Tag Archives: research

Paddy Masefield: still sending out shock waves and unsettling foundations

It’s been a hectic few months what with Treasured at the Cathedral, the Serbian and Macedonian visit, the business start up work at Liverpool Vision and the myriad of other activities we are musing about, thinking of and trying to lay the foundations for. Paddy’s commemoration means that I can get away for a few days and think about all that fragmentation and stresses and strains in an environment which is a little quieter and offers the opportunity to reassess exactly what it is we want from the world ahead.

This was Paddy’s legacy for me. Working with him both at LIPA and within Aspire during times of organisational growth and stress and challenge meant that you had to step back from the common place, the usual, the humdrum, and completely reassess what we were doing, how we were doing it, and why we doing it at all.

His work with us at LIPA on establishing Solid Foundations sent powerful shock waves through the organisation, challenging established ways of thinking about disability, ability, arts training, arts development and who had a right in the first place to stand on stage and command attention.

His work meant we had to rethink everything about the student experience; how they got into HE, what he meant by accredited prior learning, the integrated curriculum and student progression. This of course had a direct impact on the students who joined solid foundations – but it’s impact and his influence were more wide ranging.

It meant that students on the so called mainstream programmes had to address their own concepts of identity, of ability and what was being asked of them when it came to not only developing and devising new work, but what it meant to rethink traditional ways of acting, of music making, and of dance for example. It meant that staff had to rethink how impairment might inform the student assessment process for example and whether there were other insights that disabled staff could bring to the process that couldn’t be accessed by their nondisabled counterparts. Far from providing solid foundations, Paddy was instrumental in rocking the very foundations which we thought held up conservatoire arts training in the UK.

Paddy’s influence was felt by many students and staff, although many may not have met him in their times at LIPA. Many of them are still working and have gone onto great things, Mark Rowlands, Mandy Redvers Rowe and Jaye Wilson Bowe to name just a few. I’d like to thank you Paddy for giving me that space to rethink, to replay and regalvanise. Your shock waves are still rocking our foundations to this day.

Testimonial for Paddy Masefield, 20 October 2012
Battersea Arts Centre, London

The Research Interview as Performance

The research interview can be viewed in dramaturgical terms and the concept of performing in interview contexts is explored albeit somewhat superficially by Pam Shakespeare in her work on the subject of the confused talk of people with dementia (Shakespeare, 1993: 95).  She uses the metaphor of theatrical imagery to understand the processes behind her interviews and uses the metaphors of ‘overture and beginners’, ‘researcher as actor’, ‘scene stealing’, ‘improvising’, ‘researcher as director’, ‘dying on stage’, ‘out of the spotlight’, ‘asides’ and ‘the final curtain’.   Whilst she readily admits that this is not a disciplined dramaturgical interpretation qua Goffman (Shakespeare, 1993: 97),  Goffman on the other hand proposes a number of concepts which have a significant resonance in the processes of the research interview: these include The Drama, Front, Credibility, Signs and Signifiers, Appearance and Manner, Risk Taking, Front Stage, Back Stage and Off Stage amongst others (Goffman, 1959).

In performance terms, the interview  can also be conceived of as a combination of varying degrees of structure, flow, and rapport which the interviewer needs to control by the judicious use of structured moments, improvised moments and free form. As such, the interview resembles  a  jazz composition more than a pop song or symphony, both of which are highly structured events, albeit spread over significantly different periods of time.

The challenge for the semi-structured research interview is to find the balance between structure and improvisation, itself a common issue in the performing arts; too much structure can make a piece predictable and boring; too little can produce chaos, confusion and end up leaving the listener disconnected from the performance experience.  A similar heuristic applies to the performance of the interview too; a balance of structure and improvisation is important for both participants’ continued interest and engagement in the process although what cannot be forgotten in that balance is the question of who initiated the interview and for what purpose. Paynter (200:8)  offers another interpretation from the practice of musical composition: On the subject of children’s poem David Holbrook (1967:8) says, ‘the least piece of writing, if the teacher has established the context for proper ‘giving’, will be a ‘meant gift’’.  We can apply that to school pupils’ composing.  The music they make is ‘offered’ to us and should be received in that same spirit.  In my experience there is always something of genuine musical worth to be discussed as seriously as we would with recognised master-works.

Paynter’s view of composition as a gift of improvisation, redolent of the structure of a piece of jazz music suggests that the interview process can be viewed in a similar light: a form of expression,  a gift,  which speaks of that artist’s (or interviewee’s) hopes, fears and emotions albeit  in a response to questions by the viewer (or inter-viewer).  In this interpretation, the interview process is potentially a constructive process as a  synthesis of new ideas and knowledge arises as a result of the interactions between interviewer and interviewee.