top of page

University Research Grant Committee

University of Calgary (Alberta, Canada)



A Pilot Study for Investigating a Holistic and

Collaborative Approach in the Anthropocene

Christine Brubaker, 

Assistant Professor

School of Creative and Performing Arts
University of Calgary

January, 2019


My proposal is to pilot a study to design, test and evaluate a holistic multidisciplinary research and theatre creation methodology to inform the creation of a science-based, immersive theatrical experience called Rella’s Cambrian Dream. The funding from this grant will support ethnographic field research, a design charrette that will include our creative team (playwright, director/dramaturg, sound designer/composer, production designer and digital designer), scientists, Indigenous leaders and other stakeholders. This grant will also support the creation of a website to house our research findings and serve as a resource for the public, science communicators in the world of paleontology, as well as scholars and students in the field of practice-as-research (PaR).

This project will address the following challenges:

Siloed research practices in contemporary professional theatre: Most theatrical creation, often due to financial constraints and industry habits does not include deep and shared research by all of the core creative members. We are adopting methods from the fields of social science and architecture and undertaking in-depth field research, interviews and consultations with those who are front line stakeholders and experts from the scientific and Indigenous communities.  We will approach these design elements through a charrette process, a collaborative tool from the field of architecture used to solve design problems. Typically a short, intense period of work that involves multiple stakeholders and embraces emergent outcomes, the charrette will produce results from the collective that will inform the development of the design of this world, and serve as a test for a professional theatre creation process.

Divisions between disciplines: We will be building relationships across the disciplines of science and arts, sharing knowledge, and enfolding these learnings into the work in the very earliest stages with plans to deepen and develop this process.  


We will:

  • Test a multidisciplinary, hybrid methodology of research and creation for theatre making.

  • Develop new models of collaboration and creation between artists, scientists and Indigenous leaders.

  • Demonstrate the value of PaR methodologies for disseminating complex scientific knowledge to a variety of audiences, and further develop performance models for effective science communication.


Using ethnographic, qualitative, PaR methods for this pilot study we will actively forge partnerships with paleontologists who work at the Burgess Shale and local Indigenous consultants. We have received confirmation of enthusiastic participation from Blackfoot elder, Randy Bottle/ Saa'kokoto who lives in Calgary. The Royal Ontario Museum, a key stakeholder in the dissemination of the scientific wonder of the Burgess Shale, has also committed to partnering with us, hosting a multi-media staged reading of the script and our design findings as part of their Family programming in Toronto in the fall of 2019. Alison Biles of Parks Canada at Lake Louise, Yoho-Kootenay Field Office has also committed to assisting with the facilitation of further research in Shale region. Finally, the Drama Department at the University of Calgary has pledged support via in-kind donations of space and technical assistance.


Scholarly Benefits: This grant will further my research into interdisciplinarity in professional theatre contexts and site-specific theatre. It will provide opportunities for bridging the discourse divide between the professional theatre community and the academic community, and further the conversation about interdisciplinarity and collaboration across the arts and the field of science communication. Finally, using collaborative research creation methods, this work will test the possibilities for an intersection of Indigenous origin stories and evolutionary theory through the medium of art and aesthetics.


Social Benefits: This project offers multiple social benefits. The pilot will enrich research creation and PaR discourse, ideally translating into new knowledge, and opportunity to innovate from within the field of theatre practice. The multidisciplinary collaboration will create bridges between science, arts and Indigenous perspectives and allow cross-pollination and sharing of expertise and knowledge. And finally, while this is a longer-term benefit, we hope to educate, entertain, and build knowledge about this fascinating period in our planet’s history, and to raise awareness about the origins of our earth and the history of life. This pilot is only the first part of a multi-stage project that will examine how PaR can contribute to what environmentalist and filmmaker Jennifer Baichwal calls a “consciousness shift”- where we consider ourselves not just as ourselves, but as part of one great story, and where we begin to understand how our day to day actions will affect the present and the immediate near future of our planet.


Target Audiences: This pilot study will be of particular interest for PaR scholars and students across the arts both nationally and globally, as well as theatre scholar-practitioners interested in site-specific performance. This project will also engage and build relationships with relevant scientific and Indigenous communities. The play reading, scheduled for the fall of 2019 will speak to family audiences who attend museums and sites of science communication.


Preparation for External Funding: This pilot study will test the scope of this hybrid practice-as-research methodology, as well as the potential for animating complex scientific ideas in a theatrical context. It will reveal the possibilities and challenges of integrating creation stories of Indigenous peoples inside of an evolutionary scientific perspective. These findings, and many which we cannot anticipate but will welcome, will guide and deepen the research questions for a SSHRC IDG application in January 2020.


My intention will be to publish findings from my pilot study to scholar-practitioners through a key field journal such as Theatre Topics ( and/or through a report in Canadian Theatre Review ( as well as to general public audiences through popular online portals such as Medium. I will rehearse this work through conference presentations such as Mid-America Conference and Performance Studies International. This work will contribute to the beginnings of a book I am writing about directing practices in Canada.  


Sharing of the research at every stage will happen through our website which will house all our research findings and function as a resource for both public and academic audiences. In particular, the website will be a valuable resource for the ROM as extension of their artifacts archive. The website will be also be a source for faculty and students at the University of Calgary where PaR is an emergent field of study.


Sharing of the performance materials (script, design offerings and process) with public audiences will be a critical part of the knowledge dissemination. For this pilot study, we will present a reading of the script and solicit feedback at the culmination of our design charrette, and again, for a public family audience at the ROM as part of their family programming in fall of 2019.




The graduates will receive training in the emergent field of PaR and first-hand experience with collaborative artistic practice, PaR methodologies, site-specific performance and qualitative data analysis. The students will be key participants in each phase of the process.  In the preparation phase, both students will be trained in technical documentation such as audio and video recording, uploading and archiving of the data and collected research. One of the graduate students will assist with the design, build and upkeep of the webpage. Web promotion and archiving is vital in contemporary arts practices and this student will be trained in how best to showcase artistic work and invite public engagement with site-specific performance. One student will accompany the creative team on the field work to the Burgess Shale and participate in the early stages of the data collection and field research. Both students will be researchers during the design charrette and will be asked to offer feedback as participants. In the months following, should their hours permit, the students will assist with the analysis and synthesis of the surveys and data, facilitate with individuals and other students who may wish to engage with the web content. This will be a challenging and exciting opportunity for students who are studying interdisciplinary methods of research, site-specific theatre and practice-as-research.

Key Participants:

Christine Brubaker – Research Project Lead and Director, University of Calgary

Michael O’Brien – Playwright

Jennifer Goodman – Production Designer

Deanna Choi – Composer/Sound Designer

TBD - Projection Designer

Randy Bottle/ Saa'kokoto – Blackfoot elder and Indigenous Consultant

TBD - Paleontology Expert - ROM/Burgess Shale

University of Calgary Graduate Student - Research Assistant

University of Calgary Graduate Student  - Website design/maintenance and Research Assistant


Advisors and Partners:

Susan Bennett – Mentor for Professor. Brubaker, University of Calgary

Jessica Hawthorn – Coordinator Festival Programs, ROM

Alison Bails – Science Educator & Burgess Shale Guide, Parks Canada Lake Louise Yoho/Kootenay Field Office



Playwright, Michael O’Brien has applied for and successfully received a modest Canada Council grant for the development of his script and funding for limited rehearsals for the staged reading at the ROM. Within the scope of my proposed activities in this grant application, these funds will cover his participation in my pilot study (transportation, per diem and hiking fees) for the ten-day field work and design residency in BC and Alberta in September 2019.

Alignment with UNIVERSITY OF CALGARY Strategic Research Themes:

Rella’s Cambrian Dream aligns with the University of Calgary’s Research Priority, “Human dynamics in a changing world.” The context for this work juxtaposes the Anthropocene, our current geological age where human activity is the chief influence on our climate and environment, and the Cambrian Explosion, a geological event that took place 508 million years ago. This juxtaposition enables reflection in relationship to our planet’s transformation due to change in environmental conditions and dynamics. The Cambrian Explosion in took place over 25 million years, while our world is experiencing similar extreme changes in the environment within two generations. The larger goals of this project will make transparent the radical difference of these two geological ages and how we, as a species, are confronting this urgent and existential challenge of climate change.  




  • Brubacher, Erin and Christine Brubaker. 7th Cousins. Toronto: Book *hug Press. Print. Release date September 2019 

  • Brubaker, Christine. "A Practitioner’s Attempt at Quantifying the Actor’s Experience." Canadian Theatre Review 172 (2017): 58-62.

  • Sider, Kimber, Ker Wells, Natalie Doonan, P. Megan Andrews, Peter Balkwill, Christine Brubaker, and Martin Julien. "Artistic Research: An Articulation." Canadian Theatre Review 172 (2017): 87-97.

  • Co-author: “Five Ways to Fix Canada’s Theatre Schools”, The Toronto Star, Feb. 3, 2018

  • Co-author: “Actor Training in Canada: An Appeal for Change”, Intermission Magazine, June 19.


CONFERENCE PAPERS:  Panel Art/Science: “The scientific mind in performance and research.” Canadian Association for Theatre Research Conference/Congress 2014; 

Mid-America Theatre Conference: “Designing Conventions: Crafting an arc in the post-dramatic, narrative-defiant antigone lives*” (Upcoming : March, 2019)



THE HORSE AND HIS BOY (Director)               SHAW FESTIVAL, Niagara-On-the-Lake

SMOKE (Director)                                          DOWNSTAGE THEATRE, Calgary

Antigone LIVES* (Director)                               UNIVERSITY OF CALGARY, Calgary

HENRY G20 WORKSOP  (Director)                 THE BENTWAY, Toronto

Wilde Tales (Director)                                    SHAW FESTIVAL, Niagara-On-the-Lake

ELLE (Director)                                               PRAIRIE THEATRE, FIREHALL                        

AS YOU LIKE IT (Associate Dir.)                        STRATFORD FESTIVAL, Stratford

ELLE (Director)                                               THEATRE PASSE MURAILLE, Toronto

ALICE/LOOKING-GLASS (Reviv. Director)          Ottawa, PEI, Winnipeg; Edmonton                     

THE DIARY OF ANNE FRANK (Asst. Dir.)           STRATFORD FESTIVAL, Stratford      


ALICE / LOOKING-GLASS (Asst. Dir.)               STRATFORD FESTIVAL, Stratford       

MUCH ADO ABOUT NOTHING (Director)        NIGHTWOOD THEATRE, Toronto                              


RESEARCH FUNDING:  Vice-President of Research Grant, UofC,  2018  *  Faculty of Arts Seed Grant, UofC, 2018   *  Centre for Research and Fine Arts, Two Individual Project Grants, UofC  2018   *   Canada Council for the Arts Project Grant  2018   *   Ontario Arts Council Project Grant, 2017   *   Theatre Creators Reserve, Ontario Arts Council 2014, 2015   *   Canada Council for the Arts Project Grant  2013   *   Pure Research Grant, Nightswimming Theatre, 2013

bottom of page