Office of Undergraduate Research

Ethnographic Theatre - Borrowed Methodology, Critical Performance, And Transactional Practice

My work, specifically combines the fields of storytelling and acting, I study the storied experience and examine narrative as a primary epistemological source. Additionally, working with tales and narratives is my art-form as well as avocation and over the past twenty-two years Iýve had the good fortune to be offered opportunities that connect storytelling with my other professions of teaching, researching, and creating public theatre-education programs (Mello & Hughes, 1998; Mello, 2000, 2001, 2001, 2004, & 2005). This has meant that in my research I have been able to work with creative and educative narrative models that contain a multiplicity of socially constructed information and beliefs to explore what Gubrium and Holstein (1999) describe as the ýbordersý of narrative inquiry. One of the most controversial edges or generative tensions (Davis, 2005) where art-making and inquiry come into relation can be observed in autobiographical and ethnographical theatre, and in creative neo-storytelling (Schueb, 1998; Zipes, 1995). Here, ethnographic narrative research directly influences and fuses with the world of theatre-making and performance studies. The contact has brought about a revolutionary shift away from modernist theatre practice and toward what Puchner (2006) calls ýperformance interventions.ý These combine eclectic components of autobiographical material, older forms of ritual theatre, masking, mime, puppetry, as well as oral literatures, and folk histories, bringing them together and center stage thus creating a neo-art form (new vaudeville theatre, new clowning, personal style theatre, creative circus, etc.). Where ethnotheatre practitioners diverge from social scientists is in the product of the research activity and in their dissemination practices the relationship to the audience. Here the entire research paradigm shifts away from precise analysis toward evocative empathic creative experience. Being as concerned with composition and aesthetics as with communication, artists more freely pick and choose which stories and rituals to juxtapose and which to leave out. They lean toward the ephemeral, political, and kinesthetic and away from the recorded and codified. This brings up practical, ethical, as well as major questions for research:

(1) How does one reinvent and/or represent oral storytelling, ritual practice, and autobiographical performance in a post-literate and globalized world, and for what purpose?

(2) What does it mean to be both an artist and a researcher within a creative process? How far can or should a principal investigator vs. a principal artist go in using, bending, and reconstructing the words and stories of self and others in order to express the ecology of the research? Should there be a difference?

(3) What language should be brought to the critique of these data driven products the discourse of aesthetics, art-making, folkloristics, or that of scientific analysis? And where, if anywhere, should the line be drawn between analysis and artfulness?

(4) What past practices, stories, memories, and ideas do we receive and use? How do we use/reflect on these data mindfully?

(5) What mechanisms can be discovered or devised that assist in creating substantive links between knowledge that is already received and denotated and that which is being co-created and collocated within the disciplines of ethnography and theatre?

Tasks and responsibilities:

Students will be involved with archival research, collecting and coding stories already collected by others. Students will be involved in collecting stories from key populations--these stories will eventually be used to develop ethnotheatre and ethnostory productions and dramas. Students will be involved with literature review and data collection regarding methodologies in the field. Students will be involved with writing ethnodramas.