Cutting-edge research is personal for lecturer

Edge Hill University lecturer and performance artist Dr Mark Edward
Edge Hill University lecturer and performance artist Dr Mark Edward

A Wigan performance artist and academic is looking forward to another year at the cutting-edge of research in 2017.

Dr Mark Edward, who lectures at Edge Hill University and has been involved in dance, theatre and art exhibitions, is collaborating on two chapters for academic books and also writing a long piece about risk and ethics.

Dr Mark Edward at a recent art exhibtiion. Picture by Stuart Rayner

Dr Mark Edward at a recent art exhibtiion. Picture by Stuart Rayner

The Standish-based researcher’s work includes gender issues, performance, dance and drama, mental health and understanding identity and the self.

Dr Edward has teamed up with Dr Fiona Bannon for a book chapter on dance and mental wellbeing published by the prestigious Oxford University Press and is collaborating with Dr Stephen Farrier on analysis of his own performance art piece Council House Movie Star, in which a humble home was built inside a gallery and he lived in it in character for several weeks.

However, it is the first chapter being published which is the biggest milestone for Dr Edward as it is the first time he has written about his own battles with mental health problems in his work.

He hopes being open about his own experiences in this way may help other people who are currently suffering in silence.

There are so many people out there with mental health issues and they feel they can’t talk about it or are vulnerable. I’ve decided I will.

Dr Mark Edward

Dr Edward, 45, said: “I don’t remove the author from my research. We talk about people having mental health and therapists’ approaches to it but what I’ve done is come out and say I’ve been battling mental health problems for years.

“It’s the first time I’ve discussed it publicly. One of the authors approached me and I thought about it and said yes to it. Publishing through such a prestigious house also helped, I wasn’t going to just throw this out somewhere.

“There are so many people out there with mental health issues and feel they can’t talk about it or are vulnerable.

“I can’t say people must talk about it, but I’ve decided I will.

“The chapter is about constantly shifting identities and a fluid sense of self.

“I write about how my work and art helps me to go through that and understand it.”

Dr Edward will also revisit his high-profile installation from a Liverpool festival to explore issues in basing work around drag culture and sexuality for an academic sociology book co-authored by Dr Farrier, the principal lecturer at the Royal Central School of Speech and Drama.

In addition to the co-authored chapters he has written a piece on performance ethics for a research handbook and has a number of high-profile speaking and conference engagements, including giving a paper on mental health understanding at the Talking Bodies event at Chester University.

He is also looking forward to 2018 when he hopes to produce a full-length book collaboration with Dr Farrier about gender, queer theory and performance and return to the stage with a solo touring piece.

He says continuing to combine his drama and art gallery work with his academic research is extremely important.

He said: “I’m planning a mixture of stand-up, text and some bits of cabaret and dance together with digital animation. I’ve never given up the stage and the university is very supportive of me creating cutting-edge work. That’s what it’s all about for me because how can we move knowledge forward if we don’t challenge conventions?

“I’m interested in non-binary ideas of sexuality and gender, but I don’t just want to write and sit back. Council House Movie Star was a case of ‘move over Tracey Emin and the unmade bed’ because we built a council house in a gallery.

“I also put on four stone in weight and then lost it again to see how dancers can be discriminated against.

“I like to put myself out there. I won’t ask people to do things I’ve not done myself.”

After leaving school without a single GCSE, Dr Edward started his journey to academia at Wigan and Leigh College, where he studied performing arts.

He then went to Manchester Metropolitan University to do creative arts and became a part-time lecturer before completing a Master’s in dance studies at Liverpool John Moores.

He gained a PhD from Leeds University looking at age discrimination in dance while he was already teaching at Edge Hill.

His career also includes working for dance companies and performance projects and contributing to work on getting men and boys involved in dance and UK countercultures, based partly on his experience of the rave, drag and cabaret scenes.

Despite his international reputation and widespread acclaim for ground-breaking research he has been living in the borough close to his childhood home in Shevington since 2006 and says Wigan is very much where the heart is.

He said: “I’m interested in communities and getting people involved, bringing them together.

“For me dance and choreography is about relationships.

“I also love writing about working class culture because that’s my background. I’ve never left my roots and I think as an artist it’s really important to stay grounded.

“I still live in the same area where I was born and a lot of my close friends today I’ve known since school.

“I go to speak abroad and do projects all over the place and it’s nice to come back.”