20 October 2018 / Blogs

Critical Costume 2018 conference

Sharing your work, finding your tribe

Madeline Taylor, PhD candidate at the University of Melbourne, writes:

In September 2018 I was thrilled to present a paper at the biannual international conference Critical Costume. My attendance was supported by The Society for Theatre Research through the conference grants program. The trip has been the highlight of my PhD career so far, and I want to share my experience to encourage others to apply for these grants.

I have been a theatre costumer since 2003, and a researcher for the last seven years. My research focuses on costume practice, design aesthetics, alternative modes of engaging with fashion, and technical culture. Over the last few years I have been increasing intrigued with how designers and technicians work together, communicate design information and navigate the emotional challenges of collaboration, becoming my PhD topic at University of Melbourne.

This research asks: What are the collaborative mechanisms used in design realisation? And how does the creative process and the interpersonal intersect? To answer these questions, I am conducting ethnographic fieldwork at several large Australian theatre companies. I observe their costume workshops in action for 5 – 6 weeks, following the production of one mainstage show. To turn these observations into findings I am using two main strategies. The first is applying current design theory to the data to identify patterns of design development and communication in costume. The second is drilling deep into the language participants use via discourse and thematic analysis to draw out the interpersonal dynamics. Having just completed most of my fieldwork, the 2018 Critical Costume seemed the perfect time to test out some ideas.

Critical Costume is a rapidly growing research network of costume thinkers, designer and makers, and I was very excited to be selected to present at this year’s event, hosted by University of Surrey. Convened by Rachel Hann, the event included papers, flash talks, performances and a curated exhibition, drawing scholars and practitioners from around the globe. I had an excellent time at the conference, with the opportunity to meet many researchers and practitioners and watch numerous insightful presentations that have expanded my thinking.

Scheduled to present the very last paper on the very last day I was initially a bit terrified about my place in the conference program – What if nobody came!? What if everyone came?!?. However, once the panel commenced I quickly realised the honour I was given in closing the event. My paper explored the concept of costume as a community of practice, discussing how community of practice theories, such as learning attitudes and practices through socialisation, are evident in current practice and pedagogy. These ideas allowed me then to highlight some collaborative mechanisms used in costume design realisation, and how these are learnt and enacted in this community. The paper was very well received and wonderfully, as much of the Critical Costume event was live streamed, it is accessible on YouTube here.

The grant I received from The Society for Theatre Research entirely covered the cost of the conference fee. Attending Critical Costume not only allowed me to share and gain feedback on my research, but also to find my tribe – to build a network of friendships with researchers in my field. From people I encounter at this event I have received invitations to write, to collaborate and to visit, as well as share future research plans and publications. I encourage you to consider the value of finding your tribe too. Conferences are an excellent space to explore networks of  both ideas and people and grants such as STR’s make this exploration possible.

Madeline Taylor was the recipient of a Small Conference Grant which enabled her to attend this conference. Find out more about these grants here.