Or rather, I’ve just been to one!
I have just had the pleasure of attending Performing Fantastika, organised by Charul (Chuckie) Palmer-Patel and Brian Baker at Lancaster University on the 28th and 29th April 2017. This is the third Fantastika conference I have now been to, and once again the conference offered two fantastic days of panels, papers and presentations on a range of topics focusing on performative bodies in works of fantasy, science fiction, horror and everything in-between.
The conference accommodates and embraces all researchers and their respective topics, and so is not purely children’s literature or just encompassing young adult texts, but is very inclusive. This diversity is a real strength, as it allows you an opportunity to see what other people are working on, whilst presenting your own ideas in a receptive space with people who are fans of the genres it includes. It provides a fertile ground for discussion with delegates coming from differing perspectives and backgrounds, from the UK and abroad, and is particularly useful for receiving feedback from those who work outside of your specific subject, who may offer questions or new avenues for exploration.
Arriving in Lancaster shortly after lunchtime, I sadly missed the first two sessions and the afternoon keynote by Eddie Robson on Day 1, but looked forward to the parallel panel sessions to round off the day. The first panel I attended that afternoon explored music and sound in works of Fantastika, with Brian Baker exploring Janelle Monáe’s Cyborg Suites and her portrayal of the narrative of the cyborg Cindi Mayweather. John Sharples’ considered sound in the context of the A-Bomb, the Flying Saucer and Sputnik, looking at how this reinforces their iconic visual images. The second session that afternoon (and the final panel of the day) saw Charul (Chuckie) Palmer-Patel present on performing wizardry in the work of Joe Abercrombie and Patrick Rothfuss, looking at the portrayal of wizards in both of their trilogies, drawing on their relatively unassuming nature and portrayal upon their first introduction that hides their actual magical abilities. Helga Luthersdottir compared the presentation and relative effectiveness of capes and costume for superheroes, drawing on Edna ‘E’ Mode’s rant about ‘No Capes!’ in The Incredibles, and their potential pitfalls as part of any outfit. Madelon Hoedt contemplated the performance of horror and how it might involve the audience, drawing on the stage adaptation of The Woman in Black and other contemporary immersive experiences where the audience is situated within the horror, rather than being removed such as in books or film.
Day 2 opened with Catherine Spooner’s keynote on Asylum Chic, focusing on the phenomenon of the ‘Lunatics’ Ball’ and clothing both historically and in contemporary fashion, framed through the performance of insanity within a variety of contemporary media. In the next panel, Stephen Curtis explored the role of Zombies in popular culture, looking particularly at those that are now dangerously being portrayed as beginning to think, and I presented on bodies of the human and xenos in Orson Scott Card’s Ender Saga, drawing on the first four novels in the series and the 2013 film. The final panel session of the day I attended focused on Science Fiction Theatre, starting with Beth Cortese looking at Fantastika in Seventeenth century Drama, specifically the works of Aphra Behn and Margaret Cavendish, and the elements that occur within that would have been challenging to an audience at the time. Ian Farnell then contemplated aspects of science fiction and fantasy in two of Alistair McDowall’s plays: Pomona and X, with specific reference to their recent theatrical runs, and how McDowall embeds elements of the fantastic within his work whilst still maintaining a realist style. Christina Scholz posited whether hybrid art forms, such as presented in the film Deep State are theatre of the future, and/or indeed, the future of theatre, considering the complexities of the collage-style editing technique that forms a fusion of the real and fictional, and that blurs for specific effect. The final keynote of the conference was given by Tajinder Hayer, who gave us a fascinating insight into the research and writing process behind three of his plays, Players, Mela and North Country and how they were influenced by his experiences of place, allowing for their fantastic elements within to be grounded within a real context.
To finish the conference, we raised a champagne toast to the success of the two days, as well as to the first edition of the Fantastika Journal that has just been published. You can view the journal on the website. It is inviting submissions for future issues, if you are currently researching or interested in any topic that may fall within the Journal’s remit.
As this brief report illustrates, the conference featured a whole spectrum of fascinating topics and approaches that meant for an immensely stimulating series of sessions. I came away from the conference with a lengthy reading list (for both research and pleasure!), and more ideas for ways I can look critically at my own work. As ever, it was a pleasure to attend such a superbly organised conference, and I was made incredibly welcome – by those I already knew and those I had the fortune to meet over the two days. My most profuse thanks once again to everyone involved with the organisation, specifically Chuckie and Brian, and the rest of the Fantastika team: and I will look forward to seeing you again!
Chris Hussey is a fourth-year part-time PhD student. His research looks at relationships with place, both real and literary, focusing on London as a site of place-identity.