To my brother, my friends, to those who are yet to arrive and those who may not; on listening, feeling, and open letters

6:00 – 7:00 PM

In August of 2020, a collectively authored open letter addressed to the field of theatre, dance and performance studies in the UK, entitled  “White Colleague Listen!”, was published. The author of this talk was one of the signatories of that letter. The curious thing about open letters is that they don’t really invite a reply. This was true in the case of “White Colleague Listen!” as it was of the many open letters written and signed by students and faculty of the Global Majority in the summer of 2020. Or rather, open letters are so often met with what ends up feeling like the wrong kind of response—an institutional one that leaves no space for the interpersonal encounters that spark the desire to write the open letter in the first place. It sometimes seems, in our field as in others, there are no actual racists, only de-personalised and emptied “institutional” or “systemic” racism. But who made the bad institution? Who made the bad system? 

“White Colleague Listen!” did receive a reply, in the end: a lyrical and complex piece by Giulia Palladini in the journal Performance Philosophy. In this talk I think through both “White Colleague Listen” and Palladini’s article “To the absent reader” to consider the stakes of our work in transforming the field, an impossible horizon that stretches from epistemology to individual lived experience. The talk takes the form of another letter, but one, this time, which is addressed neither to the field, nor to Palladini’s reply, but to my brother, my friends, to those who are yet to arrive and those who may not. It is addressed to an imagined community, yet to come. I explore how we hear ourselves addressed as both agents of change and subjects in need of changing. Who is being addressed by our efforts to decentre, decolonize and repair the field, our anti-discrimination trainings, and our open letters? And how do we listen? 

Dr Broderick D.V. Chow is Reader in Theatre, Performance and Sport at the Royal Central School of Speech and Drama, University of London. At Central he is Director of Learning, Teaching and Inclusion within the college’s senior leadership team. He is co-editor of Performance and Professional Wrestling (Routledge, 2016) and Sports Plays (August 2021). His forthcoming book Dynamic Tensions explores the origins of men’s fitness practices in UK/US popular theatre. He also has research interests in Philippine commercial theatre and popular music, economies of theatre, and anti-racist and anti-colonial pedagogies. He is a member of ‘Revolution or Nothing’, a network for Black and Global Majority scholars in UK dance, theatre and performance studies, and an advocate for coalitional approaches towards anti-oppression in the academy.