- Performance and Health
Historically, performance and health have not exactly been seen as happy bedfellows. Early philosophers in ancient Rome warned about the hazards of histrionics with lurid examples of an actor going mad after playing a madman, or imitating the symptoms of gout with such conviction that the actor, in turn, contracted the disease. On the seventeenth-century French stage, the tragic actor Montdory is said to have re-ignited medical inquiries into the acting profession when his tragic turn in the role of Herod induced an apoplectic fit forever paralyzing his tongue (Roach 49). According to the seventeenth-century physician and author Edmund Gayton, the only cure for those "who have 'counterfeited' the passions for any extended period of time" is medicine or liquor (48)—a prescription that might explain the well-entrenched tradition of heading to the bar for a stiff drink after a rehearsal or performance.
In more recent times, health studies and performance studies have too rarely walked hand-in-hand despite their mutual interest in the practical relations between human bodies and their environments. When we think of health studies, we all too often imagine a world of scientific objectivism in which there is little room for human emotion but much concentration on "correcting" the failures of an assortment of body parts. Yet since 1948, the World Health Organization has defined "health" in a way that we could easily imagine being adapted to describe the state to which many utopian performance practices aspire: "Health is a state of complete physical, mental and social well-being and not merely the absence of disease or infirmity" (World Health Organization). How then to understand the tensions and possibilities inherent in the historically fraught coupling of health and performance? One starting point is an exploration of the professed boundary between the different ways of knowing that are central to contemporary health and performance studies. [End Page 3] Approaches to health studies are most often anchored in what Dwight Conquergood has called "empirical observation and critical analysis from a distanced perspective" or "a view from above the object of inquiry" (146). On the other side of this boundary, performance is built around a way of knowing that Conquergood has described as "grounded in active, intimate, hands-on participation and personal connection … a view from ground level, in the thick of things" (146). It is worth remembering, however, that Conquergood also tells us "a boundary is more like a membrane than a wall" (145). The curiosity of researchers and artists who want to know what might flow through the health/performance boundary if we understand it as a permeable membrane, rather than as a wall, is at the core of this issue of CTR.
As editors, our initial inspiration for this issue came from hearing about a number of different projects initiated by health researchers who wanted to work with performing artists in "knowledge translation" projects designed to promote an understanding of what health problems feel like for the people who experience them. After the Crash, the script in this issue, is an important example of the kind of theatrical performance that is being developed through this kind of collaboration between scientific and artistic researchers. As playwright Julia Gray explains in her introduction to the script, the process of finding ways to theatricalize scientific research on the struggles of people working through brain injury rehabilitation was not a simple one, nor was it free of conflict. But despite (or perhaps because of) the struggles involved in bringing scientific and artistic understandings of the impact of brain injury together, the resulting performances have created occasions where brain injury survivors, health administrators, health researchers, clinicians, and artists can cross social and professional boundaries to meet around a common experience. Similar themes are taken up in Katherine Boydell's article about scientists and artists working together to communicate the experience of first episode psychosis in young people. Boydell points out how the medium of research-based dance performance created opportunities to address social and emotional impacts of health and illness that are too often invisible in academic discourse. In their article on I'm Still Here, a play...