Performance for Social Change: The Making of “Sensing Bodies in Common”

Daniel Dilliplane (he/they), a Ph.D. Candidate in his 6th year of studies in the Department of Communication, received one of Arts Everywhere’s Student Arts Innovation Grants in April 2022. His project, “Sensing Bodies In Common”, is an interactive and relational multi-sensory experience in which participants will be invited to move their bodies in creative and cooperative ways. Read more to learn about Dilliplane and his project.

Practice for “Sensing Bodies in Common” Workshop

The Journey to “Sensing Bodies in Common” 

Dilliplane grew up in a small town in a rural part of Southeastern Pennsylvania, so their journey towards this type of artistic production and scholarly research has been “protracted and unorthodox”. An academic scholarship to Reed College in Portland, Oregon enabled him to pursue studies in philosophy and theatre, where their undergraduate work emphasized analytic philosophy, theatrical directing, and design. Through Dilliplane’s classes and experiences, his “creative work during this time cultivated an avant-garde aesthetic, and [he] took great interest in emerging forms of devising, non-hierarchical techniques of ensemble performance creation.”

After working in film production for a brief time in LA, Dilliplane began pursuing their interest in performance for social change. Through connecting and working with other artist-activists in Chicago, he ended up training in the techniques of Augusto Boal’s Theatre of the Oppressed and in Cynthia Winton-Henry and Phil Porter’s InterPlay performance practice. 

Following their renewed passion for the interaction of philosophy and performance, Dilliplane found the academic field of Performance Studies at the UNC Department of Communication to be, “an especially rewarding intellectual and creative home.” He is most interested in studying the political and social justice dimensions of embodied activity. Dilliplane believes that social inequalities can often persist in an unconscious manner, through normalized patterns of thinking and habits. 

“Performance as a creative tool can enable us to confront and transform these patterns and habits in the hope of developing other ways of relating to one another that better support communities of equity and inclusion.”


The Inspiration

Dilliplane’s inspiration for “Sensing Bodies in Common” stemmed from his previous experiences in performance for social change. One of these experiences, a collaboration with Dr. Christina Banalopoulou in Athens, Greece, led them to discover the research area of sensory dimensions of neurodiversity. This research became the subject of his dissertation, “Collective Feeling and Critical Somatics: Performance for Social Change and the Embodiment of Social Flesh.”

Dilliplane was inspired by the intersection of this research and performances for social change, specifically in how that art used performance activities to generate discussions. Dilliplane seeks to create a new form in his workshop by, “combining discursive practices of democratic deliberation with somatics and sensory relationality to produce a form of community care rooted in the body.” 

Rehearsal for Workshop

The Goal 

Dilliplane’s goal is to, “explore the possibilities for facilitating embodied relationality through touch and movement, rather than sight and language, and to collect data on the experience of these techniques.” He hopes to use this data to continue the development of new practices and techniques while adding to the research presented in their dissertation. 

In terms of the participants, Dilliplane hopes they can relate to one another on a body-to-body basis. He wants participants to experience a connection with others through, “kinesthetic awareness, touch, and other senses that are less frequently a significant part of our communal social life.” Part of the core goal of “Sensing Bodies in Common” is for participants to spark meaningful connections while gaining tools for developing other relationships that are rooted in embodied connections. 

“I would like for participants to experience greater agency and choice in the sensorial aspects of their modes of relation with others.” 

The Challenges

One of the key challenges in the development of this project was the need for prototypes. Unfortunately, the numerous rope and bungee cord connections needed for the wearable materials needed to be repeatedly tested before the workshop. As these materials do not come at a low cost, Dilliplane needed an alternate plan for the lack of a physical prototype. They were able to overcome this challenge through careful design and repeated testing on a single prototype until a desired result was achieved.

Another key challenge throughout the inspiration and conception of this project was funding. According to Dilliplane, his limited UNC graduate student income could have never supported the expensive materials needed for experimentation and construction. Luckily, with the help of the SAI Grant and the support of the Arts Everywhere team, he was able to clarify the project, gain publicity and outreach, and earn necessary funding.

Practice for Workshop

What’s Next for Dilliplane 

Dilliplane plans to defend his dissertation this academic year and receive his Ph.D. He says, “while it is difficult at the moment to imagine and plan for life beyond this milestone, I do hope to renew my commitments and engagements with justice-oriented social movements as well as to expand my creative energies by connecting with new collaborators.” He will likely move abroad to achieve these goals and expand their creative practice. He also hopes to extend and develop the work of “Sensing Bodies in Common” through longer, multi-session workshops. 

Portrait of a person
Daniel Dilliplane

The workshop will take place on February 3rd and 4th from 2 to 3:30 pm in the performance portion of the Media Art Space (108 E Franklin St). 

To view some of Dilliplane’s work and keep up with his art, visit their social media: 

Twitter: @dnadill | Facebook: Daniel Isaac Dilliplane | Instagram: dandill33