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"These were incredible teaching experiences for me"

Terry O'Connor
Photo: Hugo Gelndinning

Faculty of Fine and Performing arts has named professor and artistic performer Terry O'Connor (UK) their Honorary Doctor 2022.

Have you had any professional relations to Sweden and Scandinavia during your career?

-I have often travelled to Scandinavia to perform and love to visit. Forced Entertainment was, I think, first invited to Bergen a couple of decades ago and then we made artistic connections in Oslo, Stockholm, Trondheim, Gothenburg and Copenhagen. We have some very dear friends and supporters of the company’s work In Scandinavia and I think we all remember some great nights of talking and drinking after the show with people who had a real impact on our work and our understanding of what theatre could be.

-We were amazed at first to think that there would be such enthusiasm in Scandinavia for a small company from Sheffield and enjoyed the fact that experimental theatre seemed to occupy such a vital part of Scandinavian culture.

-Later, I also taught practitioners in Bergen, Oslo and Copenhagen and again came away thinking about the support artists got to experiment in these cities. We had a great week in Oslo when we were awarded the Ibsen International Award for contributions to theatre in 2016. It was a chance for us to present a selection of work. It was a chance to talk with our Scandinavian theatre friends for a week.

Have you also had relations to Malmö? 

-Yes, it was also whilst on tour in Copenhagen that I met Ditte (Maria Berg) and later she invited me to teach some intensive workshop interventions at the Malmo Theatre Academy. Again, these were incredible teaching experiences for me. The students were brilliant and though one group had 30 people in it (a lot for practice work), I remember we made a great short piece of work over three days, exploring what a group that size could do. It was actually very moving to be making something with so many people. I remember some of the students introducing a traditional song to the process and the whole group singing this song about a troll, a cappella. Sounds unlikely, but in the audience we were moved to tears.

Previous workshop by Terry O'Connor at Malmö Theatre Academy

What questions do you raise and focus on in your research and teaching assignments?

-My research work has focused on collaborative methodologies for theatre making and most recently the improvisation of text in and beyond the post dramatic canon. I am investigating text improvisation in contexts outside of theatre as a way to work with groups who are not necessarily drawn to work with acting and theatre. Really it’s a way of providing frameworks for people to explore their own relationships with language and the identities it can create and to put play into the mix of our understanding of how spoken language can work.

-Whilst I love performing and working in theatres, I am also interested in the way that theatre makers have skills and ask questions about being and talking that can be radical approaches outside of the theatrical context. I am working with a group of young people who have taught me a lot about Dungeons and Dragons at the moment. Individuals who would not talk at all at the beginning of  working in a group are now talking enthusiastically about their own interests. My question is about whether this approach to improvising speech can be a playful alternative to the more confessional autobiographical approach often used when making texts with groups, and whether such text-based games can help us be together in other ways than theatre.

Malmö Theatre Academy are about to launch a new Master’s programme in Performing Arts as critical practice – what are your experiences with this?

- I think the new Master’s programme sounds great. We have always believed that the performing arts were best when connected to other art forms and other discourses. Finding ways to work together in a group, (hopefully in the same room but these days also on zoom) is a fundamentally critical practice. 

Terry O'Connor will receive her honorary doctorate at Lund University's doctoral ceremony on 3 June in Lund Cathedral. On 2 June, a workshop and public lecture with O'Connor will be held at Malmö Theatre Academy.