As expected I have been neglectful in my blogging. I want to wrap up Belgrade before I move on and talk about Palestine, which will be for the remainder of my time abroad. I will wrap up talking about two highlights of the week, the plenary talk by James Thompson and my own presentation.
I will start by saying James Thompson is sort of an academic celebrity in my world. He is a co-author of Performance in Place of War, which was the first book I ever read about people who make theatre in conflict zones and inspired my work today. He spoke on the aesthetics of care and called on academics (who are trained to be critical) to work alongside the communities they are studying/writing about as opposed to positioning themselves as superiors. Academics must offer critiques to help move work forward in addition to discussing downfalls.
This was a very appropriate talk considering my own presentation on best dramaturgical practices in creating autobiographical theatre aimed at youth. I drew upon my own past participation in these types of performances and interviews with staff members/youth in various NYC based not-for-profits and theatre ensembles that have missions to empower youth or promote social justice through their theatre work. We had a lively discussion about the non-profit industrial complex and best practices moving forward.
As this presentation was part of a 20+ page paper and project I worked on last semester, I focused solely on dramaturgy and the role of the dramaturge in this type of work. The conclusions I drew for the role that the dramaturge can/should play in the development of social justice youth theatre include:
1. Helping the artists and creative staff develop and maintain a healthy rehearsal structure, including implementing opening and closing rituals and setting strong personal and professional boundaries.
2. Reminding the artists and staff that while the work is therapeutic, it is not therapy. Theatre cannot be expected to take the place of mental health services and/or personal therapy. If the cast is particularly young or inexperienced, the dramaturge may offer resources for where to obtain such services.
3. Assist in negotiating the space in between personal identity and story by helping participants understand that their identity is not limited to only their stories. (This is particularly important when working with populations that have experienced significant amounts of trauma.)
4. Renegotiating and rethinking the power structures in the rehearsal room.
5. Considering that most youth theatres engaged in “theatre of the real” have a social justice component to their mission, they must consider utilizing the dramaturge as a mediator between the creative team and community. Make sure that the community understands the intentions of the project and has a legitimate say in how they are being portrayed on stage.
6. Create strategies for engaging the community post-performance and maintaining relationships.
7. Offer theatrical techniques that separate the actor from their personal story.
I suppose if you work in the field that some of these points are obvious, but as I know from previous experience, it’s not enough to KNOW these things, the effort must be made to implement them fully and to provide the dramaturge with the resources and power within the organization that they need to do this work.
I had a bit of a surreal moment when a scholar that I cited in the paper (and often cite) happened to be in the audience and introduced herself/exchanged contact info following the talk.
As I am still trying to figure out what my dissertation project will be (so much paint is being thrown on the wall and we’re seeing what sticks…) I am certain that the themes in this paper will continue to be tackled in one way or another. I have been very interested in exploring the non-profit industrial complex, and more importantly, seeking out alternatives to the hierarchal non-profit model which dominates theatre in New York. I have some unique experience to offer in this area. Right now it’s a matter of connecting it to the theatre in conflict zones, which is where my heart is.
Ironically, the first thing my professor said upon reading the paper was, “this paper is going to make a lot of people angry.”