A word from the Artistic Director

Nightswimming has operated our Pure Research program in Toronto and Vancouver since 2003. I created the program in the mid-1990s when I was the dramaturg at Toronto’s Theatre Centre. At the time we ran a program called R&D, in which we offered space and resources to theatre makers to develop new work. At one point I went to the Artistic Director at the time, David Duclos, and said that the name wasn’t accurate. We did a lot of D (development) but virtually no R (research). David challenged me to invent a research program, so I did. David found some funding for it and we did several rounds at the Theatre Centre.

My approach to creating the program was to imagine what I, as a dramaturg, director and playwright, would want and need if I were to conduct theatrical research. When I left the Theatre Centre, the program went into hiatus until I asked David if Nightswimming could take it over. We renamed it Pure Research and launched our first edition with a call for research proposals in the fall of 2002, and conducted our first session at Nightswimming in 2003.

Our first two research projects were led by established theatre artists who also had extensive experience in academic settings. Although Pure Research is in no way an academic program – it is explicitly intended to be on-the-feet studio-based research – the first Nightswimming session benefited significantly from the rigour, clarity of thought, and intellectual ambitiousness of Kate Hennig and Martin Julien. And, happily, both continue to be creative collaborators with Nightswimming to this day.

Throughout Pure Research’s history I have been very clear that the program is about research and not about developing a new work. My goal has been to establish an environment in which theatre artists can research an idea, a desire, a device, a technology and/or a methodology that they couldn’t otherwise explore. The time frame for the research is limited to three days in a theatre in order to compel the artists to focus on a specific, tightly defined topic. We supply a theatre space to work in and a modest research budget. The offers Canadian artists a space to investigate something that they could never find time for in rehearsal, with the freedom to conduct the research as they wish, but with the financial and dramaturgical support of myself and the company.

Over the past decade, we’ve conducted our PR sessions at the Theatre Centre, at the University of Toronto’s Studio Theatre through an invaluable partnership with the Graduate Centre for Drama, Theatre and Performance Studies (thank you Bruce Barton for making this possible), and more recently with Simon Fraser University’s School for the Contemporary Arts (thank you DD Kugler for inviting us to Vancouver and contributing substantial funds to our West Coast editions).

During our partnerships with UofT and SFU, we invited students into the process as observers, participants and/or researchers. Doing so has ensured value for our academic partners, has offered the wisdom and insights of the students to our researchers, and connected Nightswimming with a generation of emerging artists. PR has been invaluable to me as a dramaturg as it has offered me an intimate window into the research conducted by other artists, often on topics and approaches that are far outside my experience. It has enlarged my vision for theatre and expanded my network of methods and collaborators. For Nightswimming, PR epitomizes our commitment to faith: believing that exploring the unknown is central to any adventurous, artful theatre community. The program has been a constant reminder that not knowing how to do things often leads us to important new discoveries and infuses our work with approaches and ideas that feed future projects and initiatives.

Thank you to all of our researchers and participants, to David, Bruce and DD, and especially to producers Naomi Campbell and Rupal Shah who have made all 24 sessions run smoothly and contributed enormously to the adjudication of Pure Research over its history.

I offer the final word to several of our researchers….

The Pure Research workshop was a landmark: its insights and discoveries flowed back into my critical thinking and practical work, and has been passed onto many artists, interns and workshop participants. – Ruth Howard

Pure Research allowed me the chance to consider my work through the lens of the values and characteristics of an entirely different discipline. – Christine Brubaker

Knowledge garnered through the free play approach used in Pure Research eventually led to a breakthrough in creative and technical roadblocks that had long stymied me, and opened up for me a broad range of new expressive possibilities.

Laurel MacDonald

I have learned to listen…to shut-up…to let the arc of a seemingly strange sounding voice follow its route undisturbed to its completion. Only then will I ask a question…and again…wait, wait, wait for the answer. – Susanna Uchatius


For more information on Nightswimming and our approaches to research, creation and performance, please consider the following sites, books and articles:


Nightswimming’s website
Canadian Theatre Review #119, June 2004: Creative Research and New Play Development

“Pure Research” and “Nightswimming” articles in Developing Nation, edited by Bruce Barton, 2007.

Creative Expression, Creative Education by Robert Kelly and Carl Leggo, 2008.

BLUE NOTE score – Canadian Theatre Review – November 2009.

“Contemporary New Play Dramaturgy in Canada” – in The Routledge Companion to Dramaturgy, 2014.

“Ecologies of Dramaturgy” with Beth Blickers – in Theatre Topics, Volume 24/3, September 2014.

“Telling Stories Across Forms: An Interview with Brian Quirt” by Yolanda Ferrato – in New Dramaturgy, 2014.