The Performance Ethics Working Group

In March 2014 the Performance Ethics Working Group released its first episode in a series of podcasts flagging ethical issues in performance and ways to address them – individually and institutionally – at the Festival of Uncertainty. The nine podcasts both make reference to the international performance contexts and draw on the specific history of New Zealand/Aotearoa as a country which is still grappling with a history of colonisation and on going structural inequalities affecting the indigenous people.

The following people were interviewed for the podcasts: Christopher Braddock, Sally J Morgan, David Cross, Tru Paraha, Alexa Wilson, Stephen Bain, Craig Cooper, Sally Barnett, Rose Martin, Mark Jackson, Murray Edmond, Louise Tu’u, Becca Wood, Brent Harris, Val Smith, Sean Curham, Mark Harvey, Alys Longley, Carol Brown, Moana Nepia, Kalisolaite ‘Uhila, Hadleigh Averill, Alison East. You can read about them here.

The episodes include:
Episode 1: What is ethics? launched at the Festival of Uncertainty, 23 March 2014
This first podcast introduces the idea of ethics as a daily practice and philosophical enquiry, exploring what participants think the broad concept of ethics covers.

Episode 2: How we treat our audiences Published April 8, 2014
In this episode we discuss what responsibilities performers and producers have towards their audiences and how these can conflict with the conceptual integrity of the work. We also talk about what can be considered offensive and who gets to decide this.

Episode 3: Reviewing performance art and ethics historically Published April 11, 2014
During the interviews a number of historical examples from performance art were reviewed. This episode explores the ethics and impact of these works.

Episode 4: The ethics of community engagement Published April16, 2014
This episode explores the issues which research and residencies in and with communities brings up and how community arts projects and relational aesthetics projects can be approached

Episode 5: Ethics of working with traditional and indigenous knowledges Published April 24, 2014
Recognising that the performing arts in Aotearoa New Zealand are structured and understood through dominantly western paradigms this podcast explores the complexities of decolonising performance

Episode 6: How we manage the ethics of money Published May 2, 2014
In this episode we discuss fiscal ethics and how they can operate the performing arts. The culture of internships, alternative economies and decommodification of art are among the topics discussed.

Episode 7: Working relationships within the performance community Published May 8, 2014
This podcasts deals with questions of ethical relationships between performers and institutions, festivals, curators, directors and choreographers. It addresses a history of poor labour relations and and sometimes outright abuse in the field of dance as well as questions of collaboration and authorship, and the protection of the performer from real physical risks.

Episode 8: The University ethics process Published May 22, 2014
Many of the people who participated in the interviews hold positions at Universities across New Zealand. This podcast explore how these performers, directors and researchers negotiate a University ethics process initially developed for medical, sociological and anthropological research.

Episode 9: Authorship in collaboration Published May 28, 2014
This bonus episode focusses on how we handle authorship in collaborative processes. It brings together the participants thoughts on the topic from debunking the myth of solo authorship and recognising the positivity of influence, to adequate programme credits and audience or community participation. 

Related Media:
Listen to the lead researcher Melissa Laing talk with Eva Radich on Upbeat, Radio NZ Concert.
Listen to Melissa Laing, Tru Paraha and Louise Tu’u talk about the project with Lynn Freeman on Standing Room Only, Radio NZ National
Blog post on the Artists Alliance website
Essay on Pantograph Punch
Podcast of a conference paper delivered at the 2014 Cultural Studies Association Australasia conference, University of Wollongong


The Performance Ethics Working Group is prompted in part by the fact that many performers lecture or present work within universities that have stringent ethics processes for research on, or involving humans from which performance often is excluded, or when included poorly understood. It also responds to the question raised by the 2011 Marina Abramovic work for the LA MOCA. Critiqued in advance by Yvonne Rainer* for both an (initial) abdication of responsibility by the institution to protect its performers from harm and its exploitative remuneration the dialogue around the work raised the question what ethical responsibilities does a host or commissioning institution hold towards its performers.

Through talking with people participating in contemporary performance across the fields of theatre, dance and the visual arts ** the Performance Ethics Working Group is developing an understanding of what ethics has to do with performance. The first publication of this research is the Performance Ethics Working Group podcasts, release in 2014.

* Sarah Wookey later wrote an open letter declaring herself as the artist referenced in Yvonne Rainer’s critique and stating her position on the matter.

** This includes creators, directors, curators, producers, researchers and audiences.

If you want to be involved in this working group please contact