Upon Awakening: Addiction, Performance, and Aesthetics of Authenticity

Zontou, Zoe (2017) Upon Awakening: Addiction, Performance, and Aesthetics of Authenticity. In: Risk, Participation, and Performance Practice Critical Vulnerabilities in a Precarious World. Palgrave Macmillan, pp. 205-231. ISBN 978-3-319-63242-1

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Since 2007 I have researched the field of applied performance with people in recovery from alcohol and drug dependency. As part of this, I have conducted practice-led research projects in Greece and the UK. My research evidenced the connection between drug taking and creativity. The findings of my research indicated that regardless the context of the project, participants, especially those who did not have any previous experience of participating in performing arts, draw connections between their experiences of drug taking and those of creating theatre and/or performing. They made references to feelings of buzz, ‘high’, euphoria, and sense of belonging. In a first attempt to theorise these responses I coined the term ‘alternative substance’ (Zontou 2011: 304) which refers to the possibilities of using applied theatre as a medium to make a positive impact on the participants’ lives and help them on their journeys to recovery. This echoes Arnold (2014) who has identified significant parallels between the effects of psychoactive chemicals and performance on the body. Drawing on neuroscientific studies, Arnold maintains that similar to psychoactive drugs, performing can activate our reward system, also known as ‘dopamine system’. Researchers such as Zack and Poulos (2009) have confirmed that there is a strong connection between stimulating the dopamine system and risk-taking behavior in addiction. It is not just about the direct effects that drugs such as heroin, have in the brain per se, but rather the whole risk-taking lifestyle of searching for the next fix, funding habits, deviancy, escaping police and legislation. As Hackett (2013:1) claims “Drug dependents need to be knowledgeable, determined, and resourceful to sustain their addiction. They need large amounts of money to feed their habit and will generally get this through illegal and anti-social activities.” Hence, risk taking becomes an essential part of this process. Taking into account the above theories, I propose that there is a strong connection between risk-taking in drug addiction and risk- taking in performance making.

To evidence my arguments and relate them to applied performance, I am going to use the work of Fallen Angels Dance Theatre Company as my case study. In doing so I will pose the following questions: to what extent can Fallen Angels participants’ past experiences of risk taking can be used to generate creative ideas in performance? In addition, I will explore whether participation in arts can create a platform from which to encourage a positive, yet creatively challenging form of risk taking, and in doing so to generate a new form of aesthetics. Similarly to applied performance as an ‘alternative substance’ I would suggest that it can function as an ‘alternative risk’. The work of the positive psychologist Csikszentmihalyi (2012) will be used to support my argument. In addition to this, my theoretical framework will be informed by Deleuze and Guattari’s (1988) arguments in A thousand plateaus: Capitalism and schizophrenia. They point out,
Drug addicts continually fall back into what they wanted to escape: a segmentarity all the more rigid for being marginal, a territorialization all the more artificial for being based on chemical substances, hallucinatory forms, and fantasy subjectifications. Drug addicts may be considered as precursors or experimenters who tirelessly blaze new paths of life, but their cautiousness lacks the foundation for caution (Deleuze and Guattari Ibid: 285).
In an endeavor to deploy further their concept of ‘drug addicts as precursors and experimenters who tirelessly blaze new paths of life’, and connect it with socially engaged arts practices, I am going to consider risk taking in the arts as a form of experimentation. I would argue that the implementation of dance and movement can be an effective way to introduce participants to experimentation and positive risk taking, especially in terms of translating past embodied experiences of addiction, stigma and deviancy into an aesthetically challenging dance theatre piece. This notion of experimentation relates directly with Badiou’s (2005) ideas regarding dance as a metaphor for thought. He makes a comparison between dance and theatre and maintains that unlike theatre which needs to overcome the limitations of language in order to create a direct metaphor, dance that uses the body has unlimited opportunities to create symbolism. In particular his ideas regarding the ‘anonymity of the body’ in dance relates to the social anonymity and noiselessness of drug addicts. To these ends, I pose the following question: what happens when drug addicts dance their stories on stage, do we create a ‘politically risky metaphor’? Do their collective bodies have the power to make a positive political claim, and create challenging juxtapositions between the stigmatised and artistic body. For example what happens when we place on stage a professional dancer’s body next to an addicted/stigmatised body? Deleuze and Guattari (1988) concept of a ‘machinic assemblage of bodies’ provides a useful framework to conceptualise this idea and unravel the semiotics of such an ac. My analysis will be supplemented by interviews with the director, participants, and audiences.
Arnold, N. (2014) ‘The Roar of the Grease-paint, the Smell of the Crowd’: Performance
as an Addictive Process, In Reynolds and Zontou eds Performance and Addiction. Newcastle: Cambridge Scholars.

Badiou, A. (2005) Handbook of Inaesthetics.[trans. Alberto Toscano]. California: Stanford UP,
Csikszentmihalyi, M. (2012). "The importance of challenge for the enjoyment of intrinsically motivated, goal-directed activities.". Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin 38.
Deleuze, G. and Guattari, F. (1988). A thousand plateaus: Capitalism and schizophrenia. [Trans. Brian Massumi]. London: The Athlone Press.

Hackett, C. (2013). “Transferable skills and the drug dependent: a journey through the city of Glasgow.” The International Journal of Social, Political and Community Agendas in the Arts, 7 (3), pp. 1- 14.
Zack, M., and Poulos, C.X. (2009). Parallel roles for dopamine in pathological gambling and psychostimulant addiction. Current Drug Abuse Reviews, 2, 11-25.

Zontou, Z. (2011), ‘Applied theatre as an ‘alternative substance’: Reflections from an applied theatre project with people in recovery from alcohol and drug dependency’, Journal of Applied Arts & Health 2: 3, pp. 303–315,

Item Type: Book Section
Additional Information and Comments: Reproduced with permission of Palgrave Macmillan. This extract is taken from the author's original manuscript and has not been edited. The definitive, published, version of record is available here: https://www.palgrave.com/gb/book/9783319632414
Keywords: applied performance, addiction, vulnerability
Faculty / Department: Faculty of Arts & Humanities > Drama,Dance and Performance Studies (up to 30th April 2018)
Depositing User: Zoe Zontou
Date Deposited: 12 Mar 2018 10:34
Last Modified: 12 Mar 2018 10:34
URI: https://hira.hope.ac.uk/id/eprint/2402

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