I want to share my Performance Studies Thesis Introduction with you, entitled “Emancipating the Dramaturg: An Auto-Ethnography.” It’s intent is to explore the subjectivity of the dramaturg in creating socially-engaged theatre as one with agency. It takes a self-reflexive mode as I explore my own relationship with the writers and cast of Girl Be Heard’s “9mm America.” Enjoy. I would value any feedback you may have…
Auto-ethnography: “Coaxing the body from the shadows of academe and consciously integrating it into the process and production of knowledge requires that we view knowledge in the context of the body from which it is generated. I must be ready to walk the talk of my scholarship by putting my politically marked body on the lines of the printed text.” – Tami Spry, “Performing Autoethnography: An Embodied Methodological Practice”
I. Not-Not Me Scholarship: Introduction
This paper will be an auto-ethnographical case study of the subjectivity of my role as dramaturg in constructing theater collective Girl Be Heard’s new play, 9mm America (premiering in June 2013 at Planet Connections Theatre Festivity in New York City), which explores the U.S.’ relationship with gun violence through auto-biographical stories of ten young women. My analysis will offer a new mode apart from the traditional dramaturgical practice, that begins with the personal auto-biographies of the writers/cast as the initial data for analysis and a departure for further research. In relation to the auto-biographers, both the director and I, the dramaturg, function as ethnodramatists as we shape the personal stories into one cohesive script. For my analysis I will be applying theatre researcher Jonny Saldaña’s definition of ethnodrama from Ethnodrama: An Anthology of Reality Theatre as “employing the traditional craft and artistic techniques of theatre production to mount for an audience a live performance event of research participants’ experiences and/or the researcher’s interpretations of the data” (Saldaña 1). For the purposes of my argument, the writers/cast will be the participants whereas I, the dramaturg, will be considered the researcher. Since I am writing this case study prior to the theatrical staging of the 9mm America premiere, I aim to focus solely on the developmental process of the script and my position in garnering data into an art object with intention. To expand upon my usage of the term ethnodrama, I would like to make clear that the writers of the auto-biographies will be performing their own stories, playing themselves and other third-person characters, in the staged production.
I believe this distinction of performing one’s own auto-biography within an ethnodrama, resonates with the performativity of the individual’s subjective voice in socially-engaged art-making. Imparting privilege to the personal in constructing a narrative is likened to the process of socially-engaged artists who compile individual stories of a given population into an art object or project. In the introduction of Participation, Claire Bishop discusses the three most commonly cited motivations of socially-engaged art as: activation, authorship, and community. (Participation 12) Similarly, these three components can be central aspects in theorizing the performativity of the writers and I in developing the 9mm America script. My understanding of socially-engaged art values the activation of participants, or subjects, as a place of agency and expression through art-making; I do not mean to speak to the relationship between performer and spectator. If I do speak of the performer on stage it is a pre-cursor of what is intended to happen, based off of my knowledge acquired at blocking rehearsals.
Through the agency of associating my work as dramaturg and ethnodramatist with that of the socially-engaged artist, a leap can be made from a social awareness theatre that aims to teach and unveil corrupt or oppressive systems to a more performative socially-engaged theatre that activates and destabilizes the social and political realm by way of its very ethnodramatic development. I aim to establish this connection in hopes of speaking to a genre of theatre practice that performs for its community of participants, in this case the 9 mm America collective of ten writers/cast, in a fashion likened to that of socially-engaged art. For clarity’s sake, my usage of “engaged” in the socially-engaged is intended to describe the relationships between the participants and ethnodramatists. Throughout my analysis, I will also reveal the subjectivity of myself as a collaborator outside of the ten writers/cast and the implications of my involvement in molding an ethnodrama that is intended to be auto-biographical. My ambition is to self-consciously perform an auto-ethnographical reflection of mind meeting body as I encourage the embodied, politicized Me to mobilize the Not-Not-Me Scholarship and vice-versa. How does enlivening the two as simultaneoulsy distinct and intertwined generate new meaning to the performative power of the dramaturg in socially-engaged theatre-making? How can uncovering the traces of the dramaturg in a script open a new space for the performativity of an ethnodrama?