Taking advantage of being ‘in-between’ | Vicki-Ann Cremona and Stefan Aquilina

Following an international conference organised by the School of Performing Arts at the University of Malta entitled Performance and Interdisciplinarity, we caught up with School of Performing Arts Chair Prof. Vicki Ann Cremona and the school’s Research Coordinator and conference convener Dr Stefan Aquilina.

Dr Stefan Aquilina and Prof Vicki-Ann Cremona. Photo by James Moffet
Dr Stefan Aquilina and Prof Vicki-Ann Cremona. Photo by James Moffet

What would you say are some of the most urgent issues in theatre right now?

Theatre and performance in Malta are currently in a very exciting and unique position – what has been an inherently amateur scene is slowly but surely becoming more professional, and not many theatre contexts around the world can claim to be at this point of juncture.

I feel that this, more than anything else, is the major issue which theatre practitioners and academics alike should be aware of and collaborate in: while it is necessary to safeguard amateur and community forms of theatre (like Good Friday pageants) and theatrical events (like Carnival, processions, and village feasts), it is equally important to fuel professionalism and artistic standards that make theatre performance cutting-edge, engaging, and relevant to local and international audiences. Being in this position of ‘in-between’ is not a weakness, but a strength that needs to be thoroughly exploited.

Do you see Malta as becoming a healthy hub for the discussion and analysis of contemporary theatre?

The recent conference organised by the School of Performing Arts at the University of Malta demonstrates that Malta is already serving as such a hub. The conference included speakers from the UK, US, Australia, Russia, Poland, Belgium, Italy, Turkey, Nigeria, and Brazil. It was a strong international conference and a clear indication of the fact that the School is taking the right directions and has attained international recognition since it was launched in 2012.

Malta is ideally placed to serve as an international platform for the exchange of knowledge and cultures, but it needs to be promoted properly through a concerted effort from all stake holders. Malta needs to pay more attention to the artistic developments that are occurring, which could serve as a valid basis for cultural diplomacy and exchange.

Do you think it’s important to emphasise the interdisciplinary connection between sciences and humanities? How do you hope this will be borne out during the conference? 

The connection between the sciences and the humanities is important because it emphasises the holistic nature of the human being. Interdisciplinarity today does not raise the eyebrows that it did 20 years ago. It might not yet have become part and parcel of academic practice, but certainly many efforts are being made in that direction.

This new approach is building, for example on the European Union Research Advisory Board’s recommendation that ‘the solution to many of today’s complex problems in areas such as globalisation, environment, health, defence and security must, by definition, be addressed using a multi-disciplinary approach’. Conferences such as the one held this weekend help to put people in contact with each other – like any other form of research in the sciences, humanities, and the arts,  interdisciplinarity is a process that needs its time to develop. There is, for one, a shared terminology to be agreed upon.

Conferences such as this make people aware of what other researchers and practitioners are doing, but also provide a valuable opportunity to present research results. One such case was the presentation which Dorita Hannah of the University of Tasmania delivered titled ‘Borderline Performances: Weak(ening) Architecture’, on how spatial performativity destabilizes architecture’s fixed and durable dimensions, thus making it relevant to architects, designers, and artists alike.

Would you say there is a large rift between academic work about theatre locally, and the kind of theatre that is predominantly staged in Malta and Gozo? If so, what does this say about the way our culture processes theatre? 

Why should we speak of a rift? I would rather see it as different people, having different abilities and skills, and working in different situations, but all contributing to a diverse theatre and performance scene. Academic research in the performing arts at the University of Malta specializes in that, in the academic integration between practice and theory, with a view to preparing graduates that can contribute to the varieties and challenges that are intrinsic to thriving cultural scenes.

Other performance contexts specialise in early-age pedagogy, while others aim to develop theatre in Maltese. Others import valid dramas from abroad, work with socially-challenged participants, and so on. It is surely this diversity that makes the local scene worth engaging in.  

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