Children’s Queered Voicings: Questions of (voiced) power

Yvon Bonenfant

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Beginning in 2012, the Wellcome Trust, Arts Council England and a number of other stakeholders supported voice artist Yvon Bonenfant to undertake a sustained process of performance-making for children aged 6-11. Taking advantage of the decreasing cost of working with audience-responsive digital infrastructure, Bonenfant and his team developed a live, interactive touring performance; an interactive installation artwork; and an iPad app. These artworks all intended to elicit the unusual voicings of their audience, and then entice the audience into generating increasingly sophisticated, inter-sensory vocal art, made from non-normative (or extended, unusual) vocal sounds. Through so doing, the artworks intended to celebrate the joy of vocal difference with their users. However, the works raised interesting questions about participation, invitation, coercion, discourses of ‘freeing the voice’, and the nature of the power structures embedded in this kind of participatory performance with children. Four problematic dynamics are addressed. Firstly, we explore how the artworks took advantage of a seeming neurodevelopmental predisposition to respond to their invitations. Secondly, we explore the role of live performers, the pace at which they move children through participatory activities, and to what degree their actions open up a sense of participant choice, or inversely, highlight a lack thereof. Next, the design language of the artworks, and both its inviting and coercive qualities, is explored. Finally, the nature of the ‘internal story’ told by the bodies of the participants to the participants themselves within the experience of the works is discussed. Through so doing, the article asserts that the because intention to take our child audience into a space of vocal ‘freedom’ and the attendant liberatory affect, is realised largely when the wider culture constructs such sound as forbidden; and its conclusions meditate on the implications of this.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)52-60
Number of pages9
JournalPerformance Research
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 16 Jun 2018


  • Children
  • performance
  • vocal art
  • forbidden sound
  • queering

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