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This issue expands on Canadian formations of Performance Studies by connecting early work in the ethnography of performance with contemporary practices of performance ethnography. Researchers in folklore, anthropology, ethnomusicology, and communications drew on ethnographic methods initially to understand performance as the emergent, creative elaboration of tradition and repertoire, as an approach to a performer’s interactions with an audience, and to explore how cultural performance effects social change or maintains social order. Contemporary performance studies researchers have built on such uses of ethnography and integrated them with practice-based research and critical pedagogy. Contributions to this issue map these intellectual histories and show how researchers work with performance as an embodied way of knowing and as a means of representing ethnographic work. They share innovations in performance writing, collaborative fieldwork, and social or site-specific intervention. The issue demonstrates the transformative vitality of ethnographic practices in the analysis, devising, and pedagogy of performance.
This issue contains:
Introduction: From Ethnography of Performance to Performance Ethnography
Why should it seem appropriate to wear a wedding gown at some charivaris, cross dress and be masked at others, but have entirely unremarkable clothing at most? The author's question echoes one from anthropologist Edmund R. Leach. In “Time and False Noses,” he asks “Why should it seem appropriate to wear top hats at funerals, and false noses on birthdays and New Year's Eve?” For Leach, dressing both up and down, despite their symbolic differences–formality versus informality; seriousness versus play–demonstrates a contrast with everyday life. Formality and masquerade alike appear in some practices in Canada related to charivari, a rudimentary form of folk drama. But perhaps equally compelling is the fact that they need not be there, and in most cases do not manifest, as my opening query indicates. The author explores this somewhat paradoxical situation, drawing on interviews and questionnaire responses given by participants in the tradition.
“A Stroll in Heavy Boots”: Studying Polish Roma Women's Experiences of Aging
In Poland, the quality of life for Roma minorities has deteriorated in recent years due to negative stereotyping, economic crises and resurgent nationalisms. Consequently, many Roma have migrated to the west since Poland's 2004 entry into the EU. This has left several of Poland's Roma communities populated primarily by Roma elders unable to travel abroad due to their advanced age and/or poor health. This paper discusses the author's current research project that studies Polish elderly Roma women's experiences of ageing in the absence of younger relatives. In particular, the author explores the impact of the diverse attributes of non-public, non-collective dramatic storytelling on how the women constructed their narratives of ageing in the project. The author also considers the potential of dramatic storytelling sessions in relation to interviews, and explores how the two methodologies employed —intersecting with participant project goals and my own complicated local/global positionalities – shaped how the women constructed their stories.
This paper considers how an ethnographer who studies heritage performance, in this case Me´tis fiddling and dancing, grapples with what is presented “frontstage” in public settings. The author uses the dramaturgical metaphors first offered by Goffman (1959) and that MacCannell (1973, 1976) later expanded in the analysis of touristic spaces. Unlike MacCannell the author does not view such performances as totally contrived in order to cater to an audience's preconceptions. Furthermore, the heritage performances the author studies and the touristic spaces that fed into MacCannell's analysis differ; they include performances for insiders as well as performances offered up to those assumed outside or less familiar with the cultural traditions being performed. The author contends that understanding and interpreting such public discourse requires more than just a semiotic reading of what these performers do and say frontstage. What ethnography ideally reveals is the complexity of local, familial as well as broader socio-political histories and allegiances.
Pioneered by Victor Turner and further developed by Dwight Conquergood and Norman K. Denzin, performance ethnography foregrounds the experiential, reflexive, intersubjective, and embodied dimensions of performance. Moreover, performance ethnography proposes to integrate the Indigenous critique of Euro-American research, and supports collaborations between Indigenous and non-Indigenous scholars. How, then, might Indigenous epistemologies and methodologies rooted in traditional cultural practices contribute to the future(s) of performance ethnography? Decolonizing performance ethnography necessarily entails redefining both ethnographic research, shaped by the contested discipline of anthropology, and performance practice, linked to Euro-American conceptions of theatre. Drawing from the work of Linda Tuhiwai Smith, Manulani Aluli Meyer, Shawn Wilson, and Floyd Favel, the author asks whether performance ethnography, informed and possibly transformed by Indigenous perspectives, can become a way of engaging in research that contributes not only to our survival, but to the survival of all living species and of the natural world which we co-inhabit.
Staging and Storying Blood from a Stone: A Performative Reflection in Three Acts
Shauna M. MacDonald
In this autoethnographic reflection, the author tells the story of Blood from a Stone: Mining Elemental Genealogies, a performance ethnography she staged in 2008 in Carbondale, Illinois. Arguing (as performers and I did implicitly during the production) for storytelling as a politically relevant local aesthetic form, the author narrates her own experiences of tension and possibility as a performance ethnographer researching and producing a show about Cape Breton coalmining culture. Tracing these experiences from beginning to end, the author frames her researcher/director journey as one of moving complexly through mimesis, poiesis, and kinesis. She argues by way of example that while performance ethnography is fraught with the tensions precipitated by nostalgia, authenticity, and the politics of location, these tensions are where its possibilities lie.
Garden/ /Suburbia: Mapping the Non-Aristocratic in Lawrence Park
Garden/ /Suburbia is an mp3-led sound and live performance walk conceived by Melanie Bennett with the collaboration of Hartley Jafine, Aaron Collier, and Andy Houston. A partly site-specific/partly ethnographic performance walk, it took place in and around the north Toronto neighbourhood of Lawrence Park in April 2010 as a workshop and then again in June 2010 for the Performance Studies International conference. The event was a research-led project that combined strategies of auto-ethnography, site-specificity, and participatory practices as an attempt to create a performance that was reflexive and intersubjective. This article will describe how auto-ethnography was used in Garden/ /Suburbia to generate alternative fictions to the uncontested histories and ‘realities’ embedded into Lawrence Park's discourse.
This study of desire, ephemera and convergence centres on the Prince House, a reconstituted historical site located within Heritage Park Historical Village in Calgary, Alberta. Through a somatic interaction with the space, the author takes into account feeling, sensation and mise-en-sce`ne in effort to attend to the cultural traces that emerge when one attempts to inhabit history, asking: how do we relate to a particular site described as historical? Why do some histories continue to pull at us while others fall away; most of all, what is the force that makes a site like the Prince House “go?” Focusing on our engagement with specific renderings of the past, the author comments on the instability of the story of present absence, arriving at a metaphysics at once both real and imagined, longed for and lost – a story of nostalgia and the body to which there is no ending.
Highway to the Valley
Michelle La Flamme
A performance event celebrating 25 years of Tomson Highway's play The Rez Sisters is used as a sample case to analyse issues of indigeneity, performance and identity for a group of Aboriginal actors, academics and community members. This specific performance event demonstrated how several different communities can coalesce around a single unifying script. In addition, this performance event articulated how the play affected individual Aboriginal women and the event utilised several cultural features that reflected a specific community's protocols. As context, the author considers how institutional support and a policy of indigenization provided the possibility of an academic event to honor one of Canada's most celebrated Aboriginal playwrights.
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