The Shape of a Thought: A Made-Up Game: Narrative Preoccupations in Contemporary Performance

Deborah Pearson

Research output: ThesisDoctoral Thesis

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This practice-based thesis asks, “In what unique ways can contemporary performance address our preoccupations with narrative?” It reframes what are frequently discussed in screenwriting handbooks as “the rules of storytelling” as “narrative conventions,” then asks what central cognitive preoccupations lie behind these conventions. This research addresses narrative preoccupations from the unique position that contemporary performance occupies in an arts ecology, posited between theatre and visual art, allowing artists to implement narrative conventions while questioning the fundamental nature of the audience’s desire for these conventions on a philosophical level. The thesis identifies and discusses three central preoccupations. Those three preoccupations are: i) Representation, ii) Conflict, and iii) Endings.

The practice-based pieces are twenty-seven versions of the script The Future Show, in which Deborah Pearson continually rewrote and performed an account of the rest of her life, starting from the end of the performance. Descriptions of her immediate future would “expire” as soon as she spoke them aloud, meaning the concept required constant rewrites of text. Deborah excerpted past versions at Battersea Arts Centre on November 4th, attended by her examiners, and is including video documentation of this performance in her thesis. The Future Show came from the prevalent definition of narrative as “the representation of an event,” suggesting narrative is a recreation of something which already happened. She questions the preoccupation with representation through writing a “pre-presentation” of events, purporting to present an autobiographical solo piece about what will happen.

An additional practice-based element of this thesis is documentation of her one-on-one piece Drifting Right in which, as an avowed left wing voter, she takes right-wing voters on a canoe ride on open waters and invites them to engage in a political conversation with her that is not an argument. This documentation relates to Chapter 2, which examines the narrative preoccupation with “Conflict.”

Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • Royal Holloway, University of London
  • Rebellato, Dan, Supervisor
  • Megson, Chris, Advisor
Award date1 Jan 2017
Publication statusUnpublished - 2016


  • Narrative
  • Contemporary Performance
  • Narrative Preoccupations
  • Representation
  • Mimesis
  • Conflict
  • Endings
  • Poetics

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