms of autopoietic systems, and that sympoietic understandings are needed to think with both human and nonhuman ecologies, evolution and development. Following Haraway, sympoiesis also work with history, affects, performances, technologies, and more (Haraway, 2016, p. 63). She calls for "art science worldings" as sympoietc practices for living on a damaged planet (p. 67), and give interesting examples from projects working across art and science disciplines.
The creative processes of artmaking are in general compatible with the idea of collective creation, sympoiesis. Theatre are never a work by one artist, or one art discipline. There will be sympoiesis in coproduction and collective creative processes of assemblage. Artforms merge and play together, not only in the making, but also in the performance events. Sympoiesis in theatre is about how music affects movement, and how movement affects materials. Materials are affected by human hands and feet, and the bodies are in turn touched by the materials. The materiality of singing and drumming affects the musicians bodily actions in the performance space, and the vibrations make the children audience move.
All the art disciplines of theatre (scenography, music, acting) affect each other, and are able to connect in the present moment of poiesis, in different and mutual ways. In this way it is possible to understand and maybe develop a philosophy for Theatre for Early Years. The sensuous worlds of children, and the ways in which children themselves make sympoietic becomings, will be guiding the art.
Deleuze, G & Guattari, F (1987) Thousand Plateaus. Continuum, London
Haraway, D. (2016) Staying with the trouble. Duke University Press
Hovik, L. (2019) Becoming Small. Concepts and Methods of Interdisciplinary Practice in Theatre for Early Years. Youth Theatre Journal, 2019
https://doi.org/10.1080/08929092.2019.1580647 (in publication process)
Teater Fot (2018) Neither Fish nor Fowl. www.teaterfot.no