Claire French

About me

Theatre and performance making, scholarship and activism

Between practice and research

I research and make multilingual theatre and performance with minority or low-status languages. The core driver behind this work began with my ethical position in relationship to others in the autobiographical devising and writing process, asking: How do I give service to their stories by harnessing their linguistic and embodied resources? Then, how does multilingualism also help me write 'with' individuals rather than about them? Since greater linguistic variation requires greater knowledge about the political and historical contexts of languages and people, my first body of research has focused on dramaturgical, methodological and analytical tools for developing linguistically sustainable theatre and performance. I propose linguistically sustainable performance as both providing a conduit for cultural and epistemological understanding in performer-performer and performer-spectator interactions, as well as avoiding the reproduction of dominant and colonial epistemologies.
I am currently an Assistant Professor at the Department of Drama and Theatre Arts, University of Birmingham (UK) and have Associate Fellowships at the University of the Witwatersrand (South Africa) and the University of Warwick (UK). I have developed performance projects across Australia, Germany, the UK and South Africa for almost two decades, of late most pursuing dramaturgy and writing with communities.
I have recently published on my Mellon Foundation Arts Research Africa fellowship, 'Decolonising language ideologies in the body', University of the Witwatersrand, covering linguistically sustainable improvisational approaches to multilingual South African (isiZulu, isiXhosa, Sesotho, English) performance making in monolingual institutions.
My forthcoming projects include an Arts and Humanities Research Council award for, 'Representing British Muslim multilingualism in Birmingham: Soul City Arts and the national stage' (2023-2024); a Birmingham International Engagement Fund award with Samuel Ravengai, 'Decolonising Performer Training' (2023-2024); and a Marie Skłodowska-Curie Actions Fellowship at Aarhus University (Denmark) for, 'Dramaturgies for languaging: Developing linguistically sustainable theatre and performance' (2024-2026).
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Mobilising communities to explore the art of new perspective through storytelling

I carve out processes of making performance that privilege the storyteller in their unique social, epistemological and interactional context – to unearth new truths, new connections and new cultural literacies.

As a writer with communities, facilitator and dramaturg, I have bolstered the stories of intergenerational community groups (The Old Vic, London), female muslim migrants (Saathi House, Birmingham), Indigenous and multilingual young actors (Mellon Foundation, Johannesburg), elders (Visible Theatre, London) and refugees (Evelyn Oldfield Foundation, London).

I have had the pleasure of working with and learning from artists including Mike Alfreds, Sonja Linden, Micia de Wet and Matthew Lutton.

My research assists with interrogating the ethics of making performance with intercultural groups and autobiographical materials, creating the impetus to train African facilitators in multilingual devising (University of the Witwatersrand, Johannesburg) and intercultural diasporic and British migrants (Creative Multilingualism, University of Oxford).

I identify as queer, from a migrant Irish Australian heritage, with the privileges and trauma that come from my migration, and the generations before me. Multilingualism helps me express myself across my languages as well situate the hegemonies that I embody.

My work is anchored by a photograph of a tent that my father’s family pitched as their first home in Australia, reminding me to notice courage, revere resilience and distrust ceilings.

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Awards and accolades

I have received several awards and fellowships including from the Arts and Humanities Research Council, Arts Council England, Horizon Europe, Leverhulme Trust, Esmée Fairbairn Foundation, Commonwealth Scholarship Commission, Royal Central School of Speech and Drama, University of Warwick, University of Sydney and the Western Australian Academy of Performing Arts, as well as numerous sponsorships and business partnerships. I earned a PhD from the University of Warwick, an MA from the Royal Central School of Speech and Drama, London, and a BA from Notre Dame University/ Western Australian Academy of Performing Arts, Perth, Australia.
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